Red light therapy is part of the rising field of photobiomodulation. In the world of quantum health & biohacking, red light lamps are already widely used. 1Yep, the oldest business in the world knows that, too. They figured out what works and gives pleasure… Anyone who might think light is a pseudoscience is welcome to argue against these 3,000 studies.
As the name suggests, light spectra are known to cause effects in the body. As science now knows, light, by that I mean full spectrum daylight, is the most basic ‘nutrient‘ for our bodies. Light is so much more than just: vitamin D. It is also responsible for EZ water, nitric oxide, circadian rhythms, ß-endorphins and so much more.

Today we take a look at a particular spectrum of light: red light. This spectrum includes infrared light wavelengths (600-660nm) and near-infrared light (800-880nm). In this post you will learn everything you need to know about it over the following few thousand words:

  • about the mechanisms by that light acts
  • we cover the health benefits of red light therapy
  • outline how to best use red light therapy at home + I’ll share my favorite brand

What is Red Light Therapy & Photobiomodulation?

Die Sonne ist immer überlegen - mit ihrem vollen Spektrum an UV Licht, Rotlicht und Nahinfrarotlicht.
The sun is always superior – with its full spectrum.

Photobiomodulation uses light as the active agent. Daylight consists of many bioactive spectra. Everyone knows the school experiment with the prism, in which daylight is dispersed into all its rainbow-colored components.

All Wavelength of light are bioactive and induce effects when interacting with our bodies.2

  1. UV Light (Vitamin D3, acts on melanogenesis)
  2. Blue Light (controls circadian rhythm & transforms neurotransmitters)
  3. Broad-Infrared light (transfers heat and as such acts on the circadian rhythm)
  4. Red Light (structures EZ Water and acts on the mitochondria)
  5. Near-Infrared light (also acts on the mitochondria)

In nature, all these spectra always occur as part of the full spectrum of daylight, i.e. none of them occurs in isolation. At certain times of day, some spectra are more dominant, for example red light at sunrise, but there still are others present. Certain spectra are used in isolation, namely those of infrared light and near-infrared light, as these are the best researched.

What are Infrared-Light and Near-Infrared Light?

Both are isolated spectra of daylight. Therefore they cover a certain range of wavelengths:

  • Red Light: 600-800nm
  • Near-Infrared Light: 800-1200nm
  • the most researched spectra are: 600-680nm (red) & 800-880nm (near-infrared)

Rd light therapy uses artificially generated light with the help of LEDs in lamps. Therefore, their wave spectrum is clearly defined. Sunlight does not have this and provides many other wavelengths. As always, nature is light years ahead of us. This is why the red light of the sun (think of early light shortly after sunrise) is superior to any red light panel in terms of composition and strength. So if you have a choice, lie naked under the sunrise instead of in front of the panel. If the neighbors are very critical, the red light lamp will have to do.

The Effect of Red Light Therapy: the 3 Main Mechanisms explained

The following 3 mechanisms are the main pathways that have been identified through which red light therapy produces its health benefits. However, it is important to know that it is not that easy. On the contrary, it is very complex. Light input has numerous effects, either directly on molecules or as secondary effects. Therefore, I will solely focus on the most important ones.

Light acts on many biochemical targets:

  • Voltage-gated calcium transporters
  • Light-sensitive ion channels
  • Transcription factors, e.g. NF-kB, PPARg, FOX, mTOR
  • Cytokines, e.g. VEGF, BDNF, HGF

But it also transmits biophysical effects such as:

  • inducing electron flow on semiconductive structures such as collagen, bone, or melanin
  • certain proteins are made to interact with light through chromophores, such as cytochrome-C-oxidase, melanin or hemoglobin
  • structuring of EZ-water within the cells

Nr 1: Fine-tuning Mitochondrial Energy Yield

Cell signaling pathways induced by LLLT
Mechanisms of low-level light therapy – ResearchGate.

Of interest to us is a certain protein complex within the mitochondria that can sense light input. The hero of this story is called: cytochrome C oxidase (CCO).
It is the 4th complex of the mitochondrial respiratory chain. CCO is an extremely exciting protein with many functions and is the last step before ATP synthase (complex V) makes ATP.3Fun fact: CCO initiates apoptosis by migrating into the cell plasma where it is the signal to activate the deadly caspase enzymes. Sick mitochondria = faulty apoptosis process = cancer?

CCO takes electrons to pump protons out of the mitochondria. These protons outside the cell provide the energy for the regeneration of ADP to ATP through chemiosmosis. But CCO does more and that is where red light becomes important – it makes water (H₂O) from oxygen (O₂). Doesn’t sound like much, but it is enormously important for two reasons.4Biological Effects of Low Level Laser Therapy

Cytochrome-C-Oxidase produces structured Water low in Deuterium

The first reason is that CCO is the location in your cell water is made.

It creates structured water that can form exclusion zones (EZ) on hydrophilic surfaces. In addition, this water is extremely low in deuterium. Deuterium is heavy hydrogen and creates all sorts of problems in our bodies when too much is present. Deuterium is also the reason why biochemistry is so complex. It is to get rid of deuterium before you fuck up your engine (ATP synthase) with too heavy fuel.

It is not the water you drink that hydrates your cells the most, but the water you internally produce within this particular enzyme.

Red light supports Cytochrome-C-Oxidase to bind Oxygen

Secondly, CCO is important because oxygen (O₂) competes with nitric oxide (NO). Both compete over who docks at CCO. Red light acts exactly here. It improves the ability of your CCO to utilize oxygen instead of NO. Thus, more O₂ binds to CCO instead of NO. While NO shuts down your energy production, O₂ keeps everything running smoothly. You produce ATP more efficiently.5

As an aside: NO is not bad or good. It is enormously important in the body, but like everything else, it is about balance. The same applies to deuterium.

Nr. 2: Hormesis

Hormesis is a very important principle that you probably already know, but not by that name. In short, it’s an external stimulus that causes stress, which causes your body to reconfigure itself to respond more efficiently to that given stimulus. You can read about this in detail in my sauna post.

The dose response hormetic curve of micronutrients
The Underexplored Dimensions of Nutritional Hormesis – ResearchGate.

You know it from resistance training:

  1. External Force takes place statt (=Biceps curls)
  2. It causes stress (=Muscle damage)
  3. Your body responds to it depending on the stressors intensity (=Regeneration & improved Tissue quality)

Coldtherapy is another example of hormesis. Red light also.

Red light stresses your mitochondria. These little guys, closely monitor their inputs. Certain inputs can create oxidative or reductive stress. Stress in this case is not good or bad, it is simply stress. Red light is an evolutionarily common stimulus, so mitochondria are well adapted to it. They are not adapted to PUFAs from vegetable oils and therefore they act as mitochondrial toxins that produce reductive stress.
These signals act on the genes of each mitochondrion. In Nerd, this is called a retrograde signal response.

It looks like that:

  1. Red light causes reactive oxygen species to form (ROS).
  2. Transcription factor NF-kB becomes more active and creates an inflammatory response
  3. This signals the Nrf2-pathway, to get to work removing oxidative radicals.

This low-level stress is necessary for life and important for becoming stronger. As Hans Selye described for his Nobel Prize, not all stress is bad, some necessary. The same goes for the stress of light.

Nr. 3: Structuring of EZ Water

Rotlichttherapie hat Effekte auf das EZ Wasser in den Zellen des Körpers und kann diese vergößern.
Water – so simple, yet so mysterious.

EZ Water is the brainchild of Gerald Pollack’s Lab. He describes it excellently in his book ‘The 4th Phase of Water*’.

EZ does not stand for easy, but for exclusion zone. These are zones of purely negative or positive charge around hydrophilic surfaces. They exclude everything else, hence EZ. More about EZ water in detail here.

He also discovered that certain wavelengths of light can expand or contract the zones. Red light expands the EZ the most, especially in the 680-880nm range. EMFs such as 5G or WLAN, on the other hand, reduce their size.

The whole thing sounds like scientific nonsense, but it has profound implications for the way we understand biology. With an EZ, water is a battery and can transfer as well as conduct energy. Quantum effects also can take place, as has often been postulated in relation to collagen being the biophysical ‘highway’ for energy in our bodies.
What has been proven, is that red light structures it.6The fourth phase of water: Beyond solid, liquid, and vapor.

What are the Benefits of Red Light Therapy?

Benefits of Photobiomodulation for skin

Sonnenlicht tut Deiner Haut gut. Das Nahinfrarotlicht und Rotlicht regen die Bildung von Kollagen an.
The cat knows what is good. Sun is good for your skin.

Red light stimulates the production of collagen & elastin in the skin. Who would have thought that? Sunlight for beautiful skin? In fact light is essential, toxic sunscreen does the opposite. Nature’s full sunlight spectrum is already beneficial the way it is.

That’s why red light has many known benefits on skin health:

You can read more in-depth about that topic in this great review written by Harvard scientist Michael Hamblin.

Benefits of Red Light Therapy for Hair Growth

Red light also has effects on hair growth – both scientifically and from the anecdotes of users. One study found a 50% improvement in hair growth after photobiomodulation with red light.10Novel Approach to Treating Androgenetic Alopecia in Females With Photobiomodulation (Low-Level Laser Therapy)

Benefits of Red Light for Fertility & Sexual Health

It is often said in certain circles á là Carnivore Aurelius, that red light and light on the genitals (‘Sun your Balls!’) increases testosterone. So far, this is not scientifically the case or too weakly supported, even though I am very open to the whole thing. Nevertheless, it certainly does no harm to lie naked in the sun in summer or to sit in front of the red light panel. All other effects also apply to the sex organs (mitochondria, semiconduction, melanin, EZ water, etc.).

Where red light has shown an effect, is in relation to fertility and the swimming ability of sperm cells. Like any other cells, skin cells have light receptors.11Effect of 830-nm diode laser irradiation on human sperm motility + Etiopathogenetic basis for using magnetolaser therapy in the complex treatment of male infertility

Benefits of Photobiomodulation for Sports Performance

Red light has a very strong effect on the body’s muscle system – no wonder, because muscle cells are packed with mitochondria. With the latest findings, even the question of ‘light doping’ becomes a reality.

In different studies, photobiomodulation showed effects on:

Benefits of Red Light Therapy for Inflammation

Inflammation is arguably one of the main processes behind many diseases and aging. While it is something quite natural, here fine-tuning is important. And it is precisely this fine-tuning that seems to have been lost in modern times.
Many things today contribute to inflammation, our food, our exercise habits, the artificial light we are exposed to, and the EMF radiation we get.

Red light is potent in reducing inflammation through the hormesis process and works similarly to cold exposure or sauna therapy. Red light in studies has been shown to be as effective as NSAIDs (e.g. Acetomorphen)15The Use of Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) For Musculoskeletal Pain

How to calculate the optimal Dose for Photobiomodulation?

Without getting too technical these are the 3 things to look after when thinking about the dose-response relationship:

  • The Power of your Red Light Panel (measured in W/cm²)
  • The Distance of your Body from the red light panel
  • The Amount of Energy, you want to apply to a given tissue (measured in Joule)

Let’s use the Firewave by EMR-Tek as an example

Let’s calculate the dose by using the example of my red light lamp from EMR-Tek, the ‘Firewave’.

  • Dose: It delivers 236 W/cm² of dose directly to the LED, which sits in the centre.
  • Distance: Makes sense that no one lays the piece directly on their stomach. The distance that is usually used is 15-30 cm. At 15 cm it is 125 W/cm², at 30 cm 85 W/cm².
  • Energy: depends on the tissue (skin should get ~10J, deeper tissues 10-40J depending on the depth).

If you calculate the whole thing with the formula: mW/cm2 x time (in seconds) x 0.001 = J/cm2, you get a time of about ~7min for superficial applications and about 10-12min for deeper structures with 125 W at 15cm. If you increase the distance, you also have to increase the time. You can read in detail how the exact mathematics works in this article from The Energy Blueprint.

Fortunately, EMR-Tek comes with a dosing guide that gives you the recommended time values for distances and tissues. While the whole thing sounds complicated at first, you’ll quickly get it into your routine: Just put the thing where you always do it, keep the time the same and just relax.

Can I ‘overdose’ on Red Light Therapy?

Schematic model of a representative idealized biphasic dose response hormetic curve for
Lanthanum delays senescence and improves postharvest quality in cut tulip (Tulipa gesneriana L.) flowers – ResearchGate.

As we work with hormesis and like everything else in life, balance is essential – more is not always better. As with strength training, there’s a sweet spot, too much and you’re sore for days or even injured in the extreme and too little and it doesn’t work. You want to give a supra-threshold stimulus without shooting yourself down. The same is true for red light therapy.

In technical terms, this is called a biphasic dose-response curve – imagine a parabola that rises like a curve, reaches a peak and then falls again. Like the one you see in the picture. You want to be at the top of it, optimally.

Red Light Therapy at Home

Buying the best Red Light Panel

Many of the points below will take care of themselves if you buy a good product. You will find my favorite in the next point. For private users, the entry-level model is fine, as red light lamps can quickly become expensive. However, you have to sit in front of the lamp for a longer time, and cannot irradiate the whole body at once.

Watch out to buy a red light panel, with:

  • The right wavelength: I recommend a mixture of red light & near-infrared light. The best researched wavelengths are 600-680nm & 800-880nm.
  • Suffcient Power: You want to have an output of at least 100W/cm² at a distance of 15cm. Otherwise, you’ll have to sit in front of it for a long time.
  • Size of the Red Light Panel: The size depends on the application. For the whole body you need a larger panel. Otherwise you have to spend 2x7min for the upper body and the lower body in front of it.
  • Technical Details: It is important that the lights do not have any flicker of the LEDs. Flickering is what LEDs do to save power. This creates unwanted EMF radiation and should be avoided in a therapy device. Unfortunately, there are few manufacturers who take this into account.
  • Guarantee: the devices cost a fair bit.
  • For which application? Deeper tissues need stronger light and for the whole body a larger panel is useful. Therapy centres in particular should therefore invest the money to keep the time per session to a minimum.

Plan your Sessions the Right Way

As mentioned, dose & distance are paramount. There is also the consideration of frequency. I would recommend once a day, 7 days a week, for about 2×7-10min (with a Firewave*).

I always do it in the evening, but there are also reports that the red light has a stimulating effect. So if you have problems falling asleep, you should do it in the morning. It is also important to always wear the sunbed glasses in the evening to avoid circadian dysregulation, as red light may also shift your internal clock. You should never look directly into the red light lamp with your eyes open.

During the sessions it is worth combining the whole thing with breath training or meditation. I like to do that, so you save time and can directly link two helpful habits. Reading is also a good thing, if you don’t look directly into or towards the light.

Long story, short:

  • Freuency: ~7x per week for 2×7-10min
  • Watch out for circadian disruption: avoid before sunrise and after sunset, if there is no other way, close your eyelids and wear the black glasses.
  • During: Breath work, meditation or reading

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