Why I’m Obsessed with Infrared Light Therapy: Boosts Metabolism, Thyroid + Mood
- Published on: 01 December, 2016
- Last update: 05 May, 2021
Okay, you guys have been asking for a blog about this all month long and I’m pretty darn excited to tell you about my latest discovery. It all started when I randomly began snapchatting myself (and my lovely friends who always humor me) with funny glasses on, bathing in a sea of bright red light.
You know I love experimenting with every health gadget I can get my hands on, and believe me-I’ve tried everything. There’s a trampoline in my spare bedroom, a vibrating plate in my living room, and a closet full of supplements in my kitchen. Some have been total hits, while others are big misses — but my passion is hacking the art of healing, so I always have to try! (I’m sure Amazon isn’t complaining, though) ?
This time, I struck gold! My trusty new infrared light isn’t a magical cure-all, but rather an awesome tool that has helped me to relax and keep my mood up as the weather gets gloomy. It only cost me $20 bucks with a $10 brooder lamp, and it has been well worth it. Best of all, there’s a bunch of studies out there supporting its many benefits. Infrared light therapy has been taking off in Europe for a while now, and I hope it becomes more mainstream in the states soon.
What is Infrared Light?
Infrared light refers to photons with a slightly longer wavelength than red, which are just outside of the human eyesight perception range.
There are 3 types of infrared: Far, Mid and Near. We are only interested in near infrared (~750-1000nm) for the purposes of light therapy, because it penetrates deep down into the subcutaneous layer of skin.
Visible light doesn’t penetrate the body well, but infrared light does, reaching down into soft tissues, muscles, joints, and bone.
As it infiltrates these many layers, it encourages nitric oxide production and mitochondrial respiration in the cells (more about later), which increases blood flow to the nerves and other tissues. This lasts for several hours after application. This can dramatically increase circulation to injury sites and areas of chronic pain.
When infrared light is used for therapeutic purposes, it is referred to as photobiomodulation, LLLT, or biostimulation. This therapy is being researched for amazing things such as the reversal of traumatic brain injury, recovery from the debilitating effects of stroke and heart attack, and the regeneration of damaged nerves and severed spinal cords.
While all of that is unfortunately still years away from mainstream practice, the power of near infrared light therapy has already been FDA approved and can be used at home for the relief of chronic pain! What’s incredible is that it does not mask the symptoms of pain, but rather encourages the healing of the actual tissue and cause. In many cases, after sufficient treatment sessions, the problem is gone for good.
The History of Red Light Therapy
The use of ‘light therapy’ in general has existed as long as plants and animals have been on the earth: hello photosynthesis! We all benefit to some degree from natural sunlight, which has distinct similarities and differences to infrared light (see next section).
Niels Ryberg Finsen won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1903 for his extensive studies involving the therapeutic effects of light. He most notably used ultraviolet light to treat lupus and other diseases. He also found that red light could be beneficial, and had published an article titled “The Red Light Treatment of Smallpox” in 1895. Finsen even used light therapy to disinfect and heal the wounds of German soldiers. Below is a photo of his earliest treatments (kinda looks like the set up in my office! Haha).
The idea of using red light for therapy was picked up by John Harvey Kellogg, who published a 200 page book titled Light Therapeutics in 1910. Kellogg had long been famous as one of the first vegetarian doctors, and yes – as the inventor of corn flakes breakfast cereal! Kellogg recommended light therapy for diabetes, obesity, chronic fatigue, insomnia, baldness, and cachexia.
The most interesting work on phototherapy, however, is being conducted as we speak. Search Pubmed for LLLT (“low-level light therapy”) and you’ll see that over 400 papers are published each year on the topic. As I said earlier, Europe (specifically Germany) is the forefront for this field.
Infrared Light vs. Sunlight
As I touched on briefly, sunlight is highly beneficial for us good old humans (and all life on earth for that matter!) Ultra Violet (sunlight) is just one frequency of light, the same way infrared is among the 8 others. Each one has its own unique healing power. Sunlight has the distinctive ability to react and create Vitamin D in our cells, lower cholesterol, and increase oxygen in the blood. Infrared light does not create Vitamin D, but has a host of other benefits (especially deep pain relief) which we’ll go over in a moment.
Because sunlight, or ultraviolet light, is such a broad spectrum, it contains both healthy and unhealthy rays that can cause sunburn and skin damage. Infrared light is a much narrower, isolated spectrum. The specific wavelengths have exclusively beneficial effects with no known side effects or harmful components – making red light therapy worry free with no SPF creams or protective clothing required.
And Now, the Unique Benefits of Infrared Light:
Red and infrared wavelengths are absorbed by the photoreceptors in our cells. Once absorbed, the light energy kicks off a whole series of metabolic events. Specifically, we see an increase in mitochondrial products such as ATP (energy), NADH, and even Co2: byproducts that show a healthy, boosted metabolism. These resulting substances have an almost identical effect to anti-inflammatory compounds in that they inhibit prostaglandin synthesis (which are a main mediator of the inflammatory response) and stop the release of various inflammatory cytokines (implicated in everything from acne to cancer).
When infrared light is absorbed into our photoreceptor cells, it also causes an increase in blood flow. This allows parts of the body that are low in circulation to receive the oxygen and nutrients they need in order to function more effectively. (This includes increased blood flow to your liver, which in turn boosts your body’s ability to detoxify!)
Many people experience extreme healing and detoxification benefits from full-on infrared saunas, but a single bulb like the one I’m using in the photos of this post is sufficient and can be used to focus healing energy on a specific body part, injury or infection. Many viruses, bacteria, parasites and tumor cells have poor tolerance to heat compared to normal healthy cells and can be killed with focused near infrared light and the heat it emits.
Benefits of near infrared light/energy include:
- BOOSTS METABOLISM – Your mitochondria (the power plant of the cells) produce more ATP (cellular energy) when NIR, or near infrared rays, are introduced.
- REDUCES BODY FAT – A group of 20 women riding stationary bicycles 3 times per week for 4 weeks exposed to NIR lost an average of 8 cm or 444% more as compared to 20 women doing the same exercise without NIR.
- INCREASES ENERGY – NIR activates the color sensitive chemicals (chromophores & cytochrome systems) to depths of 23 centimeters (or about 10 inches), stimulating energy production in the cells.
- IMPROVES CIRCULATION TO THE MUSCLES – NIR causes the release of nitric oxide, something you may have read about in fitness/bodybuilding articles before. This coveted metabolic byproduct stimulates vasodilatation of the microcirculatory system, bringing more blood to the muscles which can improve your workouts greatly.
- BETTER ENDURANCE – Muscle fatigue was reduced by up to 42.2% when exposing muscle to NIR.
- FASTER RECOVERY TIME – Certain tissue regenerating genes including integrins, laminin, gap junction proteins and kinesin proteins have shown a two- to five-fold increase upon exposure to NIR.
Relieves Pain, Arthritis & Neuropathy
- PAIN RELIEF/ARTHRITIS/FIBROMYALGIA – Neck, shoulder, elbow, knee and back pain respond well to near infrared light, as shown in dozens of studies. The penetrating heat promotes healing and rejuvenation, and the frequencies of the light rays speed healing and recovery (once again, all thanks to the boosted mitochondria!) Most patients experience a swift decrease in pain within minutes of treatment. After a 20 minute session, headaches can be gone for good, and temporary tooth ache can be eliminated. Chronic back or arthritis pain is reduced significantly after several sessions. (It’s also great for carpal tunnel, tendonitis, and strains/sprains).
- KNEE OSTEOARTHRITIS – Application of near infrared (830 nm) light to the knees of osteoarthritis patients dramatically reduced knee pain scores (see study).
Fun Fact: NIR light therapy has been used by the U.S. military to speed recovery from soft tissue injuries in elite soldiers in the Navy, Army Rangers, and Special Forces. Hospitals, nursing homes and long-term care facilities use it to accelerate the healing of pressure ulcers (bed sores), wounds, and neuropathy.
Fights Infections, Candida & Parasites
- EYE, EAR, SINUS & TOOTH INFECTIONS – The single lamp can be very helpful for infections and other conditions involving these hard to reach areas. These dark, damp areas are ripe breeding grounds for bacteria. Many people are unaware that they have low level chronic infections in their ears, mouth and sinuses. The heat and rays of an infrared lamp helps to kill pathogens in these areas. If you have a recurring sinus infection or congestion that you just can’t beat, shine an infrared lamp on the sinuses (while wearing protective glasses with your eyes closed, of course) for 10 minutes at a time, six times a day. Relief can occur in as little as two to five days.
- BLADDER INFECTIONS & VAGINAL YEAST – Many bladder and vaginal infections can become recurring and resistant to treatment with antibiotics and antifungals. A single infrared bulb can penetrate the tissues of these areas, killing pathogens that have become difficult to treat with traditional methods. Red light directly destroys the fungal or bacterial micro-organisms infecting an area while strengthening your tissues at the same time. Studies show a dose dependent effect, so it’s important to get the right amount of exposure. It seems that higher doses and longer exposure times can totally eradicate fungi such as candida, whereas low doses seem to just inhibit its growth.
- NAIL FUNGUS – Toenail fungus is very resistant to conventional treatment. Daily infrared heat lamp therapy can kill nail fungus or keep it under control.
Improves Skin & Detoxification
- DETOXIFIES THE BODY – Increased blood circulation from NIR stimulates the sweat glands, releasing built-up toxins and waste. Sweat is the only way to remove certain carcinogenic PCBs, dioxins, phthalates, and volatile organic hydrocarbons. This can improve your skin as toxins are no longer coming out through eruptions and blemishes.
- REDUCES CELLULITE – Cellulite is fat mixed with toxins that are trapped, in part due to an underactive circulatory system. Cellulite is so visible, in part due to weakened connective tissue or fascia. NIR helps rebuild connective tissue and has been shown to reduce cellulite.
- REDUCES ACNE, ECZEMA & PSORIASIS – I personally have seen huge benefits in this category. I’ve gotten my acne under control these past few years (I made a video about it here) – but I still get a spot or two around my menstrual cycle. I started using the red light directly on my face for no more than 5-10 minutes at a time (with glasses on and eyes closed) and my skin is clearer than ever. I didn’t break out this month and everything is so much smoother. This makes sense as the penetrating waves are able to kill acne-causing bacteria hiding in the skin.
Deep Relaxation Benefits
- INHIBITS THE SYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM – Most people feel like they can’t relax, even if they try their best! Are you one of those people that can be getting a massage, or meditating in a field of freakin’ daisies, and you still can’t seem to fully let go? Your sympathetic nervous system is probably in overdrive. The tremendous benefit of temporarily inhibiting this system is not offered by many therapies and is very unique to the red light. It enables the body to relax, heal and regenerate itself much faster, causing recovery from many types of ailments. Most people I know fall asleep as soon as the red light hits their stomach or back – it’s THAT soothing! Make sure you set a timer so that you don’t drift off and overtreat yourself.
- HYPOTHYROIDISM/HASHIMOTOS – Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism patients were exposed to near infrared (830 nm) radiation of the skin over the thyroid gland. Nine months later, 48% of the treatment group had been able to stop taking thyroid hormone, and the average T4 dose had dropped from 93 mcg to 39 mcg. In the control group, the average T4 dose had increased from 90 mcg to 107 mcg (study). Similar results have been reported in other studies.
Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspective
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), most people in our Western world of iced drinks and crop tops are suffering from “spleen” and/or “kidney” yang deficiency. This doesn’t refer to the literal organs, but rather the meridians and organ systems indicated in Chinese medicine. “Spleen” would govern digestion, nutrient assimilation, muscle function, water distribution (preventing retention), and self-confidence. “Kidney” would govern your reproductive organs, your growth, libido, memory, and willpower. If either of these are lacking in Qi (energy) and are too cold (yin) or weak, you would feel it in the aforementioned areas. Symptoms would begin with bloating, poor digestion, cold hands and feet, fatigue, etc.
A near infrared lamp is the PERFECT way to tonify these organ systems/meridians and restore your yang/Qi. I sit every single day with the lamp right on my stomach (to improve my “spleen” aka digestion), and I also lay down with the lamp directly over my lower back (“kidney” meridian). Many acupuncturists will actually have you lay under a lamp of their own while your needles are in, especially if you have fatigue. Buying a $20 lamp for your home is an easy alternative!
How to Use/Where to Buy
I then securely attached it to hang from a regular old lamp I got from a yard sale (this is just because I needed some sort of a stand. If you have a better idea please let me know!) This is what mine looks like:
The lamp works out to be around 12″ from my body when I’m laying on the bed, so it’s perfect. I get just enough heat to be toasty and warm, but not so much to where it burns me. I use the light on my stomach before or after a meal to boost digestion, to calm me down when I’m feeling anxious, to help me sleep, on my face for acne & wrinkle prevention, and on my thyroid to boost my metabolism. I’ve also been using it for 5 minutes at a time pointed at my scalp with a hair treatment on to boost hair growth. My boyfriend Nick uses it on his knee and wrist pain and LOVES it! I also wear UV protection glasses to be safe:
- Buy a NIR bulb and a brooder lamp. Clamp the lamp to a chair, shelf, headboard of a bed, or other convenient location where you can move your body close to the lamp. You can also hang it like I did, but make sure it’s secure.
- Shine the light on the location of your body that you want to treat, whether it’s a painful joint or your stomach for improving digestion. Always set a timer for your session. Infrared lights can induce deep relaxation and you could fall asleep under the light and over treat yourself!
- Sit about 12″ to 24″ from the lamp. Move the lamp or your body slightly during the lamp session to avoid burning yourself. Allow the area to become as hot as one can comfortably tolerate. If the lamp is fixed, move the body slightly. Keeping the lamp on one spot for more than a few minutes causes a slight reddening of the skin that is not harmful and will go away.
- Use the lamp 5-60 minutes per session, one to six times per day. If you are using it on your head (ears, sinuses, etc.), use it no more than 10 minutes at a time.