Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Therapeutic Effects of Red and Near-Infrared Light (short version)

The long version of this article can be found here.

In the near future, dozens of chronic diseases might be treated effectively with near-infrared and visible red light. There is little talk, yet a lot of research on this subject.[1]

The mitochondrial enzyme cytochrome c oxidase is activated by certain wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation. The most important wavelengths are 600-850nm[2], the visible red light and the short-wavelength infrared radiation. The latter of these penetrates much deeper into tissue, affecting the organism more deeply.[3]

The activation of cytochrome c oxidase increases the cellular energy metabolism significantly leading to higher ATP production[4-6], and also decreases pro-inflammatory cytokines (TNF-alfa, IL-6) in the circulation dramatically.[7-8]

In human studies, near-infrared has been very useful for eg. achilles tendonitis, fibromyalgia, labial herpes, male pattern hair loss, oral mucositis, hypothyroidism, lymphedema, knee osteoarthritis, age-related macular degeneration and lateral epicondylitis. Visible red light has also been useful for body contouring.[9-19]

The results have often been dramatic even in the placebo-controlled studies. In one study, almost all of the elderly patients saw improvements of their vision after near-infrared therapy.[17] In another study, patients with knee osteoarthritis saw dramatic decreases in the pain levels after a few weeks of near-infrared therapy.[16] In a third study, nearly half (47%) of the hypothyroid patients could eliminate their thyroxine medication after the near-infrared treatment period.[14]

Most of the studies have been conducted with low level laser devices (LLLT), and a smaller part have been done with LED lamps or halogen lamps. But despite the fact that laser has been used in most of the studies, the term “laser” only indicates that the light is coherent, and the research has already shown that the coherence (or polarization) of the light is not a requirement for the biological effectiveness of the near-infrared light.[20-21]

Thus, it is completely possible that similar benefits could be achieved with non-laser light sources such as sunlight*, heat lamps or incandescent bulbs. Actually, more than 100 years ago John Harvey Kellogg published a book Light Therapeutics (1910) in which he reported great health benefits from his incandescent bulb therapy.

The majority of infrared saunas do not emit near-infrared radiation so their possible benefits are not related to the activation of cytochrome c oxidase.

*Sunlight also contains ultraviolet radiation and blue light, both of which have opposite effects to near-infrared light. Thus, it might be wise to get sunlight through a window (glass blocks most of UV radiation).

[1] A much longer article on this topic, with more than 100 scientific references, has also been published.
[2] Tiina I. Karu: Multiple Roles of Cytochrome c Oxidase in Mammalian Cells Under Action of Red and IR-A Radiation (2010, pdf)
[3] Jagdeo et al: Transcranial red and near infrared light transmission in a cadaveric model. (2012)
[4] Karu et al: Irradiation with He-Ne laser increases ATP level in cells cultivated in vitro. (1995)
[5] Benedicenti et al: Intracellular ATP level increases in lymphocytes irradiated with infrared laser light of wavelength 904 nm. (2008)
[6] Lapchatk et al: Transcranial near infrared laser treatment (NILT) increases cortical adenosine-5'-triphosphate (ATP) content following embolic strokes in rabbits. (2010)
[7] Zhevago&Samoilova: Pro- and Anti-inflammatory Cytokine Content in Human Peripheral Blood after Its Transcutaneous (in Vivo) and Direct (in Vitro) Irradiation with Polychromatic Visible and Infrared Light (2006)
[8] Byrnes et al: Light promotes regeneration and functional recovery and alters the immune response after spinal cord injury. (2005)
[9] Bjordal et al: A randomised, placebo controlled trial of low level laser therapy for activated Achilles tendinitis with microdialysis measurement of peritendinous prostaglandin E2 concentrations. (2006)
[10] Gür et al: Effects of low power laser and low dose amitriptyline therapy on clinical symptoms and quality of life in fibromyalgia: a single-blind, placebo-controlled trial. (2002)
[11] Schindl&Neumann: Low-intensity laser therapy is an effective treatment for recurrent herpes simplex infection. Results from a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study. (1999)
[12] Leavitt et al: HairMax LaserComb laser phototherapy device in the treatment of male androgenetic alopecia: A randomized, double-blind, sham device-controlled, multicentre trial. (2009)
[13] Antunes et al: Phase III trial of low-level laser therapy to prevent oral mucositis in head and neck cancer patients treated with concurrent chemoradiation. (2013)
[14] Höfling et al: Low-level laser therapy in chronic autoimmune thyroiditis: a pilot study. (2010)
[15] Ahmed Omar et al: Treatment of post-mastectomy lymphedema with laser therapy: double blind placebo control randomized study. (2011)
[16] Hegedus et al: The effect of low-level laser in knee osteoarthritis: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. (2009)
[17] Ivandic&Ivandic: Low-level laser therapy improves vision in patients with age-related macular degeneration. (2008)
[18] Lam&Cheing: Effects of 904-nm low-level laser therapy in the management of lateral epicondylitis: a randomized controlled trial. (2007)
[19] Jackson et al: Low-level laser therapy as a non-invasive approach for body contouring: a randomized, controlled study. (2009)
[20] Chung et al: The Nuts and Bolts of Low-level Laser (Light) Therapy (2012)
[21] Barulin&Plavskii: Effect of Polarization and Coherence of Optical Radiation on Sturgeon Sperm Motility (2012)


  1. Very nice
    I have added a link to this page from

    By the way. I made a LLLT for my wife 3 years ago for her Lymphdemia.
    She still uses it for various body difficulties several times a month.

    Also: I recently started using the LLLT late at night to stop male pattern baldness.
    Seems to be working, but I had a hard time getting to sleep for a month until I switched to using the LLLT in the morning

    The specifications for the LLLT I designed and made are at:

  2. Hi Henry,

    Thanks for citing this article on Vitamin D Wiki!

    You have a nice site. I'll check the links on your page in the near future, but right now I need take a little break from all this LLLT stuff. I've just finished the long version of this article, and it will be published on 180DegreeHealth during this week.

  3. Hi

    Do you think that 3000nm can be of importance too? Given the fact that it effectively builds exclusion zones of water (Pollack)? / Glass only blocks a part of the UV radiation.


  4. Hi Randy,

    I don't know. I will probably investigate Pollack's claim in the future, but so far I don't really have an opinion on that matter.

    Regarding windows and UV, you are right. Wikipedia: "Ordinary window glass passes about 90% of the light above 350 nm, but blocks over 90% of the light below 300 nm."

    So glass blocks most of UVC and UVB but it doesn't block UVA very well.

  5. can you PLEASE make the font size of your post larger? I need a microscope to read it...

  6. "The most important wavelengths are 600-850nm" I´ve been searchin all over in the net for red light bulbs with this wawelenghts..but nothing. vldamiri, do you know where to get them in EU?

  7. My friend's Dad is an advocate that infrared bulbs that are in saunas work wonders for his psoriasis!

  8. This is right by my house! Please post photos when you are done! Can't wait to see it.

    Goedkope Tuinverlichting & Tuinverlichting In-Lite

  9. interesting that glass blocks off the UV radiation, didnt realise that

    1. Not completely, but a large part :)