You may think:
“To lose fat I just need to eat less and exercise more”
If you want to maximize the results you’re getting, it’s important to use all the tools in the toolbox. And red light therapy is one tool that can dramatically aid in your fat-loss efforts.
Simple: you integrate a 10-20 minute session into your day – preferably around your workout – and you’ll immediately reap the benefits. Let’s therefore dig into the science of using red light therapy for boosting your fat loss:
1. Introduction: The Fat Loss Equation
Let’s start with the issue you and I are trying to solve:
Obesity is a horrible problem, in part, because it massively increases your risk for many different health conditions. Heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, organ problems, depression, are all examples of such conditions (1; 2; 3).
And you know what?
Just think about it: how different do people look today compared to 10 or 20 years ago? When I was in high school 20 years ago, almost no-one was obese. Today that story is radically different.
Also, don’t get me started on the obesity epidemic in adults…
Improving your ability to burn body fat, in turn, is essential for preventing obesity.
With the obesity problem today, you need all the help you can get!
Don’t get me wrong though: just losing weight if you’re overweight is not enough: you want to keep the weight off permanently. Forever. And it’s precisely keeping the weight off that’s almost impossible for many people (6; 7; 8).
So even after losing weight, most people regain their losses over time (and more!). As an analogy, that rebounding in weight is like improving your household budget first and then going bankrupt.
And what if you’re already lean? Well, even if you’re ripped you probably never think you’re lean enough!
Hence, no matter what your background, anyone can profit form a (sustainable) fat loss method…
One reason most people fail in their fat loss efforts is that they don’t take the effect that their environment has into account.
How The Light In Your Environment Affects Fat Loss
The light in your environment has massive effects on your ability to lose fat.
If you’re exposed to light at the wrong times of the day, your ability to lose fat is horribly impeded. People who are exposed to lots of artificial light at night, for instance, have increased body mass and a far worse metabolic profile (9; 10; 11).
Essentially, as a human being, you need darkness at night and light exposure (preferably from the sun) during the day. Any time you break that rule, your efforts to maintain a healthy body weight are impeded.
You may think: “well, but what does that data have to do with red light therapy?”
Red light therapy supplements that light exposure during the day.
Remember that many people don’t even have a regular opportunity to expose their eyes and skin to sunlight.
In fact, most people work in office buildings and have no ability to expose themselves to sufficient sunlight at daytime.
That inability to get sufficient sunlight exposure is where red light therapy comes in: red light therapy allows you to supplement sunlight and gain many of its benefits from the comfort of your home.
Now, to be 100% honest:
Red light therapy won’t give you all benefits of sunlight exposure. One example is vitamin D creation which is not supplied by red light therapy. But on the other hand, red light therapy may also have benefits that you cannot get from the sun.
Red light therapy can be used anywhere, any time, and may have advantages for energy-production that you cannot get from the sun.
Want to know more?
Let’s explore why red light therapy can be your secret weapon in your fat-loss journey – and make you look even better than you already do.
2. How Light Influences Fat Loss
As you’ve already read, light has a massive effect on your body composition – body composition is the relationship between the amount of muscle mass and body fat your carry.
For many people, the idea that the light in your environment affects your fat loss is very weird. And yet, an extraordinary amount of evidence exists showing that the light in your environment does affect your fat loss efforts.
- Bright light exposure in the morning increases weight loss while decreasing appetite (12). That light exposure may specifically increase the amount of body fat you lose, instead of water weight losses (13).
- There’s a strong association between vitamin D deficiency and obesity (14; 15; 16). Sunlight is the means most people build their vitamin D levels, as many people don’t eat animal foods in sufficient quantities to keep their levels up. Hence, low vitamin D may be directly responsible for an increase in the obesity epidemic. In plain English: the greater your vitamin D deficiency, the higher the risk for obesity becomes.
- Disruptions in the circadian rhythm – the 24-hour day and night cycle of your body – are also strongly linked to greater obesity risk (17 ; 18 ; 19). The research in this area is quite new but very promising (and scary!)
And of course, there’s the science showing the downsides of artificial light at night exposure as well – which I’ve mentioned before.
The light you’re exposed to does matter – a lot more than you’d think!
For that reason, let’s explore how red light therapy can nudge the light in your environment into the right direction and take your fat loss to the next level:
3. Red Light Therapy And Increased Fat Loss
Finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for:
The relationship between red light therapy and your fat loss efforts. In this section I’ll explore the currently available science on this topic. So let’s have a look:
- A study in 2011 compared red light therapy with a sham intervention (20). With the sham intervention, you’ll think you’re getting a real treatment because it seems the lights are working–but in reality the participants are not. Through that mechanism, the effect of a placebo effect is controlled for. Study result? Women between the ages of 18 and 65 were treated with red light therapy twice a week for 4 weeks, and treatment led to a 0.4 to 0.5 centimeter losses at the waist. In other words, women were losing fat by just putting more light in their bodies! Consequence? Over a period of a year, you may lose several inches by just including red light therapy into routine.
- In another study, if you received the red light therapy intervention, you’d lose a combined 3 inches from your thighs, waist, and hips (23). These losses cannot explained through reduction in the amount of water you hold, but instead, come from body fat reductions. I hope you’re starting to become convinced…
- One more study compared the effects of exercise and post-workout red light therapy (24). Using red light therapy after the workout resulted in greater reductions in body fat than exercise alone. Insulin sensitivity also increased, meaning that carbohydrates you eat are less likely to be stored as body fat and more likely to be stored in your muscle tissue.
- A combination of red, infrared, and blue light over 12 sessions led to a loss of a 4.5 centimeters loss of size around the upper abdomen, and about a 5 centimeters around the middle and lower abdomen (25). Those numbers equal more than 2 inches. Yes, again, these women lost abdominal circumference without any exercise.
- One study specifically compared the effects of applying red light therapy before or after a workout with using no lights at all. Using lights both before and after a workout was also studied The outcome? Combining red light before and after workouts had the best effects (26). The group without any red light therapy at all showed the worst results. Keep in mind that endurance workouts were used in this study – strength workouts may show different results. What’s even crazier is that the double red light therapy session group had a whopping three times the results of the exercise only group. You can thus use red light therapy for workout performance too!
- A last study that combines endurance exercise and strength training demonstrated that the addition of red light therapy led to increased fat loss, specifically inches around the neck, waist, and additional loss of “visceral fat” – which is most dangerous for your health (27). The profile of the fat loss hormone “leptin” also became healthier. Leptin signals the availability of energy stores (body fat) in your brain and is dysregulated in overweight and obese people.
Fat Loss Spot Reduction?
The apparent mechanism of how red light therapy affects fat loss are still being studied today.
As the science currently stands, it looks impossible to intentionally choose the place you want to lose fat from with red light therapy. In other words, just shining red light at your belly will not ensure that you only lose fat at that specific place.
Fat loss is thus a systemic and not a localized phenomenon.
(As a side note, some respected experts do think spot reduction with red light therapy is indeed possible. More research is thus still needed in this area.)
The bottom line of this section?
Red light therapy improves your fat loss levels even if you don’t exercise. Combined with exercise, however, the results improve massively
(Caveat: many of these studies use “LLLT” or Low Level Laser Therapy. Lasers allow for a continuous light beam, while red light therapy is pulsed. Some studies compare LLLT to red light therapy with LED bulbs, and conclude the two are equally effective (26; 27) Fortunately, most of the studies listed above do use wavelengths close to those included in commercial red light therapy panels, such as 640, 660, 800, and 900 nanometers. These studies thus inform you about the expected results from LED panel light exposure.)
And you know what?
Additional benefits for fat loss exist, specifically for your thyroid:
4. Light And Thyroid Function
Many people don’t know that they’ve got an organ located in the front of their neck. That organ is called the “thyroid”.
Simply put: the better your thyroid functions, the greater amount of fat loss you can expect. Poor thyroid function, in turn, reduces the amount of weight you can expect to lose – and frequently even contributes to obesity.
Red light therapy can have huge effects upon thyroid function. Let’s explore some of these results:
- One study investigated the “vascularization” – or blood vessel presence – of the thyroid with red light therapy in patients with a thyroid autoimmune condition. The result indicated a normalization of the available blood vessels in part of that thyroid (31).
- Another study showed that red light therapy decreased the dependence of hypothyroid patients on thyroid medication (32). These patients ingested “T4”, one of the most fundamental thyroid hormones in the human body. Almost half of all patients could quit their thyroid medication regimen after just 10 sessions of red light therapy. Antibody levels – indicating autoimmune conditions in the thyroid – also decreased. Remember that in “autoimmune disease”, (parts of) the body’s immune system attack the body’s own cells. Overall, the thyroid-promoting outcome of this study is extremely promising.
- Followup of some of these autoimmune thyroid problem studies shows that red light therapy is considered very safe, even 6 years after a previous study was completed (33). Most thyroid problems actually have an immune component so these benefits are truly groundbreaking.
- Animal studies show that red light therapy can alter levels of most of the thyroid hormone levels, such as T4 and T3 (34). Hence, thyroid problems may be caused by a light deficiency in your environment – instead of your food choices or other reasons. Additionally, another animal study shows that red light therapy may protect your against the negative side-effects of radiation (35). Thyroid damage after nuclear fallout is one of the most feared side-effects of radiation exposure, as well as certain types of cancers such as leukemia (found in blood and bones). It’s thus very likely that red light therapy protects your thyroid at the cellular level.
Overall, red light therapy has very significant effects upon thyroid function, and it’s very likely that fat loss may be improved through this specific mechanism.
More research (in humans) is needed for definitive conclusions though.
Let’s consider one more subject, that of using the correct dosage for your sessions:
Conclusion: Enter The Fat Loss Game Changer
Always remember: fat loss is a marathon, not a sprint. Your actions each day determine whether you’ll lose weight — or not.
Red light therapy is a great new tool in your toolbox that makes it much easier to lose those excess 20 pounds.
And that future is bright for red light therapy. Rarely have I seen any modality that produces beneficial effects in study after study…
With thousands of studies published on red light therapy and 85%+ of these positive, it looks like we’re in the first mile of the marathon in the area of red light research as well.
The future will certainly showcase new research into this fascinating topic, and teach us more about the mechanism by which red light therapy causes fat loss, the precise benefits, and many other topics.
For now, get a professional grade red light therapy device, and quit wasting your precious time on workouts that don’t give you maximal results. Hopefully, red light therapy becomes your secret weapon for quicker fat loss as well – as it is for so many others.
Author: Bart Wolbers
Bart Wolbers holds Master degrees in Clinical Health Science, Philosophy of Science and Technology (with distinction), and Philosophy. He’s also extensively written about the science of red light therapy before, as well as many other health-related topics. Bart has also been featured on Yahoo, Fitbit, MSN.com, the Daily Beast, Bodybuilding.com, The Sun, Bustle, and Oxygen Magazine, and many others.