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The Science of Light

At our core, we are a team of scientists elevating a crucial discovery to humanity.
Unearth the astonishing things we've learned below.  

Red light therapy, otherwise known as photobiomodulation (PBM) or Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT), may be one of the oldest treatments you’ve never heard of.

 

In a nutshell, it is using narrow ranges of visible and invisible light on the body to increase the health of cells. 

For centuries, humans have been using sunlight as treatment for various ailments. By condensing sunlight through lenses or adding plant extracts to make patients more sun-sensitive, people have treated skin conditions like vitiligo, lesions, and rickets.

While still a young field compared to giants like astronomy and microbiology, modern Photobiomodulation is as established as cellular technology, portable calculators, and other devices that are extremely commonplace today.

What can Red Light Therapy do?

The real question is, what can't it do? Scientists across the world have been delighted and surprised to find that red light therapy can help the human body so many different ways. 

Red light therapy helps with moderate and chronic pain management, including muscle and joint pains. It is also proven to proliferate collagen production, making for healthier skin and hair. Red light therapy helps with recovery after strenuous activities, it's also a great way to prevent cellular breakdown and disease probability, and is an incredible source for energy, making you feel more alert, more awake, and more like yourself. 

If it's so great, why isn't it everywhere?

 

Modern PBM was founded in 1967 following the invention of the first laser, which puts PBM squarely between invention of the first microchip and the founding of cryogenics on the timeline of scientific discoveries. The first lasers were enormous and costly, reducing the number of labs which could perform testing and slowing the young research field’s growth.

 

This all changed after 2 events. First, Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) capable of narrow ranges of wavelengths became more efficient in light production and much cheaper to buy. Second, research showing that LEDs the same wavelengths of lasers were able to produce similar beneficial effects. While some LLLT researchers asserted that lasers were still superior to LEDs for technical reasons (higher power, light that was in phase, pulsed light), LEDs showing positive effects meant that researchers could study PBM of many wavelengths using the cheaper and easier to acquire LEDs. 

With the advent of LED-based PBM, research rapidly increased. NASA produced LEDs for wound healing, which the military in turn used to speed musculoskeletal recovery times aboard naval submarines. Research publications have steadily increased from the 30-40 per year of the early 1990s to ~400 a year in 2018 and 2019.

 

With the modern ubiquity of LED technologies and the growing body of science supporting red light therapies, we are beginning to see it implemented more and more into our society. 

Currently, you can find red light therapy LEDs in places like tanning salons, doctor's offices, and athletic facilities. This is a great start, but it is no where near where our society needs to be in terms of access to light therapy. Our vision is to put the power of red light therapy in your own hands, and in your own home, with personalized, affordable, smart red light therapy devices. 

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What does this research look like?

 

PBM research breaks down into two major categories: mechanism research and application research. 

Mechanism research zooms into the effect that light is having at the cell level to try to understand how it works. The trouble with research in the light space is it’s like measuring ripples from a thrown stone and then trying to determine which wave came first. Light as a photon act as that stone, being absorbed by many proteins in the cell, with each of the proteins having their own cascade of ripples to improve the health of the cell. For example, 660nm red light is absorbed by the cellular respiration complex, CCO, in the mitochondria. After absorbing this energy, the CCO protein is more efficient in using oxygen to make the cellular energy, ATP. The mitochondria are also more polarized, increasing this efficiency further. Cells with more energy can devote that energy to repair damage, replicate, and power other proteins in the cell. 

These downstream effects can be measured, but differentiation of what reaction came first after the photon is a chicken/egg question at a molecular scale. One study found that red light applied to human skin fibroblasts changed the expression levels of 111 genes.

Current research is trying to parse out exactly what pathways are most important for the beneficial effects. Processes that reduce inflammation, increase energy, increase cellular repair, increase DNA damage repair, and increase cell replication have been identified. This makes picking instances where PBM would be beneficial difficult, because more energetic cells are overall healthier. This feature makes PBM research feel unapproachable, and sometimes hand-wavey, as light can do many things while not having a clear root. Further, in instances where we don’t want the cells to be healthier, such as cancers, research is unclear; showing some indication of both positive and negative results. Without a greater grasp on what pathways in the cell are most responsible for the benefit, engineering smart treatments for cancerous cells may be difficult. But, because of the nature of light, PBM is limited to the depth of tissue that the light can penetrate to giving us great means of control. 

Theory behind application research is straight forward for PBM studies. Most diseases or ailments have generally agreed upon measures of severity or hallmarks of the disease, as well as identifiers of recovery. For example, a burn can be measured by size, where it falls on the degree scale (1st – 4th degree) to determine how bad it is, and by measuring markers of inflammation and the time it takes to heal we can determine whether recovery is aided by any particular treatment.  Any unwanted changes, like a rash, fever, or other damages caused by the treatment are recorded as side effects. 

What is remarkable looking at the current human and animal trials of light applied to ailments is the lack of side effects. Even the most commonly used pain relievers have negative side effects on stomach pH and liver health. Other than some applications reporting individual subjects having sensitivity to the tested light wavelengths, no themes of side effects have surfaced. Because of this, PBM is often looked at as a no risk, high potential reward treatment for a multitude of ailments.  

Human trials of PBM on over 100 different human diseases have already been completed. Mild to moderate improvements have been demonstrated in pain, bone regrowth, wound healing, some peripheral nerve disorders, mood/cognition, various skin disorders, among others. In some instances, such as psoriasis, seasonal affective disorder, and migraines, specialized light products are already FDA approved and recommended by physicians. In some illnesses, such as tendonitis, some oral cavity diseases, and thyroid dysfunction, results are mixed with some describing no change at all to slight improvements in conflict to other studies with mild improvement. 

Variation in results may be attributed to the application of the light itself. While the wavelengths used are fairly set, how much light and at what intensity and distance is different between a majority of studies even on the same disease. This makes comparing study results difficult and drives the need for further studies in a self-fulfilling cycle. Without a large-scale experiment trying all variables or an accepted standard for light application, PBM as a field will continue to strive for a definitive answer just out of reach. 

As a whole PBM has decades of research to support that therapeutic application of light can improve health of cells, leading to the reduction of symptoms for ailments rooted in pain, poor circulation, and mitochondria dysfunction. Light is a palliative treatment, requiring careful application and continued use for sustained relief. And as PBM works to make overall cell health better, it is an attractive first option for problems not fully under control through medication or other interventions.

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