Remember I told you that all energy-creation depends on oxygen?
If you don’t believe me, just try holding your breath for 3 minutes - reality will prove that point very quickly. Sure, the example is somewhat childish--but many people don’t know that oxygen is an actual end-product used in your mitochondria.
Red light therapy allows your red blood cells to carry more oxygen (11; 12).
Greater oxygen carrying capacity by your red blood cells, in turn, translates into higher energy-production in your cells. This effect on oxygen is rarely emphasized, and yet, very important for your workout recovery.
The improved capacity to carry oxygen can be likened to enhancement of your circulatory system. And guess what, with red light therapy blood flow literally increases (11).
(Some studies contradict the earlier outcomes on blood flow and oxygenation, specifically in healthy participants (13) You’ll probably get fewer benefits the healthier you are).
So let’s dig into the topic of circulation some more:
Microcirculation is your body’s circulation at the microscopic level, where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged between your blood and cells.
Nutrients such as minerals are also exchanged at that level.
What’s fascinating is in animal studies is that these small blood vessels expanded for up to 12-16 hours with red and infrared light exposure (12).
The study was conducted in rabbits, but because circulation has great similarities in mammals, it’s reasonable to expect the same effect exists in humans too.
Levels of growth hormone and fibroblast growth factor (which helps build fibrous material such as tendons and ligaments) also “rapidly increased” (12). Your benefit is quicker recovery and healing of tissues that normally have a poor blood supply.
In humans, studies also show that red light therapy increases skin blood flow (14). Healthy young males specifically saw their blood flow in the biceps increase after the application of a red light laser, for instance (15).
But let’s return to the topic of the cell once again:
Stem Cell Activation.
Stem cells are the primordial cells of your body that can differentiate into many different cells, such as muscle or nerve cells.
One mechanism by which red light therapy helps existing stem cells proliferate into new functions (16). As a result, the healing and/or recovery processes are sped up because stem cells are increasingly and more optimally used.
Many tissues can actually be affected through stem cell activation by red light therapy, such as those found in bone marrow, teeth, ligaments (which hold bones and joints together), and in your body fat (17).
The subject is fascinating and you can expect the literature on using red light therapy for improving stem cell interventions to explode in the future.
For instance, red light therapy may help your heart heal after a heart attack, specifically through the mechanism of affecting stem cells (18). In time, stem cells may be injected if you’ve got heart problems, and supplemented with red light therapy.
That example shows you how deep the healing potential of red light therapy can go...
Other Recovery Mechanisms
Other mechanisms of red light therapy exist as well, such as lowering “oxidative stress”. Oxidative stress - or the production of “free radicals” - is a byproduct of energy-creation in the body.
Excess free radicals also contribute to aging and their levels are influenced by red light therapy. Unfortunately, it’s mostly animal studies that demonstrate the effect of lowering excess free radicals right now (19; 20).
Human studies will surely follow in the future...
Let’s now consider the reason why you’re really reading this blog post: translating these effects at the cellular level to real-world gains in recovery and healing: