Inflammation gets a bad rap. But this normal immune response is designed to help your body heal. Chronic, excessive inflammation however contributes to nearly every modern illness. This has sparked great interest in using red light therapy to lower inflammatory markers and treat inflammation-driven diseases. But is shining red light actually an effective anti-inflammatory strategy? Let’s dive into the science.
Before analyzing red light’s anti-inflammatory potential, it’s helpful to understand the different types of inflammation:
Acute inflammation occurs after an injury or infection. The body releases inflammatory mediators as a protective response to remove pathogens, damaged cells, and irritants while initiating healing. It causes characteristic swelling, redness, heat, and pain.
Once the threat is neutralized, acute inflammation naturally resolves allowing the body to return to homeostasis. This normal, temporary immune activation is beneficial.
Chronic inflammation persists over months and years. Ongoing stressors like obesity, smoking, toxins, and hyperglycemia sustain excessive inflammatory signaling even without tissue injury or pathogens present.
This constant low-grade inflammation damages healthy cells and creates an environment that encourages disease progression. Almost every chronic condition is driven by chronic inflammation.
By reducing inflammatory cytokines and promoting healing mechanisms, red light therapy shows promise for addressing chronic inflammation.
Understanding the role unchecked inflammation plays in common diseases motivates the search for effective, low-risk inflammation-lowering interventions like red light therapy.
Some of the many dangers posed by chronic inflammation include:
In short, chronic inflammation drives the majority of illness and accelerated aging. Finding ways to control it can transform health.
Dozens of studies demonstrate red and near-infrared light therapy consistently lowers inflammatory cytokines and mediators:
The anti-inflammatory mechanisms and clinical applications of light therapy will be discussed next.
Based on numerous studies, these appear to be the primary mechanisms through which red and near-infrared light reduces inflammation:
Suppressing inflammatory cytokines
Red light exposure reliably lowers levels of NF-kB, IL-6, TNF-a, IL-1B, and other pro-inflammatory cytokines.
Stimulating healing factors
Conversely, red light boosts anti-inflammatory and regeneration factors like growth hormone, nitric oxide, and transforming growth factor beta.
By boosting ATP and cellular respiration, red light powers recovery in stressed cells while inhibiting inflammatory pathways.
Improving blood flow
Red light expands blood vessels and stimulates microcirculation to improve delivery of oxygen and healing factors.
Balancing the immune response
Red light reduces immune attack cells while increasing activity of suppressor/regulator immune cells.
Through these measurable mechanisms, red light therapy tilts the body from a disease state back to homeostasis.
There are many promising clinical applications of red light therapy for addressing inflammatory conditions:
Joint and muscle disorders
Red light reduces chronic inflammation causing arthritis, tendinopathy, back pain, fibromyalgia, and post-exercise soreness.
Red light improves inflammatory bowel diseases, thyroiditis, dermatitis, lupus, and other autoimmune disorders driven by immune dysregulation.
By reducing neutrophil infiltration and lowering inflammatory cytokines, red light helps asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis, COPD, and lung damage from infections.
Red light is emerging as a treatment for inflammation-fueled depression, dementia, migraines, and neuropathy.
Red light lowers inflammatory markers related to diabetes, obesity, fatty liver, cardiovascular disease, and dyslipidemia.
Red light reduces inflammation involved in acne, rosacea, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, eczema, and susceptibility to infections.
The clinical research continues to expand as more inflammatory conditions are studied.
While research is ongoing to refine protocols, these are sensible starting guidelines for using red light to combat chronic inflammation:
Always discuss red light treatments with your physician before beginning. Be patient – it often takes 2-4 weeks to see anti-inflammatory effects. Combine red light therapy with anti-inflammatory medications, stress reduction, and dietary approaches for optimal results.
The medical literature overwhelmingly confirms red and near-infrared light therapy consistently reduces inflammatory cytokines and shifts the body from a chronic inflammatory state to homeostasis.
Red light represents an emerging anti-inflammatory strategy free of side effects common to NSAIDs and biologic medications. While not a cure-all, red light therapy is a promising option for controlling the low-grade inflammation at the heart of nearly every chronic condition.
Talk to your functional medicine practitioner about adding red light therapy to your anti-inflammatory regimen. Your body will thank you!