Article at a Glance
- Shining light on the head and body can improve overall well-being by reducing inflammation and improving physical and mental performance.
- Studies show that photobiomodulation can mitigate symptoms of several diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, low back pain, anxiety, and depression.
- There have been no significant side effects attributed to photobiomodulation.
Photobiomodulation (PBM) has been touted to be packed with health benefits that increase well-being and longevity by improving sleep quality, reducing depression, slowing aging, reducing inflammation, and providing more energy. Here we’ll describe exactly what PBM is and evaluate whether it really can positively influence health and bring out the best version of you.
What is Photobiomodulation?
Photobiomodulation is the use of light to stimulate, heal, regenerate, and protect cells in the body that have either been injured, are degenerating, or at the risk of dying.
PBM, formerly known as low-level light therapy, was accidentally discovered in 1967 by Endre Mester who was trying to treat malignant tumors in rats with a ruby laser. However, his laser wasn’t very powerful and so did not succeed in curing the tumors. Instead, he noticed some other effects of the low-level laser light, including better wound healing and faster hair growth. This led to the conclusion that low-level light could have beneficial applications in medicine [R].
Later it was found that laser light wasn’t necessary. Simple light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, performed just as well in providing beneficial health effects. This was the birth of PBM therapy, which is now gaining many accolades in the medical world [R]. The therapy is now most often administered using a device that shines light onto the desired regions of the head or body [R]. Some new companies have also developed a wearable device specifically for brain PBM [R].
There is now an increasing volume of data demonstrating the positive effects of the therapy on health. It has been found to have therapeutic effects on acute stroke, brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, depression, anxiety, and cognitive enhancement in otherwise healthy individuals [R]. Let’s shine a light on those effects.
What Happens to the Brain and Body During PBM?
During a session of PBM directed at the head, photons from the light enter through the scalp and skull, into the brain, leading to many effects. One of the effects is that seen in mitochondria, the energy powerhouses of all our cells. Light enhances mitochondrial functioning which leads to increased production of energy. In addition, light therapy induces the dilation of blood vessels, allowing more blood to flow through the brain (meaning more oxygen is delivered to the brain, which enhances function). Furthermore, light therapy induces anti-oxidant effects, prevents cell death, and reduces inflammation [R,R].
Will it Improve My Mental and Physical Performance?
There have been many reports of the positive effects of PBM on cognitive enhancement in otherwise healthy individuals. The first of these reports came from a study on mice. Exposure to light therapy improved the mice’s performance on 3D mazes. It also enhanced their decision making and they performed better on working memory tests [R].
Recent studies on humans found similarly positive results. Researchers found that after PBM treatment on the prefrontal cortex (the front part of the brain responsible for executive cognitive functions), they noticed cognitive enhancement, including improved memory, mood, and attention [R].
PBM, in fact, won’t only make you mentally work better, but physically, too. PBM can improve muscular performance, especially when it is applied to muscles 3 hours prior to exercise [R, R]. It makes exercise training more effective, helps heal muscle injuries, and reduces muscle pain or soreness after strenuous exercise [R, R].
Does it Affect Longevity?
Perhaps the most notable effect of PBM is the reduction in inflammation (an immune response whose purpose is to get rid of infections and heal injuries, but may cause harm when it becomes chronic) [R]. PBM reduces inflammation in the brain, abdominal fat, wounds, lungs, and spinal cord [R].
As inflammation is implicated in the development of many aging-related conditions, methods like PBM that decrease inflammation can help prevent some of the effects of aging [R].
PBM also repairs damaged cells and helps prevent neurological degeneration [R]. It does so not only by lowering inflammation but also by reducing oxidative stress (an imbalance in the body between anti-oxidants and free radicals that causes damage to cells and plays a role in the aging process) [R, R].
PBM is becoming an increasingly popular choice to mitigate the symptoms of a variety of conditions.
For example, a pilot study investigating the effects of PBM on Alzheimer’s patients with dementia and mild cognitive impairment found significant improvements in memory and other cognitive performance skills following 12 weeks of treatment. Patients also reported better sleep, fewer anger outbursts, and less anxiety [R].
Parkinson’s disease symptoms were also shown to be reduced with PBM therapy. Although most studies were on animal models, one clinical study evaluated the effects of PBM on the head in a small group of Parkinson’s patients. All the participants showed improved scores in balance, speech, and cognitive function [R].
There have also been several studies observing the effects of PBM on anxiety and depression. One study done in 2009 applied light therapy to the foreheads of patients with anxiety and depression. They found improvements in both depression and anxiety after a single treatment, which lasted for at least two weeks [R].
Finally, PBM is also used for its effects on musculoskeletal disorders, such as lower back pain [R]. Researchers found that PBM therapy significantly improves lower back pain and is an effective method in reducing pain as well as the functional disability in chronic lower back pain patients [R].
According to research, no significant adverse side-effects have been found to date [R].
PBM is an effective method to bring out the best version of you mentally and physically. Not only can it potentially improve your cognition and physical performance, but can also mitigate symptoms of many diseases. It may even help you live longer.
To find a clinic where you can discuss whether PBM is the right technique for you, scroll through our directory of health and longevity clinics.
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