Red light therapy has impressive documentation showing the ability to help with conditions like hypothyroid, skin anti-aging, athletic performance, fatigue and recovery. However, some companies would have you believe you need to buy devices that are more expensive than what is actually needed. Today I speak with Ari Whiten, who wrote the book on red light therapy. He provides an impactful, no BS overview of how to use red light therapy, inexpensively.
Dr. Michael Ruscio, DC: Hey everyone, welcome to Dr. Ruscio Radio, this is Dr. Ruscio. Today I’m here with Ari Whitten, and we are going to be talking about red light therapy. It’s kind of interesting the way I came to know Ari in this context. I was on his podcast a number of weeks ago to discuss my usual, SIBO and digestive health. At the same time, I was looking into red light therapy and was looking for a good book on the topic and stumbled across a book entitled, I have it in my hand here, Red Light Therapy by Ari Whitten. I said, “Oh, no kidding.”
I had no clue that you actually wrote a book, and begrudgingly I have not read it yet, but from everything I’ve gathered you’ve written a really evidence-based, practical guide to red light therapy. The perfect person to have on the show. I guess Ari can you tell people a little bit about your background, and then how you got into red light therapy or photo-biomodulation, another term that it may be described as. Then, we can actually define it for people who maybe haven’t heard of it.
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Dr. R’s Fast Facts Summary
What is PhotoBioModulation?
- Using light to improve health. The sun is a good example of this
There are five different bioactive forms of light
- See the list of bioactive forms of light, and how they interact with the body, below
- Best evidence
- Skin anti-aging
- Fat loss
- Athletic performance and recovery
- Wound and injury healing
- Pain, arthritis, and fibromyalgia
- Some evidence for
- Brain-health – Neurodegenerative disorders
- Least evidence for
- Digestive health – hasn’t really been studied yet
- Lasers (beams) versus LEDs (broad span lights) – Broad span LEDs often have the same effect as a laser device though there are some nuances to choosing one over the other
- If you want to treat a very specific wound, a cut, tendonitis or the thyroid gland, lasers do have the ability to target
- If you want to treat broad areas, the LED panels are superior to lasers, because they can cover a large area of your body with light, all at once
- For LEDs, Ari recommends the Red Rush or Platinum LED Therapy Lights
- Blue light therapy for circadian rhythm
- SAD lamps, seasonal affective disorder lamps
- UV tanning beds
- Helps your body synthesize vitamin D if you live somewhere with not enough sunlight
- For a break down of dosing for different conditions like anti-aging, fat loss, athletic performance, and recovery, and more (see image below).
- Over-treating – treating too often or too much, can lead to fatigue or being run down
- Like too much sun can equal a burn and too much light can lead to overtreatment
Where to learn more about Ari
Ari Whitten: Yeah, absolutely. It’s the ultimate guide to this, and I say that kind of jokingly because when I published this book, three months ago, it was pretty much the only book in existence on Amazon. There was no other book other than actual medical textbooks meant for professionals, researchers, and physicians in this field. I was the first person to really publish a laypersons guide to all of the research on this subject.
Interestingly enough it’s no longer THE book because it was actually plagiarized, believe it or not, eight or maybe nine times is the latest count. There are some professional plagiarists on Amazon that are hacking together these garbage books that try to copy and paste sections of my book, and just throw together this piece of nonsense with all kinds of grammatical and spelling mistakes. But, anyway, it was once the book on the subject, now there are eight copies.
DrMR: That’s frustrating, geez, I can only imagine.
AW: Well, it’s okay, they’re all garbage, and you know, I’m not really worried about it, I’ll put it that way. They haven’t plagiarized the whole thing word for word, they’re kind of hack jobs and anybody who buys one of them will figure out real fast that it’s not really worth anything.
Ari Whitten’s Background
My background, I’ve been studying health for, I guess 20 years now, which is a pretty long time considering I’m only 35. I guess I had a unique obsession with it when I was very young as a teenager, and I’ll give you the very short, short version of this. I started maybe as a typical teenager interested in building muscles, getting abs, getting biceps, with very aesthetic and vain reasons in mind. Basically, just developed kind of an obsession with physiology, with fitness, with nutrition. I had a unique gift for it. I was reading college level nutrition and physiology textbooks by the time I was 15 or 16. That’s pretty much all I wanted to do with my time.
Then, went on to be a personal trainer for many years, a nutritionist. Was doing a lot of health coaching. Did a Ph.D. program in clinical psychology. Thought I wanted to go be a doctor. Went to a program to get my MD, realized that I really did not like the conventional medical paradigm because I had been studying holistic health for over 10 years at that point. Basically left that, went and did my Ph.D. program in clinical psych. In the midst of all of this also got serious chronic fatigue after I came down with mononucleosis from the Epstein-Barr virus. That was a big shift for me that really directed me towards energy and fatigue, and I sort of became obsessed with that and left my previous focus around body composition and fat loss and fitness.
I kind of lost interest in that stuff and became uniquely obsessed with fatigue and kind of the science around energy, which I felt very, very few people were delving into the science of that deeply. I kind of just was fascinated with the fact that so many people, there’s kind of this epidemic of fatigue and low energy. Nobody was really building out a comprehensive science of the causes, and what did exist, a lot of the stuff around adrenal fatigue I found was, a lot of it was very much pseudoscience. That’s a little bit of a digression, I’ve talked about that in my blog and podcast pretty extensively.
I wanted to build out a really evidence-based understanding of energy levels, and how to enhance them. That has been my focus for the last five or six years now with the Energy Blueprint, which is my brand. A big part of that, kind of in the midst of all of this, maybe 10 years ago, I became very deeply interested in photo-biomodulation. To break that word down for everybody, photo means light, bio is life or your biology, and modulation is modulation. It’s basically modifying or modulating your biology with light.
That’s been a big passion of mine and a huge interest of mine for about 10 years now, and I spent the last year or so writing the ultimate guide to red and near-infrared light therapy. That’s kind of my health background and my interest in photo-biomodulation all encapsulated into a few minutes.
DrMR: Nice, well it was very succinct, thank you, and it’s a great backstory. I have to give you credit that your book has 382 references, and you’re definitely an author after my own heart where you actually put the reference in the body of the text, which I really appreciate. It really irks me when someone writes a whole chapter and then they give you a bunch of references at the end. You don’t know what reference is supporting what statement, and I think if someone’s very discerning with what they say, every time they say something that might be considered in the slightest bit controversial, they want to plop that reference right there so that you can see what the support is for that. It looks like this is what you’ve done with your book, so although I haven’t read it, I got a sense I’m really going to like it.
AW: Yes, yeah, and thank you for mentioning that. I mentioned this to you when you were on my podcast, but I really appreciate this about you as well. You are one of the few people I’ve experienced out there that is really, has a deep understanding of scientific literacy, and the hierarchy of evidence. Intellectual honesty about really sticking to the evidence, and making sure that everything you say is backed by evidence. Like you, it’s very much a pet peeve of mine that there are far too many people out there, health gurus out there, who are saying a lot of nonsense and don’t seem to feel compelled to actually have any scientific evidence to back up anything they think. They just sort of put their belief system ahead of the evidence. Thank you for pointing that out, I try to really stick to the evidence.
DrMR: Yeah no, I mean I think it’s fantastic. Especially with these newer therapies, it’s really important to stick to the evidence because if not you can just have these heretics who, and I’ve openly criticized this, essentially take poor quality data and they kind of twist it to support whatever they’re trying to support. So, oh, this can help with weight loss, because six rats lost a nominal amount of weight in one rat study.
With that in mind, photo-biomodulation is a way to improve the health of the host using light therapy. I know light therapy breaks down into a few different categories, so can you kind of help people organize the different types of light, because that will then kind of transition to the different types of devices that can be used. Help get us organized here from a high level as we drill down into these details.
AW: Yeah, great question. First of all, it’s kind of a unique thing for a lot of people to even think about light affecting human biology. Most people are not used to thinking about things in that way at all. Man-made light was created, I forget the exact year the light bulb was created, but maybe 150 years ago or something like that. Since then, we’ve created all sorts of different lighting technologies and different sorts of electronics, you know, computers and phones and tablets and TVs and indoor lighting and things like that, that emit different kinds of light. Different kinds of light spectrums. Most people are used to thinking about light as just sort of, hey, light is what lights up a room and allows me to see things. Light is the opposite of darkness. Most people really don’t have much of a conception of the profound effect of light on human biology.
Now, I like to phrase this in a context of your light diet. What is your level of light nutrition? Because, I believe based on the research, and I’ve looked at thousands of studies on many different types of light and how it relates to human health. I believe that the effect of light on human health is as profound as the effect of nutrition. The problem is that most peoples light diet is the equivalent, the nutrition equivalent, of eating an all McDonald’s diet. Most people have really crappy junk food light diets. Now, what do I mean by this?
5 Bioactive Forms of Light
There are basically five different bioactive forms of light, and I’ll start with a couple that people might have, you know, that their brain will start to connect the dots here and they’ll realize they actually do have some familiarity with.
DrMR: Ari, just one quick thing here before you launch in, just to help kind of get the audience with us in case they’re a bit skeptical. Remember that sun could be thought as an example of this, and we’ve talked on the podcast previously how beneficial sun exposure is and how detrimental lack of sun exposure is. I think we already have kind of an ancestrally grounded premise that should make us, or help us be open minded to light as having therapeutic benefit.
AW: Exactly, and yeah, that’s exactly where I was going to go. The thing is with the sun there’s lots and lots of different wavelengths, and they’re active through different physiological mechanisms. One mechanism that people will have heard already, and maybe they didn’t realize it this way, but sunlight, specifically UV light, interacts with our skin in order to help our bodies make vitamin D. We make vitamin D from UV light exposure on our skin, okay. Everybody has heard of vitamin D and we know that it’s a regulator of over 2000 genes in our bodies, and affects the immune system and is linked with all kinds of disease and mortality outcomes. Vitamin D is really, really important. Well, that’s just one wavelength of the sun that’s affecting our bodies function.
Now, most people are massively deficient in UV exposure to their skin and vitamin D. But, we’ll leave that aside for now, that could be a topic of a whole hour or two long podcast by itself. One other mechanism here is blue light exposure and circadian rhythm, so one of the other wavelengths that we get from the sun is blue light. That’s part of the overall spectrum of light that the sun is emitting. Now if blue light sounds like a weird concept just think of looking up at a blue sky. If you’re looking at a blue sky, that’s light in the visible blue wavelengths that are entering your eyes.
Now, that blue light enters your eyes, feeds back through nerves into a part of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, where your circadian clock lies. Now, you’re circadian clock, basically, to sum up a large body of hundreds of thousands studies very simply, the circadian clock in our brain regulates all sorts of different hormones and neurotransmitters that affect everything from our metabolism to our appetite to our energy levels to our mood, to our wake and sleep cycles. That’s just to name a few, it also is very much related to all sorts of disease and mortality outcomes. Circadian rhythm is very, very important, the primary regulator of it is light exposure. One of the other aspects that the other modern world has really screwed things up for us is that we don’t have natural exposure any more to proper timing of blue light and sunlight, in particular, because we’re not getting nearly enough during the day and we’re not getting it at the right timing. At night, we have all these artificial light sources, which are emitting blue light, which are giving the brains the signal that it’s daytime, the time to be awake, alert, active, energetic.
Basically throws off the circadian clock, which in turn dis-regulates a number of different metabolic processes and hormones, and that translates into poorer energy, poorer sleep, and all sorts of negative disease and mortality outcomes. That’s two of the wavelengths of the sun. We also have far-infrared, that’s another part of the spectrum that we get from the sun. There’s a number of different aspects to this but we feel it as heat in our bodies. It affects things like circulation and blood flow. When you hear about far-infrared saunas, that’s the part of the spectrum it’s emitting, is that far-infrared energy.
Now, in addition to that, there are also two other bioactive wavelengths. Red light, which is part of the visible red part of the spectrum that humans can, you can literally see this with your eyes. You can see visible red light. And, near-infrared light. Near-infrared light is just outside of the visible light spectrum that humans can see with our eyes, so it’s actually invisible to human eyes but it’s very much a part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Red and near-infrared light have a very, very special, very unique set of mechanisms by which they act on our cells. They actually penetrate beyond the skin, so unlike UV light or blue light that really stays on the surface of the skin, red and near-infrared light can penetrate into our body. Inches into our body. Where they actually directly interact and modulate the function of our cells. We can get into the specifics of here, but that’s kind of the broad overview of the main mechanisms by which different wavelengths of light affect our bodies.
The effects are profound. When you put all these different wavelengths together this is a massive effect. Just to name one study, which you kind of alluded to briefly before I launched into this. There’s research showing that for example, there was a study in Sweden with 30,000 women, where they showed that low sunlight exposure is as detrimental to disease and mortality outcomes as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. People are really massively deficient in pretty much all of these wavelengths of light, maybe with the exception of blue light and circadian rhythm due to artificial devices at night, but we have a really, really poor light diet. It’s a big problem, and red and near-infrared light is certainly a huge part of that.
Benefits and Devices
DrMR: There are different devices that can help deliver light, and we’ll be talking in the future about, we’ve gone through a review of the evidence on lasers for hair loss, and there’s some interesting literature there. I’ve also looked just kind of haphazardly at some of the data on either red light or I believe it was near-infrared showing the ability to improve skin collagen and reduce skin wrinkles. I believe there is some evidence showing an enhancement of mitochondrial function.
Take us through what you feel to be some of the more documented benefits one can derive from different light therapies, and if you can tie them to different devices, because what I’m trying to help the reader come away with here if there’s a handful of different devices they may want to think about. Trying to contextualize, there’s maybe one device that does all this or maybe there’s a couple different ones that people may want to consider depending on the condition that they’re grappling with.
AW: Yeah, so this is a broad landscape so I’ll try and summarize this pretty succinctly. Going back to these different wavelengths of bioactive light that I just mentioned. We can talk about light therapy is the context of circadian rhythm and a particular light therapy device, they’re often called SAD lamps, seasonal affective disorder lamps. These are basically bright white light devices or blue light, sometimes green light devices, that are meant to shine in your eyes in the morning to affect circadian rhythm. That’s one type of light therapy device. Another type of light therapy device would be UV tanning beds. If you live in a place where you don’t get enough UV light exposure in the winter you can use various kinds of UV lights that help your body synthesize vitamin D.
Those are kind of two categories within this broad umbrella of, “Light therapy.” Now, with red and near-infrared light specifically, there are a number of different kinds of devices. You mentioned lasers. Most often lasers that are often used by doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors, they often call them cold laser. Cold laser is red and near-infrared light therapy. Those types of laser devices are almost always using red or near-infrared light wavelengths. Within this category of red and near-infrared light we can have lasers, which are emitting a laser beam of coherent light, where all of the waves of that light are in coherence with one another, and so it creates this beam of light. Or, we can have non-coherent light like from just an LED device that emits kind of a broad output of light that’s not in a single beam of light, but is often at the exact same wavelengths of light as the laser device is.
Now, it used to be thought for a long time that the lasers had really unique effects. This was a big problem, this was a big barrier for the adoption of this red and near-infrared light therapy because there are literally thousands of studies, over 3000 studies now showing the benefits of red and near-infrared light therapy for a variety of things. For, as you mentioned, combating skin aging, for fat loss, for muscle recovery and athletic performance. For mood and cognitive function, for enhancing brain health. From speeding healing from injury to enhancing thyroid health, and a number of other conditions we can dig into.
But, with all of these thousands of studies, there was still this huge barrier to this technology being adopted by the general public for a long time. Which was, people thought you needed a $5000, $15,000, $20,000 laser device in order to get this therapy. It was thought by researchers that lasers had unique effects that an LED device wouldn’t have. Turns out, now that we have the research over just the last few years that’s actually compared the LED devices at the same wavelengths and similar parameters to the laser devices, they actually almost always produce pretty much the same outcomes. Turns out, you don’t need a $5000 or $20,000 device to get these benefits. You can get it with a $400 or $500 LED device in the comfort of your own home.
You also don’t need to go to an anti-aging clinic where you pay $50 or $100 per session. That’s the broad landscape of all of the devices, and then within the category and red and near-infrared light, again, the two main sort of devices. You have laser devices, you have LED panels. There’s also some kind of unique LED devices for specific purposes, like helmets that you can wear for hair loss, and other more specific applications. But, in general, it’s lasers and LEDs.
DrMR: Is the main factor that distinguishes between a laser and an LED just the concentration of the beam and the wavelength is the same, but just the focal point of the beam is different? Is that how you separate these two?
AW: Yes. Basically, the coherence of the actual light waves, when they’re all in perfect coherence, it forms a single laser beam. But when you get LEDs, you get non-coherent light. The waves are just spreading out, lots of light wavelengths, like the sun. The sun is not a laser beam. The sun is non-coherent light and it’s not emitting this single beam that hits just one little square inch of your body. It’s spraying light across your whole body. An LED panel is analogous to that, if that makes sense?
DrMR: No, that’s fantastic to know and, especially, if we can get to a point, which it sounds like we are, thankfully, we don’t need to buy the super expensive laser device and the cheaper LED can have the same clinical effect. Again, I enjoy the way that we, I think, have a similar thought process here, where I’m always looking at things trying to make them increasingly more simplified. I could easily see someone, if they had a complexity for this, like a complexity mentality, tell you that you need all these different laser devices and you could walk out the door with five different devices for five different things, but it’s nice to know that, as we’re seeing the science progress, you can get away with an LED, broad application.
I’m wondering, is this where something like the Joovv light, people may have heard the Joovv light. It’s fairly popular and they are using this in total body applications. Could someone see the same impact of using the Joovv light. Let’s say, they’re trying to help their skin, their thyroid, and their hair. Could one Joovv light treatment offer some similar benefits as three different lasers that were marketed for the skin directly, the thyroid directly, and the hair directly?
AW: Yeah, that’s a great question. It’s a little bit of a complex answer because there are benefits and drawbacks to laser versus LED panels. One of the benefits of lasers is that you can do very, very targeted treatments on very specific tissues. If you want to treat, like a very specific wound, a cut, or tendonitis on one very specific part of your body, or something to that effect, or you want to treat, specifically, the thyroid gland. Then you can do these sort of very targeted treatments a little bit better. Now, there are nuances even there, and they are ways around that, there are some other non-laser not expensive more LED-based devices that will work in that capacity, as well.
But lasers can do these very targeted treatments on very specific areas. Now, on the other hand, that’s also a drawback in a certain context, believe it or not, even though the lasers are much more expensive. Because if you want to do a broad treatment, let’s say on your whole face, or you want to do skin anti-aging on a large area of your body, or you want to treat large muscle groups, like your quads, or your back muscles, or your chest to enhance recovery and adaptations to exercise, we can dig into the science a bit there, if you want. But if you want to treat broad areas, the LED panels are, actually, superior to the lasers, because they can cover a large area of your body with light, all at once.
It’s much more efficient in that way, whereas a laser, with a laser, you’d have to go point-by-point and it would have to be a much longer drawn out procedure and, probably, still not as good, in my opinion. Because, and this gets into a few specifics, but with regard to light output, you want a very specific, what’s called, power density, which is a measure of the intensity of the light output. For specific types of treatment goals, like skin anti-aging versus treating very deep tissues, you actually want very different doses, and you want to be operating at different power densities. Having an LED light actually allows you to have a lot more flexibility with that.
DrMR: Can you change the output of the given device? How does that work?
Distance From Light Can Affect Therapy
AW: You change your distance from it. Sometimes there are devices with two switches, so you can, maybe, have it on half power, or full power. That, obviously, has an effect, but also a very simple way is just to change your distance from it. The closer you get to a light, the higher the power intensity, the intensity of the light output. The further you go from it, the more it drops off. Light spreads as it moves across a distance. So, basically, the further you move from the light source, the less of those actual light photons, and light waves will actually hit your body. Does that make sense?
DrMR: It does. Is it fair to say that if you want deeper penetration, you want to be closer to the light? Then if you want more of a superficial, you’re farther away?
AW: Correct. So, for certain … For deep tissues, you do want that deeper penetration, but for surface tissues, it’s very possible, it’s very often the case, I should say, that you actually want a lower power density. There’s something called a biphasic dose response. Basically, all that means, this is something that not only applies to light therapy, but also applies to other things, like for example, exercise, and also lots of medications. Basically, if you take too much, you lose the benefits. If you do too much exercise, the benefits start to drop off and you start to get more side effects. If you do too much of the light exposure, and you get the dose wrong, or you feel like you’re one of these people that are like, “If a little is good, more is better, so I’m just going to triple the doses of whatever is recommended.”
That can, actually, eliminate the benefits that you would otherwise get. Now, this is especially important for treating the surface tissues, like for skin anti-aging purposes. Because you actually want relatively low doses, compared to what you would do to treat deeper tissues. And if you do too much, like if you try to use a dose that’s meant for deeper tissues on your face for skin anti-aging, you’re not going to get any benefits and you may, actually, if anything, do more harm than good. It’s really important to know the power density of the light that you’re using and to get the doses right.
DrMR: This is fascinating. I definitely want to lay out some guidelines for people there. But before we go there, what would you say are some of the top conditions? Because we covered a lot of things, everything from thyroid, through hair, through mitochondria, through skin, through recovery of muscles. I’ve also heard, even, testosterone output can be increased. Where do you think we have the best data? Where do you think we have the worst data or where do you think the light devices may fall a little short? Just so people may be able to be prevented from any kind of nefarious marketing on the internet.
AW: Yeah, well, that’s a great question. You mentioned, actually, increasing testosterone levels. There are a number of articles online, from certain companies making some of these devices. I’m familiar with some of the stuff, you’ve read, that you’re basing that on. If you actually dig into the research on that claim, the research is actually very, very poor quality. Without getting too detailed here, basically, it’s based on two rat experiments.
DrMR: That’s what I thought you were going to say because that’s what I saw when I dug into it a little bit.
AW: Yeah. One’s a rat experiment and one is done with rams, actually, a unique experiment, where they used ram testicles and they’re shining the light on ram testicles. It’s a weird experiment also. The testicles were damaged beforehand, then they shined the light on them. That was one weird experiment. Didn’t even show a benefit. The one in rats, showed for one of the wavelengths used, showed this very transient spike in testosterone levels, then it disappeared. That’s, basically, all of the evidence on that particular subject, is those two really bad studies.
DrMR: I’m really glad you said, actually, about the testosterone, because one of the things that I was curious about was a placebo effect, where someone could start doing the laser. They do it for, let’s say, three weeks, and there may be this biological placebo effect or even this short-lived effect, and eventually, there’s this bio-adaptation, where you lose the effect. Which is why I’d like to see someone who is reporting their anecdotal end of one experience, be a bit more methodical and say, “Here are my levels at baseline. Here are my levels at three weeks, six weeks, nine weeks,” and I haven’t really seen that. It seems more so there’s this, “Here’s what happened in three weeks,” and then there’s not really much follow through after that.
AW: Yeah, or not even that. It’s, basically, people were citing these references from these two animal studies that I just mentioned. That don’t even really support the claim, then making claims like, “You can shine it on your testicles and boost your testosterone.” That particular claim is nonsense, in my opinion. The people making that claim are being deceptive or just not scientifically literate. Having said that, this is a topic where there are, literally, over 3000 studies showing, really, with amazingly solid research on a wide variety of things. For example, skin anti-aging, a huge amount of research there. This is a mountain of evidence showing very, very unequivocal benefits, as far as, reducing wrinkles, reducing cellulite, improving the elasticity, and the appearance of the skin. There are a number of objective and subjective measures that they’ve done. The research there is just awesome.
There’s research on fat loss, and there’s some solid research there, as well. Actually, pretty remarkable research, when you look at the number of inches lost in a very short period of time. There’s a huge body of research, dozens of studies, if not … maybe, into the hundreds, at this point, on athletic performance, muscle recovery, actual performance during the exercise, itself, as well as, adaptations to the exercise. When you pair the red or near-infrared light exposure with exercise, you’ll see more fat loss. You’ll see more muscle gain. You’ll see bigger improvements in strength and endurance. You’ll see, even on a hormonal level, you’ll see bigger reductions in insulin resistance. That research is awesome. There’s a mountain of evidence on that one, as well.
There is some early research on neurodegenerative diseases, using it in the context of Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s, as well as, depression and anxiety. Still, it’s definitely not a mountain of evidence. I’d say the researchers are still early in the testing of that, but, so far, all the research is very positive. There’s a mountain of research on speeding healing of wounds, and injuries, and diabetic ulcers, and, basically, tendonitis, fractures, any type of injury that you’d like to heal, this will help heal it faster. Thyroid conditions, Hashimoto’s, some amazing research there. Probably, about, maybe 10 studies, overall, have been done on that topic, some with really remarkable benefits with people being able to wean off their thyroid medications. In some cases, completely and in other cases, certainly, reduce their thyroid hormone levels.
There’s also research around chronic pain, and arthritis, in fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome, showing it can reduce the symptoms of that. I would say, those are the main benefits for most people. I’d say the big ones that most people are concerned with are skin anti-aging, fat loss, recovery, muscle gain, and strength gain, and those types of things, as well as, brain health. I’d say those are the big ones.
DrMR: Those are the ones that people are most interested in, and it sounds like, all those are fairly well documented, except for the brain health is still early?
AW: Yeah, I’d say it’s early, but the research is already there. The research that is there is solid and very consistently positive.
DrMR: Okay. Now, the follow-up question. Are we dosing? It sounds like we would, probably, be dosing differently for these. Is there a fat loss dose? I’m assuming that’s going to be a little bit different than anti-aging? So there’s, probably, some nuance here, in terms of how long, how far you are from the device. Can you walk us through how to navigate that? Also, is there one device you’d recommend someone use or are there different devices that would be needed for this?
AW: Yeah, well, it depends on the specific context. There are some nuances here, but I’ll try and simplify, as much as possible. Basically, you first need to understand the light output, what’s called, power density, of the device you’re using.
DrMR: Is that the kilojoules that they’re talking about? Is that a kilojoule measurement?
AW: It’s actually milliwatts per centimeter squared, is how you measure power density. Then you can measure things in joules, as well, which has to do with the actual amount of light delivered, so that’s power density combined with the time of exposure. Then you can get a measurement in joules. But, basically, what you first want to understand is, basically, the light intensity. You can think of it that way. How much actual light photons is the device you’re using emitting? Then over what amount of area? In other words, how big is the light you’re using?
Different devices have very different parameters. There are some devices on the market that are cheapy, crappy devices. They’re not necessarily priced cheapy. They might be priced at $300 or $500, but they’re very weak, underpowered, devices that have very low outputs of light. There are other devices, they’re $400 or $500, that are very, very powerful devices. The top three, that I recommend, are … One is from a company called, Red Rush. Another one is from Platinum. Then Joovv is up there. There are a couple other companies that have decent lights, but as far as bang for the buck, I’d say, Red Rush is really great. With that said, these are basic LED panels.
Just a panel that’s roughly a foot and a half, two feet, long. You can get bigger ones. Bigger ones are much more expensive. Can get up to $1500, $2500, $3000 pretty quickly, but, for most people, they’re going to be in … The standard, 18-inch, 20-inch sized lights really work for most purposes that a person might want to use them for. Pretty much all the things, the benefits, that we covered; anti-aging, fat loss, muscle recovery, brain health. You can achieve those benefits with just a simple light, like this.
Now, as far as dosing. Now, once you have one of those particular devices, and you know the power output of it, and you can know that I have all the numbers listed in my book, for example, if you want specifics of this. That changes dramatically. If you go out and you get a different device, that is dramatically different, probably going to be a much lower power intensity. The times of treatments, and the distances that you should be using that light, change dramatically. We’ll start off by just saying, let’s assume that you’re using one of the devices that I recommend. Now, having said that, depending on your specific goal, if you want skin anti-aging, you want to treat very superficial stuff, the surface of the skin. And I don’t mean superficial in a derogatory way. I mean, literally, surface level, using it more as a medical term.
Skin anti-aging effects, hair loss, wounds on the surface of your skin, that sort of thing. You want to be using that light from a further distance away, about, at least, 12 inches and sometimes more like 24 and 36 inches away from you. By doing so, you’ll lower the power intensity and you get the proper light output for treating those more surface level tissues. Now, if you want to treat deep tissues. You’re going to use the light from a much closer distance, somewhere around three inches, six inches, maybe, up to nine or 12 inches. But six inches is a good, general, distance to think about it. From there, you might use the device on a particular area for three to 10 minutes.
That’s how you want to think about it. As each, particular, area that you’re treating, you might treat for somewhere between three to 10, maybe, two to 10 minutes. You just want to get the power density right, by just adjusting the distance that you are away from the light, depending on whether you’re treating more surface tissues or deep tissues. Does that all make sense?
DrMR: It does. It does. I’m assuming that fat loss, athletic performance, and recovery, and any kind of non-superficial wound or injury, those are all going to fall underneath the three to six inches away for three to 10-minute category?
AW: Correct. One other nuance to this is when you’re treating the brain, specifically, the light has to go through bone. It has to go through the bone of your skull. That bone will block, actually, a huge percentage of the light, over 90% of the light that you’re shining, let’s say, on your forehead, or if you’re bald, potentially, anywhere on your head. But because of that, the percentage of light that’s actually penetrating through the skull and reaching your brain is quite small. So, in a case like that, where you’re talking about a deep tissue and a deep tissue that is protected by a layer of bone, the treatment times arguably can also increase further.
DrMR: Okay. Would you want that almost touching, like an inch away, or as close as you can get? How would you apply it for brain health?
AW: Yeah, well, there are certain devices that you could, certainly, do that with. There are actually some brain, specific, devices on the market. I talk about a couple in my book, and there are a couple more brain-specific devices actually coming out in the next year or so, that I’m aware of. Those devices, actually, you wear them on your head and they, literally, are in contact. The LED lights are in contact with the skin on your head. That’s one approach.
The only reservation I have about some of the direct contact with some of these devices is just a more speculative concern over the EMF outputs. Some people seem to be sensitive to the electromagnetic field emitted by these devices and if you’re really close to the device, like within three inches, or so, there is a magnetic field around the device, an electrical field, and some people can be, potentially, affected by that, just the same as any other electric device. Like, if you use a laptop, it’s got an electromagnetic field. You use a blender in your house, it’s got a very strong electromagnetic field. My only reservation there is just, potentially, and as you know, you’ve probably looked into the science on EMF. It’s somewhat inconclusive in a lot of areas, but that’s my only reservation about using some of these devices right next to your head. Maybe EMFs could be harmful.
DrMR: Do you feel a grounding mat could offset that, at all? Because I’ve seen and, in fact, the place where I go and I use the Joovv light, they have you stand on a grounding mat while you’re being treated. Do you think that could have any buffering impact?
AW: You know, it’s an interesting question. I think the person to answer that is probably a building biologist or some kind of EMF expert because I’ve really seen mixed opinions on this. Some EMF experts that I know say that it’s actually a really bad idea to stand on a grounding mat when you’re in the vicinity of electric fields because it actually, what they say is that it makes it actually increases your body voltage further because it will sort of attract electromagnetic current to travel through you when it otherwise wouldn’t if you weren’t standing on a grounding pad. So my opinion overall of the literature and the supplies as a broad statement and a lot of the EMF literature is it’s hard to know what to think on a lot of this because the literature just isn’t that conclusive, and a lot of experts are saying contradictory things.
DrMR: Now coming back to the anti-aging skin application, 12 to 24 inches away, how long would you be doing that for?
AW: I try to break things down by just to make things as simple as possible. Adjust the distance that you are away from the light and then, generally speaking, the treatment times are going to be in the neighborhood of two to 10 minutes, if you get those distances right.
DrMR: So the time doesn’t really change, it’s just more to the distance that you’re looking to optimize for.
AW: Well, the one nuance here is that with deeper tissues, they require larger doses. So in addition to adjusting the distance, you are away from the advice, you could also potentially increase the length of time. And then the one other nuance is that I generally recommend people to start with low doses, assess your body’s response and tolerance to it because some people, especially if people who are very unwell and especially, I work with people who have chronic fatigue syndrome or other more serious health conditions sometimes. Some people with serious diseases and health conditions can sometimes be sensitive to it. So I recommend starting kind of in the lower end, assessing your body’s response, and then kind of working your way up to the higher end. So I give that range mainly for that reason.
DrMR: Gotcha. Gotcha. And in terms of the cost of these devices, what is someone looking at, ballpark, to get started?
AW: For the devices that I recommend, which are really high-quality powerful devices that are also well-priced, in the neighborhood of $400 to $500. Now you can also buy devices, there are devices on the market that are really large devices that you can spend $2000, $3000, $5000 or $6000 to get. I’m personally not convinced that that’s even really necessary because when you get some of these smaller devices that are very high-power, because light spreads out as you move away from it, some of these quite small devices that are maybe less than two feet long can actually treat pretty much the whole length of your body from head to toe if you stand three feet away from it. So I am not here advocating that everybody needs to rush out and get a $2000 or $5000 device. I actually think that people can get pretty much all of the benefits of this type of therapy with a high quality $400 or $500 device.
DrMR: And so the question here is, is that what you’re using? Are you using a smaller device, or are you using a more full body application?
AW: Yeah, I use two of the smaller devices, which is an interesting little hack that I created because what I figured out is that if you get two of the smaller devices that I recommend that are around $400, if you do the math on the wattage and the power density of these lights, basically you’re getting an amount of light that’s equivalent to a lot of these devices that are being sold for $3000 or $5000. So I just set it up very simply as that. And then I lay them on their sides on the ground, kind of prop them upright. And I lay down on the ground right next to them, and I do my treatments that way.
DrMR: You do one in the front, one in the back a couple feet away, and you’re getting enough of a spread where you’re getting your entire body, is that how you’re doing it?
AW: Yeah. You can position them in a number of ways when you do that. You actually have a lot more flexibility than if you had these devices stuck to your door, for example. So you can position one on either side of you as you, let’s say, lay on your side, or one on either side of you as you lay on your back. And that way, you can get your arms and shoulders, or if you’re laying on your side, you’re getting your chest and your back at the same time, or you’re doing the sides of your legs, or the back of both legs, or the front of both legs, or you can position. Both lights next to each other. So they’re kind of situated lengthwise, covering basically the whole length of your body. And then if you’re laying on your side next to them on the ground, you can treat the entire front of your body from head to toe, and then you can just reverse your position and lay on your other side, and you can treat the entire back of your body from head to toe. Can you visualize all that?
DrMR: Yeah, totally. And I guess it would depend on what someone’s wanting to improve and treat, and it sounds like worst case scenario, someone lays on their side and they have both lasers in front of them, they do 10 minutes, they put both lasers behind them, they do 10 minutes, and that gives them a pretty good spread. I suppose if you’re trying to get the outside of your legs, like your IT band and your shoulders, you may have to do a different configuration, but it sounds like in about 20 minutes, you can get pretty close to an entire body spread.
AW: Yeah, absolutely. And actually within less than 20 minutes if you’re using these high powered devices that I recommend. They’re pretty powerful, and you can pretty much treat your whole body in five to 10 minutes.
DrMR: That’s great.
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DrMR: So question for you then. I have a very selfish question. I am currently using as a Joovv light, and I go to a cryotherapy center, and they have the Joovv light that’s three panels, three essentially body or near body-length panels. One in front of you, one on each side of you, so three total. And I’m in there probably 10 to 15 minutes depending on how quick I’m in and out. But the exposure time is usually between 10 and 15 minutes, and I’m probably about a foot away on my left and right side and about six inches away on my front. Am I kind of in the no man’s land where I’m not really getting any area really well because it sounds like I’m getting more of an anti-aging effect on the outside of my shoulders and the lateral aspect of my body, and more of a tissue-healing effect on the front of my body. Would you modify the way I’m using the setup that I have at my disposal? I’m sure it depends on what I’m trying to do, but…
AW: It does, yes, and there’s also another aspect of complexity that’s introduced, I was trying to maybe avoid getting into this, not confusing people, but there’s also an issue of just total body dose when you’re using very large lights that are covering the whole body, especially three large lights at the same time. Now you have a little bit of a concern over just the total time over how much light total across your entire body you’re getting, and you don’t, the same thing is true that are with a Bi-phasic dose response. You don’t really want to overdo that either. So the trick is how can you do targeted treatments in the way that you want to do it, to treat the specific tissues you want to treat for the specific goals you have in the most effective way possible while not necessarily overdoing total body dose. So if skin anti-aging on the face is one of your concerns, you want to get the power density and dose right for that specific goal.
If you’re doing it after a workout, you want to facilitate muscle recovery, muscle growth, endurance and those sorts of benefits, hormonal benefits from exercise and decreasing insulin resistance, increasing fat loss and that sort of thing, then you want to be closer to the device and use it on the specific muscles that you just worked out. So the big light panels that kind of do your entire body at once, as much as they seem to be maybe the most optimal thing, there’s benefits and drawbacks there. I’d say they’re the most optimal for a very time-efficient use of doing skin anti-aging treatments across your entire body. If you just want to treat the skin, just have skin benefits for your full body in the most time-efficient way possible, that’s a great way of doing it. It’s a very expensive way of doing it, but it’s the most time-efficient way. But if you want to treat very specific, do targeted treatments on deep tissues in very specific areas of your body, it’s really not necessarily the best approach.
DrMR: Is there also a, that’s a fantastic point, and I really appreciate the detail here because one of the things that I’ve gathered in listening to a few interviews with people on light therapy, it seems that it’s just kind of a shotgun approach, and maybe I’ve missed it in the interviews that I’ve listened to, but no one’s really trying to say, “Okay, here’s the dose, the distance, the power output,” it’s more get the biggest light that you can and just blast your body and expect all these benefits.
AW: You’re absolutely right. There is a lot of that sort of thinking out there, and I try to bring a lot more nuance to this based on the science and based on the mechanisms of how these things actually work.
DrMR: And it makes me wonder if I’ve actually been over-treating myself, and I can’t say that I’ve isolated these variables or there have been other lifestyle factors that could be skewing my read, but it almost felt like I was getting a nice benefit the first couple weeks and then it seemed like the benefits stopped, and I almost felt like I was feeling a little bit slower overall.
AW: Like lower energy?
DrMR: Yeah, lower energy, and my skin was looking really great for the first couple of weeks. My Libido was actually up, my skin was looking good, and my energy was really good. And then it seemed to wane a bit from there. And I’m wondering perhaps, and again, it could be other lifestyle things that factored in, but I’m wondering, is there something of an oversaturation where people have to be careful with overdosing themselves and kind of exceeding that hormetic response, or if it’s even a hormetic response.
Side Effects / Cautions
AW: Well, first of all, it is, and we can dig into the mechanisms. I love talking about the mechanisms here, but yes, you’re absolutely right, and one of the signs of overdoing the dose is actually that you will feel a little bit more run down. Now people who are very ill oftentimes will have that sort of response where they feel fatigued from it. After doing just two minutes of it, they’re very, very sensitive the same way they’re going to be sensitive to exercise. A lot of these people, if they do five minutes of exercise, they’ll be exhausted for three days. So their systems, their cells, just at a cellular level, they don’t have that resilience to respond to temporary little metabolic stressors. Light is exactly the same way.
So what you’re describing is probably that you’ve overdosed a little bit, and especially if you’re not noticing the benefits in the skin, that’s also a sign that you’re probably doing a little too much of a dose on that area specifically. And if you’re feeling fatigued overall, that’s a sign that you’re doing too much of a dose overall. Now having said that, it’s really easy to overdose if you’re using three, five-foot size lights that are covering your whole body at once. You’re getting a huge light dose that’s three or four times what you’d get from the smaller devices that I generally recommend.
DrMR: So is there an optimal frequency, and now I know that’s going to maybe be challenging to answer because it depends on are you using one device, a couple of devices where you’re trying to treat, but I guess let’s take my example. How often would you recommend treating with my setup, and then maybe using the setup that you’re advocating where you have maybe one or two of these smaller high power devices. Now would you say every day, every other day, what’s a general guide for frequency?
AW: Yeah, it’s a great question, and I wish it were the case that there was a consensus in the scientific literature. Unfortunately, there’s just a huge variety of parameters and frequency of dosing that is used across different studies. So there is no specific consensus on that point. My take after reading thousands of the studies on this topic and also experimenting myself and with hundreds of clients, my take is that either once a day or every other day is the optimal frequency.
DrMR: Gotcha. And now I’m assuming with the stuff that I have access to, you’d say every other day given the volume of exposure.
AW: Definitely, yeah. Just because you’re getting such a huge total body light dose that you’re taxing the cellular stress response systems across basically your entire body, which is very different than doing a targeted treatment, let’s say, on your thyroid specifically, or a targeted treatment on just your brain or just your bicep or something like that. What you’re doing is a huge exposure across your entire body. So the total body dose of that is going to be way, way higher. I would definitely kind of treat it like exercise, like an intense workout. Take a rest day in between sessions.
DrMR: You know, it’s the east coaster in me that just gets in front of a panel of lights and wants to be in front of it for as long as I can. I need to get over that pseudo-tanning bed habit. But I’m really glad that we had this conversation. We were actually thinking for the audience, we were thinking about maybe delaying the call today until after I read your book. I’m glad that we didn’t because you’ve given me personally some fantastic tips, and it makes me even more excited to dive into your book. Two final questions. The last question would be where can people hear more from you? I know you have a website. Your book, which I’m holding in my hand here, I’m really looking forward to reading now, is Red Light Therapy. But before that, what about digestion? That’s the one thing I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about, is there any evidence for IBS, IBD or any other digestive-like conditions using light therapy?
Digestive Health Benefits
AW: Yeah, it’s a great question. I was wondering if you’re going to ask me that, given your specialty. It’s an interesting one because there actually isn’t that much research on that topic. I’m sure there’s something, there are thousands of studies on this topic. I’m sure somebody’s tried to study it at some point, and I’m also quite certain just by virtue of the systemic effects, there’s kind of, we didn’t get too deep in the mechanisms here at all, but there’s kind of local cellular effects that happen directly on the cells that are being exposed to the light, and there’s also a systemic aspect because the light actually affects cells that are floating around in the bloodstream, so you can get benefits and modulating inflammation and immune responses and things like that that happened system-wide across all of the systems of your body just by irradiating the bloodstream with red and near-infrared light therapy. So through that mechanism, I would suspect, let me put it this way, I bet a lot of money that it would have at least some degree of detectable benefits for any type of inflammatory gut issue.
Having said that, I think there’s pretty minimal research around that, testing it, and there’s one other limitation which is the actual light itself penetrates, if you have a strong light source applied from very close to the tissues, very close to the surface of the skin, it’s gonna penetrate maybe two, around three inches or close to three inches deep into the body. That might reach some of the intestinal cells in somebody who’s very lean, but if somebody has a big layer of fat over their stomach area, that fatty area will actually block a lot of light from actually reaching the intestines. So I would say it’s very likely that it has benefits system-wide, and potentially also directly into somebody who’s lean enough that the light can actually reach directly to those cells.
DrMR: Gotcha. That’s fair enough. And then please remind people of your website and your book and anywhere else you want to point people.
Episode Wrap Up
AW: Yeah, so my website, my main brand is The Energy Blueprint, and it’s theenergyblueprint.com, and that site is, my work there is really all about the science of helping people overcome fatigue and increase their energy levels. And my book is on amazon.com. It’s called The Ultimate Guide to Red Light Therapy.
DrMR: Awesome. Alright, this has been a great conversation. I really, really appreciate your approach, and your digging into the details on this because it does seem, as we’ve outlined, this is something that’s legitimate and has some good scientific evidence to support it, but we don’t want to fall into this shoot from the hip, just buy a big laser device and blast yourself as often as you can, and I think I’ve actually learned that where I may be on the other side, that you don’t want to be on of the diminishing returns curve right now from kind of doing this stuff in a non-guided fashion. So I love your perspective. I’m super excited to read the book, and just thanks for taking the time to enlighten us. I guess no pun intended there, but a little bit of fun on my therapy.
AW: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. It was an honor, and it’s been a pleasure getting to know you personally. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation on my podcast, also really, really enjoyed this conversation, and hope we can continue to make appearances on each other’s podcasts and continue to have great conversations.
DrMR: Absolutely. Same here. Well, thanks again, my man. I appreciate it.
AW: Yeah, thank you.
What do you think? I would like to hear your thoughts or experience with this.
Dr. Ruscio is your leading functional and integrative doctor specializing in gut related disorders such as SIBO, leaky gut, Celiac, IBS and in thyroid disorders such as hypothyroid and hyperthyroid. For more information on how to become a patient, please contact our office. Serving the San Francisco bay area and distance patients via phone and Skype.