Updated: Jul 29
Photobiomodulation therapy is gaining ground in the medical field as an effective, non-invasive treatment option for many brain disorders.
Dr. Michael Hamblin, the foremost researcher in the field, explains it this way: “The brain suffers from many different disorders that can be classified into three broad groupings: traumatic events (stroke, traumatic brain injury, and global ischemia), degenerative diseases (dementia, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's), and psychiatric disorders (depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder). There is evidence that all these seemingly diverse conditions can be beneficially affected by applying light to the head.”
Mental Health Applications
Photons aimed at the brain relieve oxidative stress in the brain. When oxidative stress is relieved, a chain reaction of metabolic effects leads to an increase in blood flow and a reduction in inflammatory cytokines. According to a 2006 Trends in Immunology article “Cytokines Sing the Blues”, pro-inflammatory cytokines contribute to the physiological state in the brain which fuels depression. In fact, when pro-inflammatory cytokines were administered to healthy patients, 50% developed symptoms of depression. It makes sense, therefore, that a treatment that increases blood flow and reduces inflammatory cytokines in the brain would also reduce depression.
Chronic Pain Management
Chronic pain and depression often go hand-in-hand. According to the American Pain Foundation, about 32 million people in the U.S. report chronic pain, and more than half of those patients also have depression. Phototherapy providers treat chronic pain in two ways: reducing inflammation, and inducing analgesia. In low doses, phototherapy relieves oxidative stress in cells, increases blood flow, and reduces inflammation. In high doses, phototherapy induces analgesia by disrupting axonal transport in nocireceptors. In other words, photons interrupt pain signals to the brain. This is temporary and reversible, however repeated treatments can lead to reduced central sensitization. Read about chronic pain management with photobiomodulation therapy here.
Working with Mental Health Providers
It is easy to incorporate this treatment option into your mental healthcare plan. Phototherapy can be done in conjunction with any other mental health treatment modality already in place. That means a patient doesn't have to stop any medications or therapies to receive benefits from phototherapy.
A large met-analysis published in 2011 indicates that photobiomodulation therapy can be used in the treatment of acute stroke and chronic brain injury. YOU CAN READ THE FULL STUDY HERE.
Some excerpts from the study:
"Transcranial LLLT has been shown to significantly improve outcome in acute human stroke patients when applied approximately 18 hours after the stroke occurs over the entire surface of the head (20 points in the 10/20 electroencephalographic system), regardless of the stroke location."
"An increase in ATP after red and/or NIR LED treatments in patients with chronic TBI would have beneficial effects, including an increase in cellular respiration and oxygenation. Oxidative stress plays a role in the damage present after TBI."
The researchers explain that the reason phototherapy treatments work to improve brain injury outcomes is their ability to:
reduce brain swelling
protect against apoptosis (programmed cell death)
modulate microglial activity
stimulate lymphatic drainage
Phototherapy improves neurogenesis, while decreasing oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain. It should come as no surprise, then, that phototherapy improves cognitive function. In 2013, neuroscience researchers at the University of Texas at Austin administered transcranial infrared laser phototherapy to healthy subjects to see if it would improve their cognitive function. In this randomized, placebo-controlled study, researchers found that phototherapy improved reaction time, memory, and emotional functions in their test subjects. You can read more about that study HERE.
These therapies have been proven to reduce brain inflammation, reduce depression symptoms, boost cognitive function, and manage chronic pain. By addressing biological changes or injuries to your brain with phototherapy, you can regain your mental clarity, reduce stress, eliminate pain and react more rationally to the stresses of aging and life in general. Finally there is an effective, non-invasive, safe solution to even the most severe mental health issues. From pain relief to depression, anxiety, panic attacks, brain injuries and more; phototherapy can be used to reverse your symptoms!
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