Scientific studies show that photobiomodulation (“PBM” for short) – exposure to certain wavelengths of red and near infrared light – promotes a wide variety of health benefits and combats an amazing number of illnesses, including improving athletic and sports ability, increasing brain function, increasing testosterone in men, protecting against macular degeneration and other eye diseases, helping with skin conditions and reducing wrinkles, improving mood and reducing depression, protecting the heart, making the teeth and gums healthier, assisting with weight loss, helping with thyroid conditions, reducing joint pain and arthritis, reducing nerve damage, and having numerous other beneficial effects. (Obviously, PBM is not some magic bullet which will cure all ills … but it is a promising new avenue for health and wellness which – I believe – is the first step in advancing medicine to the next level.)
In this article, I will tell you how you can get access to PBM to improve your own health and well-being.
There are numerous FDA-approved devices for PBM. There are also many other devices that may provide PBM therapy if used correctly (see the discussion on wavelength and dosage below).
I’ll run though a couple of possible options, starting with the least expensive option, and then work my way up to the most expensive device on the market …
You can also find LED lights built to help plants grow faster (i.e. “grow lights”) for good prices. Make sure that they are at the right frequency, that you connect them safely to a power source with a surge protector, and that you following dosage recommendations (discussed below).
One of the foremost experts on PBM – Harvard Medical School’s Michael Hamblin – recommends IR lights made to illuminate the scene for nighttime security cameras as an inexpensive way to get PBM exposure. (Only buy the ones which produce wavelengths of 850 nanometers).
If you would like a device which is large enough to provide a PBM treatment for your entire body, you could look at a Joovv light box (which runs from around $800 to more than $2,500, depending on size) or the Red Light Man’s combo device for $750.
There are a number of PBM devices – such as those sold by Thor – which cost less than $10,000 – which claim to be “professional grade” devices for vets and health care practitioners.
Finally, if you have $130,000 lying around in between your sofa cushions, you could buy a NovaThor. This is essentially a tanning bed using LEDs focused on PBM, instead of tanning lights.
Of course, if you’re an electrical engineer – or otherwise comfortable with assembling electronic equipment – you might be able to make your own PBM device for relatively cheap. Just make sure that the wavelength of the LED diode is specified, and is within the ranges mentioned below. You will also need resistors, power supplies, as well as some type of protective covering to make sure that you don’t touch the electronics. Personally, I know nothing about assembling electronics, but am mentioning this option for those who do.
It’s important to know the right wavelengths and the correct dosage …
Initially, you want exposure to the right wavelengths. Harvard’s Professor Hamblin says that red light in the 630 nanometer to 690 nanometer range, and near infrared light in the 810 nanometer to 850 nanometer range is ideal.
The mitochondria in every cell in our bodies (0ther than red blood cells) is pre-wired to be photosensitive to these light ranges. Specifically, light in these ranges is absorbed by the cytochrome c oxidase in our mitochondria, which increases the ATP in our cells. ATP is the juice which gives energy to our cells.
The cytochrome c oxidase in our mitochondria also absorbs light in the 700-800 nanometer range:
Credit: Red Light Man
However, Dr. Hamblin says that studies show that light in the 700-800 range does not have the same health benefits as in the 630-690 and 810-850 nanometer range (I’ll call this the “Ideal Range”).
Light with different frequencies can also cause problems for us. For example, blue light – i.e. light with a shorter frequency – can damage your eyes and may cause severe health problems such as cancer. And far infrared light – light with much longer wavelengths – can overheat our cells and cause some damage.
So take home number one: get a PBM device which produces light in the Ideal Range. (Note: different scientific studies are testing different wavelengths of light with the Ideal Range, and they may have some different effects which are better for particular conditions. But for now, the important thing is to make sure you’re somewhere in the Ideal Range).
The second thing to keep in mind is that too much of anything – even air or water – can kill you. Indeed, it has been known for thousands of years that for many substances, the right dosage can heal, while the wrong dosage can be poisonous.
PBM is the same. Scientists say that PBM is “biphasic”, meaning that the right dose provides numerous health benefits, while the wrong dose can cause problems.
The dose is determined by the power output of the device (in milliwatts) and the length of the exposure. If you buy a PBM device, it will provide guidelines about the proper length of exposure. With most PBM devices, a exposure of 10-20 minutes at a time is optimal. However, depending on the size and output of the device, less time may be recommended. (And when you are first trying PBM, start with just 5 minutes, to see if you have any adverse reactions.)
Many scientific articles have said that PBM appears to be safe. Dr. Hamblin states that the output of PBM devices sold to consumers is safe. He said that if you get too much exposure, the only adverse side effect might be a headache.
However, if you build your own device, or buy a device made for a different purpose – such as grow lights or an IR light for nighttime cameras – you should be very careful, and err on the side of lower power output and shorter exposure times.
Additionally, while there is some debate about whether LED PBM devices are safe when shined into your eyes, it is smart to wear protective eyewear (like these oh-so-fashionable tanning goggles). (We recommend LEDs as a source of PBM rather than lasers, because they tend to be cheaper and they are safer to use. If you use lasers for PBM, then it is vital to keep them away from your eyes.)
Finally, don’t use PBM if you are pregnant, and don’t use PBM if you have active cancer. While there are some preliminary studies implying that PBM can help prevent or mitigate cancer, there are other studies showing that PBM can help existing tumors to grow. More studies are needed in this area.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or a health professional, and this article is not intended to provide medical or health advice. You should consult your doctor before making any decisions about whether or not to try PBM.