Photobiomodulation and Stem Cell Activation

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As I wrote in an earlier post in regard to Stem Cell Activation, another fascinating concept comes from the field of Light Therapy. Dr. Alexander Wunsch explains its basic concepts very clearly in The Health & Wellness Show: Seeing the Light with Dr. Alexander Wunsch.

The show is very rich in information, so it is worth reading or listening at least a couple of times. Basically light therapy is based on the principle that colors located in the longer wavelength of the light spectrum (red light) have a healing and anti-inflammatory effect. As Dr. Wunsch explains in the interview,

“First of all it’s not the far infrared, it’s the far red and the near infrared part where we have a good body of evidence that there is an effect on mitochondrial processes which has been investigated for decades… if you look at cells which have reduced mitochondrial activity you can stabilize the mitochondrial activity in terms of increasing the energy production, the ATP production, by shining light in the wavelength range between 600 and 850 nanometres onto these mitochondria. As you already mentioned, several diseases and natural processes like aging depend on mitochondrial function. So, if the mitochondrial function is somehow decreased or hampered then light in the far red and in the near infrared is able to stabilize, to help the mitochondria to perform much, much better. This is one aspect of the red and near infrared radiation.”

This red light therapy is also known as Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT), Biostimulation (BIOS), Photonic Stimulation or simply Photobiomodulation.

Moreover, research suggests that photobiomodulation activates stem cells. For instance, “Lasers, stem cells, and COPD” explores the effects of LLLT on stem cells. On table 1, they summarize the technical aspects of the laser and its in vivo and in vitro stem cell effects. For example, a semiconductor laser (685 nm and 830 nm) at (2.5 J/cm2) decreased in vivo joint inflammation in induced arthritis. Then they list the referenced paper for each experiment. It seems that most frequencies were between 600-830 nm, as Dr. Wunsch describes above.

During my research, I stumbled upon several manufacturers for materials used during PRP (Platelet-Rich Plasma) – a stem cell stimulating therapy. PRP is also photoactivated with special devices. One of them is the AdiLight-2 system which basically is a light device where a PRP syringe is placed for 10 minutes before injecting it back to the patient. For more information on PRP, check out Learning About Stem Cells and How to Activate Them. 

There are many companies producing gadgets for photobiomodulation, but I think it is important to highlight basic principles and concepts before compromising with one technology or another. Earlier this year, Dr. Joseph Mercola conducted an interview to Dr. Michael Hamblin – one of the world’s leading experts in this subject. It was a unique opportunity to listen about key concepts in a very simple language. Here are some relevant excerpts with important highlights which translate into very practical advice:

[…]  JM: Most of the original research was done with lasers. But there’s this massive trend in the research now. Your great example of that is towards using light emitting diodes (LEDs), which are more cost-effective. It seems to be more of an effective and efficient way to provide the therapy.

[…] MH: The key question is why is sunlight so much better up in the mountains? One theory was that it’s got a lot more ultraviolet if you go up high, but that’s probably not the reason, in my opinion. Ultraviolet will give you sunburn if you get too much of it. I don’t think it’s the ultraviolet. I think that in high altitudes, there’s much less oxygen in the atmosphere and the mitochondria are working at a different kind of cycle, right? The oxidative phosphorelation is more skewed towards glycolysis because the oxygen availability is less at high altitudes. That’s just my pet theory. But people used to get complete chronic wounds healed by going to these heliotherapy clinics, just the same as you would do at sea level with our near-infrared LED array. I think people like sunlight. Everybody likes sunlight. Provided that you take precautions against getting too much ultraviolet, I think sunlight’s fine. But you know, we have busy lives and since you can get a therapeutic dose of near-infrared from an LED array for maybe 10 minutes a day, I think that’s probably the way to go.

[…] MH: We’ve done a lot of studies over the years. We cannot really detect a difference between red light, like 660, and near-infrared, let us say 810, 830 and 850. First of all, all the 800s seem to be the same. Also something in the mid-600s, like 660, is the same as the near-infrared. A few other folks have claimed to find some differences, but there’s not much difference really.

[…] MH: …People say red light is good for relieving inflammation, inflammatory conditions. I think near-infrared is good for regenerating things, possibly because things that need regenerating are usually deeper; tendons, bones, cartilage. Things that need regenerating are usually deeper inside. It’s quite clear that near-infrared penetrates better. Everybody agrees on that.

Obviously, one of the big growth areas is the brain. Again, this is really intriguing because folks find benefits in the brain by putting all sorts of light on the head; high power near-infrared, lasers, high power LEDs. But relatively, low powered devices that can go up the nose, they can go in the ears, you can go different parts of the head. Everybody thinks, “Well, photons are going to get in the brain. There’s going to be a certain power density.” But it’s not clear.

The photons can be absorbed in the blood. You have blood circulating in your scalp. You have bone marrow in the bone of your skull. It’s known that light is very good at activating stem cells in bone marrow. That’s one of the big deals. Clearly, photobiomodulation has huge effects on the brain. Still, the jury’s out on what is the best way to get light in your head…

MH: I get a lot of emails from folks, asking me what device they can buy to use at home. A lot of these folks do not have a lot of money. I tell them to look for near-infrared security floodlights. These are 850 nanometers and they’re sold so that various companies can have an invisible security light with an infrared camera so intruders can’t see they’re being filmed. These are powerful. You can get 70 or 100 watts of optical power for 1,000 dollars, a few hundred dollars sometimes. If this was a laser, it would cost you 100,000 dollars. But these LEDs that are produced in the Far East and made into these flood lamps, each single diode is 3 watts, right? That is a chunky diode.

JM: Yes, it is. There are a lot of them. I’m wondering if we could go back and really address the Goldilocks dose, because you mentioned that there’s a fairly significant band of therapeutic efficacy, but at some point, it becomes actually counter-productive and actually causes more harm than good. What do you think the window is with respect to the number of watts of these LEDs that you’d be putting on your scalp?

MH: Right. Again, this is a good question. It’s the total amount of energy you’re putting in your body, because these arrays – for instance, the whole body light bed is a huge area. The power density is modest. It’s the same as anybody would use; 10 or 20 milliwatts per square centimeter.

JM: That is the power density on that bed. Okay.

MH: Yeah. But it’s the big area. If I did all the LED arrays, it’s 10 or 20. A lot of these devices have the same power density because they’re big and there are a lot of diodes. You put more energy into the body. What we don’t really know is can you overdose the body on total joules or is it only when it’s concentrated? That’s what we don’t know. My gut feeling is that people are not going to stay under these things forever. Ten minutes or half an hour does no harm at all.

JM: Okay.

MH: Maybe if you went to sleep all night, you would overdose yourself. It wouldn’t surprise me. Mostly, I tell people they can use these things for 10 or 20 minutes a day and it’ll have major benefits and extremely unlikely to have any ill effects.

JM: Let me also just comment that these security lamps or devices that you recommended – thank you for that – because they’re 850 nanometers, that’s not a lot of heat. Whereas if you have the equivalent 100-watt heat lamp, you could burn yourself. But you’re not going to burn yourself with this.

MH: No. Virtually no heat at all. You can feel a little warmth but there’s like no heat there.


JM: It seems it would be a lot more effective dose if you used these security camera lights. Is that what they’re called?

MH: Floodlights. I think they call them near-infrared floodlights.

JM: Okay. That’s a great strategy. To the best of your knowledge, no one’s really doing
experiments with these?

MH: No. I don’t think so. No.

JM: But the science suggests that it would work. The science has been done.

MH: Yeah. Several folks have got them because I recommended them. The feedback I get is they work just great.

JM: Wow. Work great for what?

MH: A lot of people have problems with the brain. But other people have like orthopedic problems, musculoskeletal problems, where typically, near-infrared photobiomodulation worksgreat. The question just is what’s the best way to deliver it to the body?

JM: Yes, indeed.

MH: I think that a lot of applications that are going to be great, but nobody’s really studied that much. I’ll give you one example, which is kidney failure. Kidney failure is the third leading cause of death. These are old folks who are dying from kidney failure. You can’t really give them transplants because they’re elderly. You put a near-infrared LED array where their kidneys are and it seems to work like a dream. It’s hardly been studied at all…

JM: It’s simple to do. At 600 and 850, is there any danger to looking at that light when you’re standing in front of the bed, from your perspective? It’s probably healthy and beneficial, I would think.

MH: Red light can dazzle you, especially at 630. If you look at a 630 nanometer rate, you get dazzled, but it’s not harmful for the eyes. It takes you a while to recover. Near-infrared is actually very good for your eyes, things like 830 or 850. As I get older, I know that my eyesight is not as good as it was. I quite often stick some 850 nanometer light in my eyes…

[…] JM: That’s great, but you’ve shared with us the bio hack work-around that you don’t have to wait for the FDA that you can buy today on Amazon with are 850 security camera infrared light.

MH: Absolutely…

I have three devices for this particular experiment. One is a portable floodlight which I carry with me. The other one is a bigger floodlight and the last one is a laser diode with a 650 nm wavelength for skin problems. I must say that I’m completely surprised by the results: less joint pains, better skin, more hair, healing of acne-like lesions, more energy and even normalization of thyroid function!

Next, let’s just have a quick look to a couple of studies published on this subject.

Low-Level Laser (Light) Therapy (LLLT) for Treatment of Hair Loss

Controlled clinical trials demonstrated that LLLT stimulated hair growth in both men and women. Among various mechanisms, the main mechanism is hypothesized to be stimulation of epidermal stem cells in the hair follicle bulge…

One of the authors of the following study is Dr. Michael Hamblin. The authors review the several hypothesis of why photobiomodulation (PBM) works and they note how stem cells and progenitor cells appear to be particularly susceptible to PBM.

Proposed Mechanisms of Photobiomodulation or Low-Level Light Therapy

It appears that stem cells are particularly sensitive to light. PBM induces stem cell activity shown by increased cell migration, differentiation, proliferation and viability, as well as by activating protein expression. Mesenchymal stem cells, usually derived from bone marrow, dental pulp, periodontal ligament and from adipose tissue, proliferate more after light irradiation (usually with wavelengths ranging from 600 to 700 nm). Since stem cells in their undifferentiated form show a lower rate of proliferation, this may be a limiting factor for the clinical effectiveness of stem cell therapies, PBM offers a viable alternative to promote the translation of stem cell research into the clinical arena.

Min and co-workers reported that the cell viability of adipose-derived stem cells was found to be increased after irradiation with 830 nm light. Their in vivo results also revealed elevated numbers of stem cells compared to the control group. Epidermal stem cells can also be influenced by light, as demonstrated by Liao et al. The authors reveal that 632.8 nm light has photobiological effects on cultured human epidermal stem cells, such as an increase in proliferation and migration in vitro. Soares observed a similar effect on human periodontal ligament stem cells irradiated with a 660 nm diode laser.

The field of photobiomodulation and stem cell therapy is still on its early stages. Mainly, researchers have yet to determine which wavelengths, when, why, etc. Nevertheless, we can already benefit from photobiomodulation just as long as we do it responsibly. It is important to not get too much light exposure which will create damage. Too little will not stimulate regeneration either. Just as the expert said above, from 10 to 20 minutes.

For some insightful concepts on this important subject, check out:

The Health & Wellness Show: Lightening up: The Benefits of Photobiomodulation

The Therapeutic Effects of Red and Near-Infrared Light

Photobiomodulation therapy: Healing the body with light

Shining light on the head – Photobiomodulation used to treat brain disorders

The use of low level light therapy for reducing pain and inflammation and promoting healing in the tissues and nerves

Light therapy headgear: The cutting edge in the treatment of brain diseases

Last but not least, don’t miss the previous post which goes along with photobiomodulation:

 Stem Cell Activation: Supplement Cocktail
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