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.

Acute Versus Chronic Inflammation

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.

Health Dangers of 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:

  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Diabetes and metabolic syndrome
  • Neurodegenerative diseases
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Chronic pain disorders
  • Cancer
  • Digestive problems
  • Skin conditions
  • Respiratory illnesses
  • Cognitive decline

In short, chronic inflammation drives the majority of illness and accelerated aging. Finding ways to control it can transform health.

Red Light Reduces Inflammation: The Studies

Dozens of studies demonstrate red and near-infrared light therapy consistently lowers inflammatory cytokines and mediators:

  • Red light therapy cut levels of the inflammatory marker hs-CRP nearly in half in trained athletes after strenuous workouts.
  • Compared to exercise alone, adding red light therapy suppressed inflammatory response in overweight women.
  • Red light reduced chronic inflammation markers by over 50% in subjects with long-term joint disorders.
  • Markers of inflammation, oxidation, and aging significantly declined in older adults after 8 weeks of near-infrared light therapy.

The anti-inflammatory mechanisms and clinical applications of light therapy will be discussed next.

How Red Light Lowers Inflammation

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.

Activating mitochondria

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.

Clinical Applications to Treat Inflammation

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.

Autoimmune diseases

Red light improves inflammatory bowel diseases, thyroiditis, dermatitis, lupus, and other autoimmune disorders driven by immune dysregulation.

Respiratory conditions

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.

Metabolic disorders

Red light lowers inflammatory markers related to diabetes, obesity, fatty liver, cardiovascular disease, and dyslipidemia.

Skin ailments

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.

Recommended Red Light Anti-Inflammation Protocol

While research is ongoing to refine protocols, these are sensible starting guidelines for using red light to combat chronic inflammation:

  • Wavelength: 600-680nm red light; near-infrared light may also help
  • Body coverage: Use large full-body panels to target systemic inflammation
  • Local coverage: Spot treat symptomatic areas with smaller LED devices
  • Power density: 20-50 mW/cm2 to avoid exceeding threshold
  • Time: 8-12 minutes ideal for full body; 12-20 minutes for local treatment
  • Frequency: 4-5 sessions per week until inflammation markers normalize
  • Before exercise: Applying red light before training maximizes anti-inflammatory benefits

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.

Conclusion: Red Light for Inflammation

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!

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