The Benefits of Red and Near-Infrared Light Therapy
In this interview, Ari Whitten, author of “The Ultimate Guide to Red Light Therapy,” reviews the mechanics and basic benefits of red light and infrared light. Whitten, who has a degree in kinesiology, exercise science and movement science, has studied natural health, fitness and nutrition for over 20 years. He’s been a personal trainer, health coach and nutritionist for many years, and went on to do a Ph.D. program in clinical psychology.
Light as Nutrition
Red and near-infrared light are, of course, a subset of natural sunlight, which actually acts and has value as a nutrient. Red light and near-infrared light therapies are ways to get some of those benefits. It may be particularly valuable and beneficial for people who aren’t getting enough natural sunlight exposure, and that’s a majority of people. As noted by Whitten:
“There’s a mountain of literature showing that regular sun exposure is one of the most powerful and important things you can do for your health and to prevent disease. Simultaneously, we have a general public that is afraid of sunlight.
Even the subject of melanoma is rife with misunderstanding because there is research showing, mechanistically, that if you expose cells in a Petri dish to lots of UV light, you can absolutely induce DNA damage and induce cancer formation.
You can take rats and expose them to tons of isolated UV light and induce cancer. You can even find an association between sun burns and increased melanoma risk.
Despite all of those things, it is also the case that when you compare people with regular sun exposure to people with much less sun exposure, they do not have higher rates of melanoma.
In fact, there’s a bunch of studies comparing outdoor workers to indoor workers, showing that outdoor workers have lower rates of melanoma despite three to nine times more sun exposure.”
One of the reasons for this is because indoor workers are exposed to fluorescent lighting, which is loaded with dirty electricity or high voltage transients that cause biological harm. So, not only do they not get sunlight exposure, but they also get harmful EMF exposure.
But the biggest factor has to do with the frequency of exposure. Intermittent exposure – occasional exposure followed by many days or weeks of little to no exposure – tends to be more problematic than regular, frequent sun exposure, as you’re more likely to burn and cause DNA damage in your skin.
Regular exposure, on the other hand, ameliorates this risk, as it engages innate adaptive systems in your skin, your melanin in particular, that are explicitly designed to prevent DNA damage from UV light exposure.
“So, we have this system built into our bodies that’s designed to allow us to get all these benefits of sunlight without the DNA damage and the increased skin cancer risk,” Whitten says.“Framing light as a nutrient is the best way of understanding this.
Just as we require adequate nutrients from the food we eat, just as our bodies require physical movement to express normal cell function, we also require adequate light exposure to express normal cell function. The absence of that exposure to sunlight creates abnormal cell function. And there are myriad mechanisms through which this occurs.
Vitamin D is obviously the most well-known one that regulates over 2,000 genes related to immune health, musculoskeletal health and many other things. But there are many other mechanisms [as well].”
As explained by Whitten, there are specific bioactive wavelengths, and they work through different mechanisms. One mechanism is through your eyes, which is why you’re typically better off not wearing sunglasses on a regular basis. When you’re outdoors on a sunny day, without sunglasses, blue and green wavelengths enter your eyeballs and feed through nerves into the circadian clock in your brain.
Your circadian clock, in turn, regulates a variety of bodily systems, from neurotransmitters involved in mood regulation to hormones involved in immune function. A dysregulated circadian rhythm has been linked to dozens of diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease and neurological diseases.
“I consider disrupted circadian rhythm and poor sleep to be probably the single most common cause of low energy levels and fatigue,” Whitten says. Fatigue is the key focus of his Energy Blueprint brand, and in the interview, he reviews some of the other root causes for poor energy and fatigue, aside from light exposure.
In summary, your body’s resilience, i.e., your ability to tolerate environmental stressors, is directly dependent on the robustness, both in terms of quantity and quality, of your mitochondria. When your resilience threshold is exceeded, disease processes are activated, and fatigue can be viewed as the initial universal symptom prior to overt disease. For more information about this side topic, be sure to listen to the interview or read through the transcript.
Red Light Therapy
Modern day red light and near-infrared light therapy is an extension of the original Helio therapy or sun-based therapy, which has a long and rich history of use for a number of diseases, including tuberculosis.
Over the past few decades, more than 5,000 studies have been published about red and near-infrared light therapy, a.k.a, photobiomodulation, for a wide range of ailments, from combating wrinkles and cellulite to hair regrowth, sports performance, accelerated injury recovery, increased strength and much more.
“You get improvements in strength adaptations, improvements in muscle protein synthesis and the amount of muscle that’s gained, amplified fat loss, increased insulin sensitivity — all when combined with exercise, compared with exercise alone,”
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