Red Light Therapy: The forefront of neurotherapy 

      “Near infrared light can penetrate quite deep into the body. So if you shine it on your head, it will penetrate your skull and a lot of it is absorbed by your brain. Once you understand this, it’s amazing to think of the various diseases of the brain that need regeneration and healing, which could potentially be treated with light therapy.” 

      - Dr. Michael Hamblin, PhD., Associate Professor, Harvard Medical School [1]

     The mountain of research surrounding the benefits and safety of red light therapy exceeds over a few thousand published medical studies. In fact, light therapy (photobiomodultation) is perhaps the most thoroughly studied therapy in medicine. 

     Researchers have discovered a wide list of benefits that are the result of red and near-infrared light exposed to the brain such as cognitive improvement, the reversal of neurodegenerative diseases, improved memory and learning, enhanced mood, improved focus, faster recovery from traumatic brain injury (TBI), decreased brain inflammation, and a protective effect on neurons. [1], [2], [3], [4], [5].

Let's take a deeper look at the research...

Key mechanism: Mitochondrial health

     A lot of the focus on why red light therapy has so many cognitive benefits is because of its unique ability to improve the health of our mitochondria. Our brain is has one of the largest densities of mitochondria within our entire body, and requires a lot of energy in order to function properly.


     If you don't already know, our mitochondria are what produce energy in the form of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) that helps power each and every one of our cells. If our mitochondria aren't producing enough energy or performing properly, cellular function begins to rapidly decline and along with it our health. 

Protecting the brain: Red and near-infrared light

     "If near-infrared light was appleid at early stages of the disease process, for example at first diagnosis, it could potentially slow further progession by protecting neurons from death. Consequently, over time, the greater neuronal survival would lessen the clinical signs and symptoms. Further, near-infrared therapy, because of its lack of side-effects and neuroprotective potential, is amenable to use in conjunction with other treatments." [6]

Improve Neurodegeneration

Recent studies have now found that near-infrared and red light therapy may significantly slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.[6], [7].

Improve Cognition

In 2013, a team of researchers conducted the first placebo-controlled study demonstrating cognitive performance benefits in human subjects who received light therapy treatments directed at the brain. The results showed improved reaction times, better memory, and more positive moods. [8]

Increased brain healing

Red light therapy has been shown to accelerate regeneration of injured peripheral nerve and increase the axonal number and distance of nerve axon regrowth. It has also shown to improve sleep and enhanced recovery from brain injury/inflammation. [9]

“These highly beneficial effects on the brain suggest that the applications of light therapy on the brain are much broader than at first conceived.”  

Dr. Michael Hamblin, PhD on red light therapy.

More benefits from cranial red light therapy

Many more recent studies on red light therapy have shown that treatments increase memory, memory retention, can reverse age-related and brain-injury-related cognitive decline, and even improve brain recovery after cardiac arrest. [10]

 The results of a study in 2017 attribute red light therapy to have “a result of increased neuroprogenitor cells in the dentate gyrus and subventricular zone, increased BDNF, and more synaptogenesis in the cortex.” [11]

The 2017 study also showed significant improvements in patients’ executive function, clock drawing, immediate recall, memory, visual attention, and task switching, as well as “a trend of improved EEG amplitude and connectivity measures.” Of major importance, researchers also noted there were “no negative side effects.” [10].

The conclusion:

Red light therapy is without a doubt one of the most well researched, safe and beneficial treatments for almost all brain related dysfunction and disorders. It seems as though we have only scratched the surface with the potential of healing that red and near-infrared light have to offer, and expect home devices to only gain in more popularity as time increases. 

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[1] Hamblin, M, et al. (2018). Low-level light therapy: Photobiomodulation. Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE). 

[2] Meng, C. et al. (2013). Low-level laser therapy rescues dendrite atrophy via upregulating BDNF expression: implications for Alzheimer's disease. The Journal of Neuroscience. 

[3] Johnstone, D. et al. (2015). Turning On Lights to Stop Neurodegeneration: The Potential of Near Infrared Light Therapy in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Disease. Frontiers in Neuroscience. 

[4] de la Torre, JC. (2017). Treating cognitive impairment with transcranial low level laser therapy. Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology. 

[5] Hamblin, M. (2016). Shining light on the head: Photobiomodulation for brain disorders. BBA Clinical.

[6] Johnstone, D. et. al. (2015). Turning On Lights to Stop Neurodegeneration: The Potential of Near Infrared Light Therapy in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Disease. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 9: 500. 

[7] Fannie Darlot,Ph.D., et al. (2015) Near-infrared light is neuroprotective in a monkey model of Parkinson disease

[8] Barrett DW, et al. Transcranial infrared laser stimulation produces beneficial cognitive and emotional effects in humans. 2013 Jan 29;230:13-23.  

[9] Naeser, M.A et al. (2011) improved cognitive function after transcranial light emitting diode treatments in chronic traumatic brain injury. Photo-medicine and laser surgery. 

[10] Berman MH, Halper JP, Nichols TW, et al. Photobiomodulation with Near Infrared Light Helmet in a Pilot, Placebo Controlled Clinical Trial in Dementia Patients Testing Memory and Cognition. J Neurol Neurosci. 2017;8(1).

[11] Hennessy M, Hamblin M. Photobiomodulation and the brain: a new paradigm. Journal of Optics. 2017 Jan;19(1):013003.