‘Shedding light’ on fighting cancer – The new light therapies
By Ric Coggins
There’s a lot of conversation today involving red light therapy, infrared light therapy and near-infrared light therapy. TV ads touting baseball caps that claim to regrow hair, tanning salons that previously offered only ultraviolet light are now offering light from “the other side of the electromagnetic tracks,” gyms and health clubs are offering enhanced workouts with the application of red light before and after, and many local chiropractors and naturopaths now offer red light treatments for a number of maladies.
The infrared spectrum I’m referring to lives below the red light we can see and above the realm of microwaves. You may also have heard this part of the spectrum referred to by terms other than red light. The same light waves are also called low-level laser therapy, or low-level light therapy. Most broadly this realm may be referred to as “photo bio modulation,” which is defined as the modulation of biology, by light photons.
More than 5,000 separate studies have been accumulated over the last few decades showing profound benefits of red light therapies for a broad array of wellness challenges. Unlike traffic lights, in the realm of wellness, red means GO! Much of the conversation noted above is in the realm of the cosmetic, where the red light spectrum has been shown to fight skin aging, decrease wrinkles, increase collagen production and fight cellulite formation.
Today, red lights are also being used in the physical fitness field to stimulate fat loss; help speed recovery from workouts and adaptations to exercise; and to enhance gains in strength, endurance and muscle tone. Other red light uses include combatting hair loss, and speeding up the healing of injuries and wounds to skin, muscle and even bone tissues.
Red and near-infrared wavelengths have a unique ability to penetrate beneath our skin, as much as several inches into our body, where they interact directly with our cells in ways that drive these benefits.
History of Light Therapies
And while all of this might sound new, the research into light therapies has been going on for decades. Somehow my dad was aware of light therapies when I was a kid. I can recall in the early 1960s a time when I was painfully constipated. Rather than give me the over-the-counter chocolate remedy that I wanted, he placed a red bulb in my student desk lamp and shined it on my tummy. He explained that the wavelength of the red light would stimulate my system to get things moving. Sure enough, in about 20 minutes the problem resolved.
Along that same line, my dad placed a blue bulb in my night light, telling me it would have the opposite effect as the red light and it would relax me and help me go to sleep faster. Even though he worked with only primitive colored party light bulbs, today it seems my dad was way ahead of his time.
Applying the Technology to Cancer
The newest front for red light photo bio modulation is cancer. Initially, practitioners used red light on superficial cancers such as skin cancer or lesions in very shallow tissue (less than one cm deep). This is called photodynamic therapy (PDT). In PDT, the cancer patient is given a non-toxic light-sensitive drug, which is absorbed by all the body’s cells, including the cancerous ones. Red “laser” lights specifically tuned to the drug molecules are then selectively directed onto the tumor area. When the red light interacts with the photosensitive drug, it produces a highly reactive form of oxygen (singlet oxygen) that kills the malignant cancer cells while leaving most of the neighboring healthy cells unharmed.
While still in the experimental stages, deeper tumors are now being addressed with something called photoimmunotherapy. Near-infrared photoimmunotherapy uses an antibody–photo absorber conjugate that literally binds to cancer cells. When near-infrared light is applied, the cells swell and then burst, causing the cancer cell to die. Photoimmunotherapy is in clinical trials in patients with inoperable tumors. Look for this work to be a disruptive technology to the cancer treatment industry.
Healing Mouth Sores
The red light spectrum is also currently being used to stimulate healing of sores in the mouth, which are a common side effect of chemotherapy. The sores, technical referred to as “oral mucositis,” look like cold sore ulcers and generally occur within several days of a chemo treatment. They are extremely painful. Patients cannot drink, eat, swallow, or in some cases even breathe without excruciating mouth pain. Doctors often have to resort to prescribing opiates for relief. Each red light treatment takes only about five minutes, with one part of the process involving a red light applied to the cheeks and facial exterior and a second application with a red light wand placed inside the mouth, shined specifically on the roof of the mouth.
How it Works
As you might guess, not just any sort of lamp emitting red-colored light will provide these direct benefits. First it needs to be of the correct power output. Then it also needs to have the correct wavelengths for the wellness task at hand.
A significant value of infrared light is that it penetrates deeper into our body than does visible red light by roughly 25% to 50%. Technically, it is the photons of light that actually penetrate into the cells.
Red light photons even penetrate through the outer membrane of the cells deep into the mitochondria, where they interact with photoreceptors within the cell. Yes, all of this works because our cells have photoreceptors for the photons to interact with, much like antidepressants act on serotonin receptors. These photoreceptors, called cytochrome c oxidases, basically take in photons of light, which then helps to “donate” electrons to drive an electron flow down the electron transport chain of mitochondria.
All of this ultimately acts to aid the mitochondria to generate energy more efficiently. This is one of the main mechanisms believed to be activated by the red light spectrums. Currently several other mechanisms are also known to be acting concurrently, with many more I believe yet to be discovered.
On a related note, some amazing research with respect to Hashimoto’s, hypothyroidism and red light therapy has been done. Thought to be a precursor of several cancers including the one I had, it appears that even Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism can benefit from red light therapy, perhaps preempting future potential cancers. With daily thyroid gland red light applications, people are getting great results. Over time, many people are able to wean themselves off thyroid medications and dramatically decrease thyroid antibodies.
Where to Find Treatments
Red light therapies are offered by a number of providers, from tanning salons to medical spas to doctors’ offices and wellness centers. For the convenience of not having to go somewhere and for everyday treatment, you may want to look into owning your own red light device.
The BEMER package I bought came with a red light accessory that I use in addition to the PEMF modalities which I wrote about in my article on bad and good EMFs earlier this year. Dedicated red light devices for home use can run from a few hundred dollars to $5,000 or $6,000. The main differences are honestly how much money can you afford to spend, and what physical size light bar you want.
Smaller, less expensive red light devices can only cover selected portions of the body at a time and with less power to do so, whereas the larger, more expensive options for home use can apply red light to one whole side of the body at once. For those with more financial resources than available time, two of them can treat your front and back at the same time.
Some recommended sources for home care red light application are the BEMER with its red light accessory, Red Therapy Co, Joovv and PlatinumLED Therapy Lights. While I am sure there are many other brands of good red light devices, I know that the above aforementioned have significant third-party verification of their efficacy.
Follow all of Ric Coggins journey by visiting our website.
Ric Coggins is a University of Arizona Master Gardener who grew up on a one-acre garden tended by his father, who was a regular contributor to Mother Earth News and Organic Gardening and Farming magazines. Ric continues his father’s “green” traditions on a one-acre organic garden urban homestead in Mesa he calls The Fool on the Hill Farm.