Red Light Therapy for Brain Health and Cognitive Function

joovv Red Light Therapy for Brain Health and Cognitive Function

What is Red Light Therapy?

joovv does light therapy work

Red light therapy is a simple, non-invasive treatment that delivers concentrated natural light to your skin and cells. Emerging clinical research is showing red light therapy’s promise for positively affecting brain health and cognitive performance, like learning, memory, and reaction time.

Red light therapy treatments are quick and simple: you just sit or stand in natural light for 5 to 15 minutes, ideally every day. This stimulates your mitochondria and gives your cells the natural light they need to make energy.

Check out this red light therapy device guide to learn the most important treatment factors.

In addition to cognitive improvements, red light therapy research shows potential for improving brain injuries, sleep disorders, depression, and Alzheimer’s and dementia.

How Does Red Light Therapy Improve Brain Health?

When a light therapy device is shined on a person’s head, wavelengths of near infrared (NIR) light can penetrate deep into the body and be absorbed by the brain. [1]

Your brain benefits from increased cerebral blood flow, more oxygen availability & consumption, and a boost of ATP energy production through enhanced mitochondrial activity. NIR wavelengths also increase cytochrome c oxidase activity, activate cell signaling pathways, up-regulate transcription factors, and increase the expression of protective genes. [2]

NIR light has also been found in studies to have an anti-inflammatory effect on the brain, as well as strong antioxidant effects. [3]

See more details on how red light therapy works here.

Cognitive Health Benefits of Red Light Therapy

joovv red light therapy brain health

Across numerous peer-reviewed trials and studies, red light therapy treatments have improved cognitive functions like memory, learning, attention span, reaction time, and executive function.

In 2013, a team of researchers conducted the first placebo-controlled study demonstrating cognitive performance benefits in people receiving light therapy directed at the brain. The results showed:

  • Quicker Reaction Times: “Significantly improved in the treated groups” in sustained-attention psychomotor vigilance task (PVT).
  • Better Memory: “Significant improvement in treated vs. control groups as measured by memory retrieval latency and number of correct trials” in delayed match-to-sample tasks.
  • More Positive Moods: “Overall affect improved significantly in the treated group due to more sustained positive emotional states.” [4]

Since then, numerous other trials have shown similar positive results:

Improved Executive Function: The same authors mentioned above extended their experiment to executive functions and found that people who received light treatments “made fewer errors relative to placebo controls.” [5]

Stronger Learning with Red Light Therapy:  A 2017 study found that rule-based learning was greatly improved following light therapy treatments when compared to the placebo group and noted “the exciting potential for cognitive enhancement.” [6]

Health Leaders like Jim Kwik Use Red Light Therapy

joovv red light therapy jim kwik

Jim Kwik is a world-famous expert on learning, memory, and training your brain to perform better. He uses red light therapy treatments to improve cognitive function and optimize his sleep:

Since using Joovv's full-body devices for the past year, my sleep quality is much better and I've noticed significant improvements in overall cognitive function. You should absolutely consider adding light therapy to your daily routine.*
joovv Jim Kwik

Jim Kwik

World's Leading Expert in Memory & Brain Performance

Emerging Research on Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and Red Light Therapy

Emerging studies on Alzheimer’s and dementia are recommending red light therapy as a potential treatment with few risks and a big upside.

Two of the first trials on dementia/AD and red light therapy came out in 2017, with extremely positive findings. Across trials, the data showed significant improvements in executive function, recall, memory, visual attention, and task switching. Patients also experienced better sleep and mental health when receiving red light therapy treatments. Researchers documented significantly fewer angry outbursts, and less anxiety. [9,10]

Crucially, these studies also noted that red light therapy was safe for patients with dementia/AD, with “no negative side effects.” [10] One research team concluded that red light therapy “shows potential for home treatment of patients with dementia and AD.” [10]

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), and Red Light Therapy

Initial research into brain injuries like TBI and CTE shows promising indications for red light therapy, especially the potential for increased neurogenesis (the growth of new nerve tissue) and synaptogenesis (formation of new synapses).

One study of men and women with a history of traumatic brain injury (TBI) used red light therapy treatments on patients’ brains for 18 sessions over 6 weeks. The researchers noted improved sleep, better executive functions, improved social functioning, and an increased ability to perform tasks and activities. People also reported improvements in depression, anxiety, headaches, and overall cognition. [11]

Red Light Therapy for Mental Health, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and Depression

joovv red light therapy loading physicials

Light therapy is showing potential for improving depression, SAD, and mental health treatments.

Season depression affects millions of Americans, as high as 5% of the population. [12] Not getting enough natural light every day is a major factor, and the average American actually spends over 90% of their time indoors. [13] Red light therapy lets you get more natural light every day, in the comfort of your home. Now, emerging clinical research into red light therapy and mental health is showing improvements for people with depression.

In 2018, leading mental health researchers conducted the Elated-2 Pilot Trial to test transcranial near infrared light therapy for people with major depression symptoms. This groundbreaking study’s positive findings have encouraged optimism about wider use of natural light treatments for people with depression.

Patients with major depression who participated in the Elated-2 trial were given natural light treatments directed at their head twice a week, for 8 weeks.

  • Researchers concluded that light therapy “demonstrated antidepressant properties with a medium to large effect size in patients with major depressive disorder.”
  • Crucially, researchers noted that natural light treatments were well tolerated by patients, with no serious side effects or reactions. [14]

Read more about depression and light therapy here.

Other Health Benefits of Red Light Therapy

Red light therapy research on brain and cognitive health is in its early stages. These are some of the more well-established natural health benefits of red light therapy, as shown in numerous peer-reviewed studies:

Improved Sleep with Red Light Therapy: Brain injuries and mood disorders often cause a disturbance in sleep. Red light therapy can help you reset your circadian rhythm and produce more natural melatonin. Check out this post for the details on natural light treatments and sleep.

Pain and Inflammation Relief: Red light therapy is a proven, natural pain reliever with anti-inflammatory properties. Check out this post to read the details about red light therapy, pain, inflammation, and healing.

Hair Growth and Preventing Hair Loss: Shining red light therapy on the head can have the added benefit of stimulating hair growth and helping to prevent hair loss. Check out this post to learn more about red light therapy and hair.

Red Light Therapy is Safe For Eyes: Not only is red light therapy safe for eyes, it’s been shown to help prevent vision loss and improve glaucoma outcomes. Check out this post to learn more about natural light treatments and eye health.

Emerging Clinical Research: Initial trials are also showing the potential for other red light therapy benefits, like improved fitness and training, and skin rejuvenation. The initial research is also encouraging for red light therapy and hormone health.

See all the health benefits of red light therapy on this page.

Side Effects and Risks of Red Light Therapy Treatments

Red light therapy has been tested and analyzed in thousands of peer-reviewed trials. The consensus among medical researchers and the clinical community is that natural light treatments are safe, well-tolerated, and produce little to no side effects. Research teams have concluded this in study after study.

A 2017 study on cognitive health noted significantly improved reaction times for people who used red light therapy. The researchers also noted that there were zero adverse side effects. [15]

The lead author of the Elated-2 trial on depression, Dr. Paolo Cassano, also co-authored a 2019 meta-analysis of light therapy for major depression. His team concluded that light therapy is a “low risk, inexpensive treatment.” [16]

Researchers from Harvard Medical School conducted a review of red light therapy in 2013 and praised its “noninvasive nature and almost complete absence of side effects.” [17]

Red light therapy does not use heat to induce a biological reaction like some therapies, and is not a heat risk to skin. People with specific photosensitivity concerns should check with their healthcare provider.

Check out Joovv’s FAQs for optimal red light therapy use to see details about other health concerns and potential risks.

Disclaimers and Considerations: The information on this page is meant to educate readers about the science and research behind red light therapy. Consult a trusted health care professional for the diagnosis and treatment of specific medical conditions.

Joovv’s light therapy products are registered with the FDA as class II medical devices for the treatment of pain, strain, and inflammation. Other health benefits mentioned in this article are for educational purposes only and not intended to support the safety or effectiveness of Joovv’s devices, and not meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent a disease. The information presented is based on peer-reviewed clinical research, including information about emerging studies and scientific inquiries.

Sources and References:

[1] Joao S., Wellington P., Manoel T. “Transcranial light-emitting diode therapy for neuropsychological improvement after traumatic brain injury: new perspective for diffuse axonal lesion management” Medical Devices (Auckland, N.Z.). 2018; 11:139-146. dio: 10.2147/MDER.S155356

[2] Hamblin, Michael H. “Shining light on the head: Photobiomodulation for brain disorders” BBA Clinical. 2016, December; 6: 113-124. dio: 10.1016/j.bbacli.2016.09.002

[3] Margaret N., Michael H. “Traumatic Brain Injury: A Major Medical Problem That Could Be Treated Using Transcranial, Red/Near-Infrared LED Photobiomodulation”  Photomedicine and Laser Surgery. 2015, September; 33(9): 443-446. dio: 10.1089/pho.2015.3986

[4] Barrett DW, et al. Transcranial infrared laser stimulation produces beneficial cognitive and emotional effects in humans. 2013 Jan 29;230:13-23

[5] Blanco NJ, Maddox WT, Gonzalez-Lima F. Improving executive function using transcranial infrared laser stimulation. Journal of Neuropsychology. 2017 Mar;11(1):14-25.

[6] Blanco NJ, Saucedo CL, et al. Transcranial infrared laser stimulation improves rule-based, but not information-integration, category learning in humans. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. 2017 Mar;139:69-75.

[7] Vargas E, Barrett DW, et al. Beneficial neurocognitive effects of transcranial laser in older adults. Lasers in Medical Science. 2017 July;32(5):1153-1162.

[8] Chan AS, Lee TL, Yeung, Hamblin. Photobiomodulation improves the frontal cognitive function of older adults. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 2019 Feb;34(2):369-377.

[9] Berman MH, Halper JP, Nichols TW, et al. Photobiomodulation with Near Infrared Light Helmet in a Pilot, Placebo Controlled Clinical Trial in Dementia Patients Testing Memory and Cognition. J Neurol Neurosci. 2017;8(1).

[10] Saltmarche AE, et al. Significant Improvement in Cognition in Mild to Moderately Severe Dementia Cases Treated with Transcranial Plus Intranasal Photobiomodulation: Case Series Report. Photomed Laser Surg. 2017 Aug;35(8):432-441.

[11] Naeser M., Zafonte R, Krengel MH, Martin PI,  Frazier J, Hamblin MR, Knight JA, Meehan WP, Baker EH. “Significant improvements in cognitive performance post-transcranial, red/near-infrared light-emitting diode treatments in chronic, mild traumatic brain injury: open-protocol study”  Journal of Neurotrauma. 2014, June; 31(11): 1008-1017. Doi: 10.1089/neu.2013.3244

[12] American Psychiatric Association

[13] 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.

[14] Cassano P, Petrie SR, et al. Transcranial Photobiomodulation for the Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder. The ELATED-2 Pilot Trial. Photomedicine and Laser Surgery. 2018 October.

[15] Grover F Jr1, Weston J, et al. Acute Effects of Near Infrared Light Therapy on Brain State in Healthy Subjects as Quantified by qEEG Measures. Photomedicine in Laser Surgery. 2017 Mar;35(3):136-141.

[16] Caldieraro MA, Cassano P. Transcranial and systemic photobiomodulation for major depressive disorder: A systematic review of efficacy, tolerability and biological mechanisms. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2019 Jan.

[17] Avci P, Gupta A, et al. Low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) in skin: stimulating, healing, restoring. Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery. Mar 2013.