Near Infrared and Red Light for M.E. recovery
Near Infrared and Red light for M.E. recovery
This has been another turning point for me in my recovery from ME.
I read about the potential of near infrared (NIR) and red light a while ago but it took me months to decide it was next on the list of treatments to try. Next to hyperbaric oxygen treatment this is one of the best treatments I have ever tried. Within weeks I was feeling the benefit. This definitely falls into the ‘wish I’d tried this earlier’ category. You may have heard of this treatment by another name including photobiomodulation, LLLT(Low level laser therapy) and led therapy.
I’ve had to take ownership of my own health and researched a lot of treatments and practitioners that might be able to help. It feels like the Crystal Maze. Solving one problem doesn’t win the game and it will take more than one person, skill and approach to get to my goal. I have tried so many different treatments, supplements, herbal remedies and dietary changes I could write a book on it! One of the biggest difficulties I have faced is trying to work out which treatments are genuine and whether they might work for me. So when I read about NIR and red light therapy it took me a while to research and decide it was worth a try.
What is NIR and red light therapy?
What is red light?
This is visible red light at a specific frequency (610 -700 nm) that is absorbed in the first 25 mm of skin. The energy from red light is thought to impact a number of structures in the body but the one of interest as an M.E. sufferer is the impact on the mitochondria. Mitochondria are the energy producing organelles and there are thousands of them in each cell. It is believed that red light/NIR light increases ATP energy production within the mitochondria. Dr Sarah Myhill (expert on M.E.) proposes that it is the malfunctioning of the mitochondria that is the cause of M.E. fatigue. It definitely seems to be involved in the biochemistry and for me I think this plays a big part as I have suffered badly with PEM (Post Exertional Malaise).
You can find some more technical information on red light here
What is NIR light?
Unlike red light, infrared light is not visible to the human eye but the its beneficial effect and effective mechanism is thought to be similar to red light. The difference is that it can penetrate far deeper into the body thereby potentially benefiting muscle, bones and organs. It is important to recognise that there are different types of infrared light; far, mid and near. The type that is of help from a therapeutic perspective is Near Infrared Light (700 – 1000nm).
Want more technical information and in depth details?
Joovv – For a really in-depth technical explanation of the interaction of NIR/red light and mitochondria then read this. It’s worth having a good look around this website for lots more information on all things NIR and red light.
What happens in NIR/red light therapy?
It’s a bit like a sun bed but with beneficial effect rather than damaging…….
What do you do?
- You sit in front of a lamp or larger device that emits either or both NIR and red light.
How often do you do it?
- The treatment times vary from 2 minutes to 10 minutes per area to be treated, up to twice a day.
- Short sessions are more beneficial than long sessions making it an efficient treatment.
Do I have to take my clothes off?
- The idea is that you must expose the area to be treated to the light in order for it to penetrate the body.
- It is completely non invasive and simple to use.
Who can benefit?
There has been a lot of research into NIR/red light therapy stemming from the research done by NASA starting back in 1993. They discovered it could stimulate plant growth in space and subsequently harnessed it to help prevent muscle and bone mass loss in astronauts. The Joovv website has lots of information on this, in particular if you want more information then this blog post is particularly useful https://joovv.com/blogs/joovv-blog/does-red-light-therapy-really-work
I can’t believe I read about this over a year ago and didn’t do anything with it! Sometimes the options to try when you are ill can be overwhelming and choosing can be difficult.
If you take a read at some of the websites I’ve mentioned you will see that there are a lot of conditions that can potentially benefit from this. So, like Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment this is a treatment that can benefit more than just M.E. patients. Here’s the list of potential conditions that can benefit and gain potential improvement:
- Skin conditions including: eczema, psoriasis, scars, wrinkles
- Inflammatory conditions such as arthritis
- Muscle and injury recovery
I am sure there are many more conditions that haven’t even been researched.
I think it’s important to set out expectations on this, the research indicates improvement in conditions. So nobody is claiming this is a silver bullet. It didn’t mean I could drop everything else and just do this. I still work hard on my diet, nutritional supplements and treatments.
I bought a combined device (from the Red Light Man) that emits both red and NIR light. I use it twice a day, morning and night, usually for 10 – 15 minutes. For the first few weeks I did this religiously. Now I don’t stress if I miss a session or if I don’t have time for the full 15 minutes. It’s at most half an hour of my life every day that makes every other waking hour so much more pleasurable. I can’t express how much having normal energy levels means to me.
A year ago I couldn’t even go for a 10 minute walk never mind go to a yoga class! Now I am out walking without worrying about how long and the potential impact on energy levels and have started back at yoga. I never thought I would say how pleased I am to be able to exercise again! And that surely is the acid test of recovery.
What made me decide to try this?
Managing and recovering from M.E. is a constant cycle of research, trial and evaluation. Although I had read about the benefits of NIR and red light a few years ago I had struggled to find an effective home device or a salon that could provide it. When I eventually discovered devices that are powerful enough to be effective and be used conveniently at home I was in the middle of Hyperbaric Oxygen treatment. If I had tried it then I wouldn’t have been able to properly evaluate its effect. I also wasn’t sure of the how effective the devices were. I have tried red light facial’s such as Omnilux and hadn’t noticed much difference in my skin or health. So I was a bit sceptical on the possible effect. In retrospect, this is a prime example of how dosage and frequency can be not just important but essential.
Once I moved through most of my nutrition protocols and had stabilised my use of Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment I knew I needed to find something else that would give me another step up in recovery. I had already started taking NT Factor (I’ll write about this separately) and knew that before I started some of the energy supplements such as d-ribose, I wanted to see if there was anything else that could have an impact. My thyroid was potentially low functioning. That’s when I discovered that NIR/red light can help with this too.
Recently I’ve started reading blogs and listening to podcasts by various biohackers. I have found this community to be really useful when looking for accessible interventions that can help. I found quite a few biohackers talking about light therapy, the research and its effectiveness. Total gold dust!
Where’s the catch?
The biggest challenge was finding an effective device. I believe in America there are salons that provide access to NIR/red light beds but even if I had managed to find one locally it would have meant attending at least 5 times a week which aside from the inconvenience was likely to be costly. A device I could use at home was always going to be the best option for me. I found good quality devices on joovv.com but they are an American company and whilst they ship to the UK it’s not cheap. Then I found Red Light Man with an array of devices and options. Alas the one I wanted was out of stock! I only had to wait a few weeks before it came back in and I could order it. And it was totally worth the wait.
When looking for a device it’s really important that it has the right specification or you are wasting your money. These little infrared lamps you can buy just don’t have the power to be effective. Both Red Light Man and Joovv explain about the minimum power output required.
My top tips if you are considering NIR/red light therapy
- Don’t skimp on the device. A quality product that is effective is far better than an inferior product that may not provide results
- You don’t have to buy the most expensive full body devices. However, a smaller device may mean longer treatment times if you need to treat your whole body
- Consistent treatment for short periods of time are the most effective. The effect can be biphasic, meaning there can be a detrimental effect by overuse. Don’t be tempted to sit under it for hours – unlikely since you’ll feel so energised you will want to get on with other things anyway!
I hope this is something that other M.E. patients will consider since it’s benefits go so much further than just M.E. recovery.