Within the earliest traditions of healing you’ll find dietary and herbal therapy, bodywork in various forms, and light therapy. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, recommended exposing the body to sunlight (in sun gardens or solariums) for healing and rejuvenation. Similar modalities can be found throughout many of the world’s ancient civilizations.
In modern times, light therapy has taken a technological twist with the invention of lasers and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). FDA-approved devices are available that provide a specific wavelength of radiation (measured in nanometers) at a prescribed dose (measured in joules) to heal a number of ailments. Numerous research studies validate the use of light therapy (primarily of red, infrared, and blue wavelengths) for tissue repair, reduction of pain and inflammation, and treating skin and dental infections.1
Professional devices for administering light therapy can cost thousands of dollars, though there are inexpensive ways to harness the power of light as a home remedy. The oldest and least expensive (free, in fact) is exposing the body to sunlight on a regular basis.
Direct sunlight in any season keeps your circadian rhythm attuned. This, in concert with nighttime darkness, optimizes output of melatonin—your go-to-bed, sleep, and heal hormone. Minimizing light exposure at twilight is not enough; you must also expose your body to direct daytime sun to fully stimulate photoreceptive cells.
Sunlight, especially in summer, is also well-established as the best source of vitamin D. This vitamin could be renamed “vitamin sunlight” to remind us that we literally derive nutrition from the sun.
All vitamin D comes from the sun, whether directly through our exposure to sunlight or indirectly by consuming food that was at some point exposed to sunlight. Although food sources are helpful to build and maintain vitamin D levels, the sun’s rays on our skin should be our first choice of therapy due to the ancillary benefits obtained from sunbathing.
As little as 20-30 minutes of midday sun during the summer months can do wonders to lift the mood and bolster the body. Be sure to avoid chemical-laden sunblocks and rely on light clothing or shade beyond the amount of sun that would make you ever so slightly pink. The goal is to be sun-kissed without getting sunburned.
On the technological front, devices can be used to apply specific wavelengths of light to the body, the most common of which are red-light lasers or LEDs in the 600-700 nm spectrum. These devices work by stimulating a light-sensitive pigment in the inner membrane of the cell’s mitochondria (called cytochrome c oxidase). This upregulates mitochondria function, increasing adenosine triphosphate (ATP) synthesis, nerve signaling, muscle contraction, and even gene transcription. In layman’s terms, red and infrared light encourage your cells to work better.
Though it will take longer, an inexpensive class 3A LED or laser pointer of 635 nm will work just as well as an expensive professional laser. In light therapy, a dose is a calculation of energy output as determined by the power of the diode, its surface area, and the time of exposure.
To get an effective dose from a laser pen of about 5 mW, you would need to hold the diode over the skin for one minute before moving it to a different area. Treatment can be done daily. Note that class 3A lasers are also called cold lasers because their power, or irradiance, is not sufficient to have a thermal effect on tissue, as with a surgical laser.
Do not use a cold laser over a tumor; it is unclear whether cold lasers can influence tumor growth, but better safe than sorry. Also avoid laser use after any topical skin application, especially citrus essential oil, to prevent local skin irritation.
Using a cold laser or LED in the red spectrum is probably the single best remedy I know of to treat scar tissue. I have seen discolored, gnarly scars soften in a matter of weeks with daily direct treatment. Because of their effect on the mitochondria of the cell, red and infrared lasers can also be a viable treatment for pain and inflammation. Though not a silver bullet for chronic pain, considering the minimal time investment and low cost involved, it is well worth giving light therapy a try.
1. Enwemeka, Chukuka. Light Therapy: A Handbook for Practitioners. 2012.
Author: Brandon LaGreca, LAc
Brandon is the founder and director of East Troy Acupuncture, an integrative medical clinic serving southeast Wisconsin, where he specializes in whole-food nutrition, ancestral health, and environmental medicine.