Inflammation and Light Therapy
Millions of Americans experience inflammation, but what is it exactly? This article gives an overview of inflammation: types, causes, symptoms, and treatments. We also look at how red light therapy promotes balance, optimizes cellular function, and supports your body’s response to inflammation and pain.
What is Inflammation?
You probably know inflammation when you see it: part of your body gets redder, hotter, swollen, and often painful, in response to an injury or an infection. Inflammation isn’t just a symptom though, it’s a complex (and necessary) process that takes place in every living thing. You can think of inflammation as your body’s programmed response to danger. It’s one of your immune system’s first actions against germs, irritation, and cell damage. But if inflammation becomes a chronic problem, it can also be a route to disease and wider dysfunction in the body. 
What Causes inflammation?
Inflammation can be caused by just about anything that puts the body under stress. There are clear physical causes of inflammation like injuries & wounds, bruises, burns, and splinters. Inflammation also occurs in response to biological factors like infection from germs and stress. Chemical irritants, toxins, and alcohol can also trigger inflammation. 
Our bodies can also become inflamed in response to environmental stressors—like inadequate sleep, poor nutrition, dehydration, and exposure to toxins.  Over time, these environmental factors can play a role in the development of chronic inflammation conditions that have more serious long-term health implications.
Signs and Symptoms of Inflammation
The five classic signs of inflammation are heat, redness, swelling, pain, and loss of function. Pain is caused by chemicals like bradykinin & histamine that your body releases to stimulate your nerve endings as a warning of danger.  Clinical evidence also shows that inflammation can cause depression, and vice-versa, depression can cause inflammation. 
Acute or Chronic Inflammation?
Not all inflammation is a bad thing for your health. Acute inflammation can help our body recover from a specific problem. In a normal response to stress or injury, inflammation sets in within a few hours and works to clear the damaged tissue and start the repair process. Once the injury or strain is healed, the inflammation fades away. 
Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is often caused by frequent and persistent acute inflammation, as well as by viral infections, autoimmune reactions, recurrent tissue damage, and foreign bodies that aren’t removed.  Chronic inflammation can be very painful and lead to other conditions, like arthritis, lackluster skin, poor gut health, and even increased risk for some cancers.  Chronic inflammation is incredibly common and may be the basis for other diseases like stroke, heart disorders, diabetes, and cancers resulting in over half of all human deaths. 
Current Inflammation Treatments, Risks, & Side Effects
Inflammation is often treated with NSAIDs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. These include supposed lower-risk, over-the-counter varieties like aspirin and ibuprofen that can treat symptoms of acute pain. To treat more serious chronic inflammation, people often take prescription NSAIDs, but these have shown numerous risks for people over age 60 and kidney risks for the general population. [7,8,9]
However, these established inflammation treatments generally only address the symptoms of inflammation, like pain and swelling, not the root causes, like cellular function, tissue repair and biological imbalance.
Given how common inflammatory conditions are, and the limitation of existing treatments, it’s not surprising that many people are looking beyond NSAIDs and pharmaceuticals for solutions to chronic inflammation and pain. Lifestyle factors (diet, exercise, sleep quality) play a major role in keeping the body in proper balance, so acute inflammation doesn’t become chronic. Healthy light exposure is also important, so cells can repair, regenerate, and make energy efficiently. In the next section, we’ll look at how light, and specifically red light therapy treatments, can help support the cellular response to inflammation and pain.
Inflammation with Red Light Therapy
Red light therapy treatments are part of a healthy lifestyle, and can help support bodily balance and enhanced cellular function. Like exercise, nutritious eating, and restful sleep, healthy light exposure can have a big impact on managing inflammation.
What is Red Light Therapy? Red light therapy, also known as photobiomodulation (PBM) or low level laser therapy (LLLT), is a simple, non-invasive treatment that delivers wavelengths of red and near infrared (NIR) light to the skin and cells. The term “red light therapy” refers to treatments from light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that deliver specific wavelengths of red and NIR light to the skin and cells. You can learn more about the basics of red light therapy here.
Red Light Therapy and Inflammation
Red light therapy treatments help supply the mitochondria in your cells with the light needed to make the ATP energy that powers your body.  Red light therapy allows a person to supplement the sunlight they get from their environment with concentrated wavelengths of red and NIR light.
Check out this paper by Dr. Michael Hamblin of Harvard Medical School to learn more about red light therapy’s effects on inflammation. Dr. Hamblin is one of the world’s leading photomedicine researchers, and believes light therapy produces an “overall reduction in inflammation.” 
To summarize Dr. Hamblin, red and near infrared light acts as a very mild form of stress that activates protective mechanisms in cells. When red light hits the skin and penetrates into cells, mitochondria are nudged to make energy more efficiently. This boosts the production of healing anti-inflammatories and antioxidants that speed up healing. 
How Does Red Light Therapy Work?
Red and NIR light helps balance the body’s inflammatory effects by boosting cellular energy and cutting down on oxidative stress. Wavelengths of red and NIR light have been shown to stimulate the mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell, and can optimize the cellular respiration process that makes ATP (adenosine triphosphate) energy, which increases function, speeds healing, and can reduce inflammation & discomfort, as demonstrated in numerous peer-reviewed studies. [12,13,14,15,16]
Red light therapy also supports discomfort and inflammation management by improving blood flow to damaged tissues.  When cells receive the healthy light they need, the whole body has the potential to work more efficiently, with improved circulation and reduced inflammation.
Conclusion: Red Light Therapy Promotes Balance and Helps Support the Bodies Natural Healing Process
Everyone, no matter their age or health, should be aware of inflammation and seek greater biological balance in their lives. Inflammation is a natural and necessary part of life; our health and wellness depends on our body’s natural response to danger. But chronic inflammation is a serious health risk, and can limit what we can do on a day-to-day basis.
Red light therapy supports cellular homeostasis and efficient energy production. In conjunction with a healthy lifestyle, red light therapy can have a positive impact on your body’s natural response to inflammation. When you get the healthy light you need to make energy and perform at your best, inflammation problems are less likely to occur over time.
Sources and References:
 Harvard Health Publishing. Understanding Acute and Chronic Inflammation.
 Medical News Today. Poor Sleep Tied To Inflammation, A Risk Factor For Heart Disease, Stroke.
 Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. What is an Inflammation? 2010 Nov. Updated: 2018 Feb.
 Berk M, Williams L, et al. So depression is an inflammatory disease, but where does the inflammation come from? BMC Medicine. 2013 Sep.
 Okin D, Medzhitov R. Evolution of Inflammatory Diseases. Current Biology. 2012 Sep.
 Pahwa R, Goyal A, et al. Chronic Inflammation. StatPearls. 2020 Jan.
 Arthritis Foundation. NSAIDs.
 Ungprasert P, Cheungpasitporn W, et al. Individual Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs and Risk of Acute Kidney Injury: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies. European Journal of Internal Medicine. 2015 May.
 Okamoto K, Saito Y, et al. Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs Are a Risk Factor for Cisplatin-induced Nephrotoxicity: A Meta-analysis of Retrospective Studies. Anticancer Research. 2020 Mar.
 Ferraresi C, Kaippert B, et al. Low-level Laser (Light) Therapy Increases Mitochondrial Membrane Potential and ATP Synthesis in C2C12 Myotubes with a Peak Response at 3-6 h. Photochemistry and Photobiology. 2015 Mar.
 Hamblin M. Mechanisms and applications of the anti-inflammatory effects of photobiomodulation. AIMS Biophysics. 2017 May.
 Servetto N, Cremonezzi D, et al. Evaluation of inflammatory biomarkers associated with oxidative stress and histological assessment of low-level laser therapy in experimental myopathy. Lasers in Surgery and Medicine. 2010 Aug.
 Lee JH, Chiang MH, et al. Anti-inflammatory effects of low-level laser therapy on human periodontal ligament cells: in vitro study. Lasers in Medical Science. 2018 Apr.
 Douris P, Southard V, et al. Effect of Phototherapy on delayed onset muscle soreness. Photomedicine and Laser Surgery. 2006 June.
 Poorpezeshk N, Ghoreishi SK, et al. Early Low-Level Laser Therapy Improves the Passive Range of Motion and Decreases Pain in Patients With Flexor Tendon Injury. Photomedicine and Laser Surgery. 2018 Oct.
 Li S, Wang C, et al. Efficacy of Low-Level Light Therapy for Treatment of Diabetic Foot Ulcer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice. 2018 Sep.