Root Causes of Weight Gain and How Red Light Therapy Can Help

Root Causes of Weight Gain and How Red Light Therapy Can Help

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Diet and exercise get most of the attention when we think about weight and body appearance. What you eat and how you move are essential for how you look and process fat. But they’re far from the only variables, and if you only focus on food and exercise, you’re missing the larger picture of how your body metabolizes food and burns energy. Other important factors for weight include your cellular environment, your circadian rhythms, and other lifestyle measures like sleep, stress, and hydration. 

This article is not about weight loss products. Instead, we will discuss some of the root causes of obesity and weight gain, like imbalances within the body caused by inflammation, poor sleep, or gut health. We’ll also document the role light plays in balancing our body and cells, and how red light therapy may be able to aid in your weight loss journey.

How We Look at Weight and Obesity is too Limited

Obesity is a serious problem in the United States: at least a third of Americans are considered obese, and over half are overweight. [1] There are numerous health risks associated with obesity, like high blood pressure and cholesterol, a higher likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes, and an increased likelihood of heart disease and strokes. [2]

At the same time, weight loss and dieting is a giant industry, with an endless supply of pills, surgeries, diets, classes, and exercises. Unfortunately, a lot of them are just fads that promote ideas of personal responsibility for weight and appearance, without acknowledging the biological realities of obesity.

Weight and Balance Go Beyond Just Diet and Exercise

Maintaining a healthy bodyweight doesn’t come from a dietary hack or a fad exercise routine. It’s the sum total of a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Diet and exercise are important, but they are not the only components. Bodily processes at the cellular level play huge roles in our health. Generally, the human body works better when our cells are in balance, and making & using energy efficiently. Our cells and millions of biological processes work optimally when they’re close to a state of homeostasis. You can read more about the importance of cellular balance here.

Common problems like stress, poor sleep, and inflammation can throw our cells out of balance and disrupt metabolism & digestion. That can affect a person’s ability to process fat and cause weight gain. Our hormones are especially sensitive to cellular imbalances and disturbances in our sleeping, eating, and exercise routines. [3] These issues exist outside of the realm of diet and exercise, but they can all play a part in weight-related issues. It’s important to remember that while diet and exercise definitely impact your health, they are not the only factors at play. 

Next, we’ll take a look at some important factors that affect your weight, like inflammation, sleep, gut health, and light.

The Impact of Inflammation on Weight Gain

The “calories in, calories out” focus on diet and exercise is an oversimplification of how the body processes fat. Other key aspects of weight management include hydration, sleep, hormones, circadian rhythms, and how the body processes inflammation. 

Inflammation is a natural process that helps the body recover from injury and strain. But if your body is out of balance, it may struggle to efficiently clear out acute inflammation. And if inflammation becomes a chronic problem, it can lead to larger health problems. [4] Learn more about inflammation and how it affects your health here.

Cytokine Response: Part of the inflammation process is our immune system releasing cytokines when it detects a threat like an injury or virus. These are proteins that induce inflammation, so your body can respond effectively to an invader or problem. But an overload of cytokines and inflammation can interfere with your insulin response, and that can cause your body to store more fat, leading to weight gain. [5]

Bottom line: inflammation is normal, to a point. Excess cytokines and inflammation can lead to weight gain. Trying to exercise more to lose weight when you’re already inflamed can complicate the recovery process and work against you. To help your body work through inflammation, it’s vital to eat well and exercise, but also to sleep, hydrate, and get lots of healthy light during the day so your body can make energy. It also helps to follow your circadian rhythms by establishing a healthy routine of eating, exercising and sleeping.

The Effect of Poor Sleep on Weight Issues

When people experience fluctuations in their weight and physical appearance, they often look at their plate. However, it makes just as much sense to consider your pillow and examine your sleeping habits. Sleep quality affects nearly every aspect of our health, including weight and fat loss. If you’re struggling with weight issues, poor sleep could be a huge factor. 

Poor sleep can knock your body and cells out of balance, and that alone can lead to complications with digestion, metabolism, and weight. [6] The stomach and other key internal organs work best when our eating aligns with our circadian rhythm. Following a routine or schedule with your eating and your sleep that allows your body to operate along the same patterns is more efficient for your digestion, nutrient absorption, and overall metabolism. Limiting your food intake to a specific window of time is also ideal. [7]

Sleep, Hormones, and Appetite: One of the key ways that sleep affects weight fluctuation is in the regulation of two hormones: ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin stimulates appetite, while leptin decreases it. These hormones work together to establish your eating patterns. [8]

Higher levels of ghrelin and lower levels of leptin are found when the body is sleep-deprived, leading to much higher levels of hunger. [9] If you overeat and still feel hungry, getting enough quality sleep and establishing a healthy sleep cycle can help your body feel less hungry all the time. To learn more about how sleep impacts systemic health and function across the body, check out this article.

How Poor Gut Health Affects Bodyweight 

Only recently have medical researchers started to understand how vital gut health is to overall wellness. The gut microbiome is a delicate balance of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract and help you digest food. Emerging studies have found that changes in the makeup of the gut microbiome are linked to obesity and metabolic disorders. If you want to dig into the science behind gut health and weight fluctuation, here’s an in-depth, peer reviewed article from Nutrition Today. [10]

Red Light Therapy Therapy for Weight Loss

Does red light therapy work for weight loss? This question is a little too complicated to have a simple "yes" or "no" answer, so let's get into the science. Our bodies work better when they’re in balance, and for that, we also need an abundance of healthy light every day. Americans spend over 90% of their time indoors and it’s a bigger health risk than most realize. [11] If your cells don’t get enough light, they’ll make energy less efficiently. Even if you eat well and exercise, if you aren’t getting enough light, it can affect everything from your sleep, to your inflammation levels, and to your weight.

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 treatments are simple and easy. Joovv recommends 10 minutes per treatment area, ideally every day. This can help supply the mitochondria in your cells with the light needed to make the 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, in the comfort of their own home. 

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 lowers inflammation & pain, as demonstrated in numerous peer-reviewed studies. [12].

Red Light Therapy and Increased Circulation: Another key effect of red light therapy is increased circulation. With regards to weight issues, increased circulation has been linked to increased fat burning. [13] This burning occurs specifically in brown fat, which is a type of body fat that is activated when your body temperature drops. Brown fat helps maintain your body temperature by producing heat. [14]

Conclusion: Balance Is Your Best Bet For Healthy Lifestyle

Maintaining a healthy weight for your body doesn’t come from a trendy diet or a new fad exercise technique. It’s the result of a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Weight and fat are complex health issues, and there’s no easy answer. There are many factors that can contribute to weight issues, not just diet and exercise. Sleep, inflammation, circadian rhythms, gut health, and light exposure are also critical measures. Finding a healthy balance across all of these elements can help your body’s natural metabolic processes and support a weight that’s ideal for you.


Sources and References:

[1] National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Overweight & Obesity Statistics

[2] National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Health Risks of Being Overweight. 

[3] National Academy of Sports Medicine. Hormone Balance For Weight Loss: Fact or Fiction?

[4] Berk M, Williams L, et al. So depression is an inflammatory disease, but where does the inflammation come from? BMC Medicine. 2013 Sep.

[5] Garcia Weight Loss & Athletic Centers. Chronic Inflammation and Weight Gain.

[6] Jaiswal SJ, Quer G, et al. Association of Sleep Duration and Variability With Body Mass Index: Sleep Measurements in a Large US Population of Wearable Sensor Users. JAMA International Medicine. 2020 Sept.

[7] Book: Satchin Panda, PhD. The Circadian Code: lose weight, supercharge your energy, and transform your health from morning to midnight. Rodale Books. Jun 12, 2018 | ISBN 9781635652437

[8] M Klok, S Jakobsdottir, M Drent. The role of leptin and ghrelin in the regulation of food intake and body weight in humans: a review. Obesity Reviews. 2007 Jan.

[9] The Sleep Foundation. The Connection Between Sleep and Overeating.

[10] Cindy D. Davis. The Gut Microbiome and Its Role in Obesity. Nutrition Today. 2016 Jul.

[11] Klepeis NE, Nelson WC, Ott WR, et al. The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS): a resource for assessing exposure to environmental pollutants. Journal of Exposure Analysis and Environmental Epidemiology. 2001 May.

[12] Hamblin M. “Mechanisms and Mitochondrial Redox Signaling in Photobiomodulation”  Photochemistry and Photobiology. 2017 October.

[13] Turning on Blood Flow Turns on Fat-Burning Brown Fat in Mice. American Physiological Society

[14] Mayo Clinic. What is Brown Fat? How is It Different from other body fat?