With depression and Alzheimer’s escalating to epidemic proportions, brain health is understandably a top concern for most everyone these days. From medications to meditation, people are seeking ways to improve their brain and keep it healthy for life.
A proven tool – which you and even your doctor may not know about – that is both economical and easily available to you to improve your brain is low-level laser therapy.
What Is Low-Level Laser Therapy?
The use of lasers, light-emitting diodes, and other light sources, called low-level laser therapy (LLLT) or photobiomodulation (PBM), for medical purposes, has been around for more than half a century. The technology has become well established in physical and rehabilitative therapies. The therapeutic use of light has broadened to include medical conditions such as stroke, myocardial infarction, some brain disorders and traumatic brain injuries. Research is ongoing and promising to treat other brain issues, such as depression, anxiety, autism, addiction, Parkinson’s, and ALS.
LLLT has been extensively studied and found to be safe and effective without harmful side effects. Unlike the high-intensity lasers used for surgery, low-powered lasers don’t cut or burn human tissue. Instead, light therapy encourages cells to function optimally promoting healing.
How Does LLLT Work?
A wealth of scientific data has shown LLLT to be physically, cognitively, and psychologically beneficial. Scientists are still in the process of fully understanding exactly how it works its healing magic in your brain and body. Here I’m going to focus primarily on its effects on the brain.
The most obvious positive result seems to be that light from the LLLT devices causes a photochemical reaction within cells that supports mitochondrial function. Mitochondria generate the majority of the energy in your cells, and stimulating them gives cells extra energy to function properly and repair themselves. Mitochondria are critically important for optimal brain and mental health because they’re involved in many essential processes in the brain, including the regulation of free radicals and neurotransmitters.
A partial list of the other beneficial processes science has confirmed LLLT causes are:
Photobiomodulation activates the cytochrome oxidase enzyme. LLLT penetrates the skull and is absorbed by photon-sensitive molecules within neurons which are part of the cytochrome oxidase enzyme, an enzyme involved in mitochondrial respiration. The light being absorbed by these molecules results in the cell having more energy.
Increased ATP Production
The light-induced activation of cytochrome oxidase enzymes mentioned above, triggers increased production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). When ATP production increases, ion pumps stabilize neuronal membranes reducing their susceptibility to depolarization and death.
Oxygenation of Neurons
Free radical normalization
Transcranial photobiomodulation beneficially decreases free radicals and oxidative stress in neurons.
In the brain, LLLT has also been shown to cause numerous positive changes, including suppressing inflammation and increasing antioxidants, stem cells, Nerve Growth Factor, and Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). See The Benefits of Infrared, Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) and Photobiomodulation for a comprehensive list.
LLLT is such an effective healing treatment for many conditions that one National Center for Biotechnology Information document suggests that an LLLT device is likely to become a standard in the home first-aid kit.
The day may not be far off when most homes will have a light source (most likely a LED device) to be used for aches, pains, cuts, bruises, joints, and which can also be applied to the hair and even transcranially to the brain.
LLLT for Depression and Anxiety
There is mounting evidence that LLLT could be a low-cost, effective treatment for depression and anxiety.
While research is limited at this time, a comprehensive review found that nearly all studies to date investigating the effect of transcranial photobiomodulation on mood reported statistically significant antidepressant responses. In one small study, participants experienced significant reductions in depressive and anxiety symptoms after just two weeks of LLLT. When treating depression, the prefrontal cortex of the brain, behind your forehead, is the primary target for stimulation.
Here are some ways in which LLLT may help depression:
- LLLT increases oxygen and blood flow to the prefrontal cortex. Many studies have associated lower oxygen levels and cerebral blood flow in that area of the brain with depressive disorders.
- The therapy reduces neuroinflammation. Research indicates a strong relationship between concentrations of pro-inflammatory biomarkers in the central nervous system and major depression. Whether neuroinflammation is a cause or symptom of depression remains unclear, however, minimizing inflammation has proven beneficial in mood enhancement.
- It’s likely that a combination of the beneficial effects of LLLT on the brain help depression. Increased neurogenesis, ATP production, enhancement of mitochondrial membrane potential, elevated oxygenation and blood flow, generation of neurotrophic factors, plus reduced neuroinflammation may synergistically allow the brain to heal.
LLLT for Stroke and Brain Injury
Perhaps the most well-investigated (in animal models) application of PBM to the brain lies in its possible use as a treatment for acute stroke. In one series of human clinical trials, PBM significantly improved outcomes in stroke patients.
In the first clinical trial, PBM was applied within 24 hours of a stroke and the study noted statistically significant improvements when administered at 18 hours post-stroke, over the entire surface of the head regardless of the type of stroke. Only one laser treatment was administered, and results were present 5 days later. At 90 days post-stroke, 70 percent of the patients treated with LLLT still showed a significantly successful outcome.
A second clinical trial determined LLLT treatment to be effective for moderate to severe strokes, but not severe. The third clinical trial was inconclusive for any significant results. There is some evidence to suggest that the time between the occurrence of a stroke and initiation of the PBM treatment may be an important factor.
PBM is proving helpful in brain injury recovery in numerous studies. In experiments with mice. those treated with LLLT had significantly reduced neurological deficits, including smaller loss of cortical tissue, better mobility, less depression and anxiety, increased BDNF, and better learning and memory.
In one small study with humans having TBIs ranging from 10 months to 8 years old, application of red and near infrared light emitting diodes (LED) three times a week for 10 minutes over six weeks significantly improved executive function, verbal learning, free recall, sleep, and decreased PTSD symptoms.
LLLT for Alzheimers and Dementia
Laser therapy is showing tremendous promise in treating Alzheimer’s and dementia. Many studies have observed cognitive enhancement in animals using PBM. In a study of mice with the mouse equivalent of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), PBM significantly reduced amyloid plaque deposits, indicative of the disease, and inflammation in the brain.
Research with humans is reporting similar positive findings. In the healthy human brain, PBM has been shown to markedly improve cognitive functioning. In one 12-week study with people having mild to severe dementia and possible AD using in-clinic transcranial and at-home intranasal (in the nose) PBM, significant improvements were noted in cognitive functioning and sleep with decreased anxiety, wandering, and angry outbursts. Declines in the improvements were seen when the therapy stopped, suggesting that PBM may be a possible ongoing, in-home therapy for AD.
If you would like to take part in a clinical trial of an in-home transcranial/intranasal infrared device, see below & click here.