Red Light Therapy to treat inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is becoming more popular amongst sufferers. Photobiomodulation (PBM) therapy, also known as Red Light Therapy (RLT) and low-level laser therapy (LLLT), is a non-invasive treatment that utilises specific wavelengths of light to influence cellular activity and whole-body systems.
This therapy has gained attention for its potential in treating conditions that lack effective pharmacological treatments or have no cure. Many chronic conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), are characterised by symptoms that significantly impact patients’ quality of life. In this post, we explore the potential of RLT in managing fatigue, pain, and depression in individuals with IBD, taking into consideration the biopsychosocial aspects of the condition.
Understanding RLT involves the application of light or photons in specific wavelengths, typically using lasers or light-emitting diodes (LEDs), to affect cellular function and various physiological processes. The therapy can be applied directly to the skin and treatment duration depends on the chosen light intensity and device output and a persons individual tolerance. Please watch this great video explainer about what happens inside your body when light therapy is applied.
Mechanisms of Photobiomodulation
Numerous mechanisms have been proposed to explain how PBM influences biological activity. These mechanisms include:
- Activation of mitochondrial chromophores: RLT can stimulate mitochondrial chromophores, such as cytochrome C oxidase (CCO), leading to the production of reactive oxygen species, increased adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production, and various downstream effects.
- Modulation of ion channels and protein conformational transfer: RLT may influence ion channels and protein conformation, which can have implications for pain modulation.
- Modulation of genes, neurotrophins, cytokines, and inflammatory processes: RLT has been shown to affect gene expression, neurotrophins, cytokines, and inflammatory pathways, potentially contributing to its therapeutic effects.
- Interaction with the cytoskeleton and neural blockade: RLT can induce reversible varicosity formation in neurons, leading to analgesic effects through neural blockade.
- Activation of transforming growth factor beta (TGFβ) in tissue healing: RLT has been found to activate TGFβ, which plays a crucial role in tissue healing processes.
Taking a Holistic Approach to Red Light Therapy
Taking a holistic approach to RLT means considering its effects on multiple levels, including the neuroimmune system, microbiome-gut-brain axis, and psychological well-being. While molecular mechanisms play a role, there are subjective outcomes related to health-related quality of life (HRQoL) that cannot be solely explained by biophysical causes. RLT affects not only the body but also the mind, influencing mental, emotional, and social functioning.
Considering the IBD Interactome
IBD is a chronic disease of the gastrointestinal tract characterised by remissions and relapses. It is influenced by various factors, including abnormal gut microbiota, immune response dysregulation, environmental changes, and genetic factors. The concept of the “IBD interactome” emphasises the need to address all these components and their complex interactions in treating IBD effectively. By targeting the gut microbiome and inflammation through RLT, it may be possible to influence the disease’s course.
Managing Fatigue, Pain, and Depression in IBD
Fatigue, pain, and depression are common symptoms experienced by individuals with IBD, significantly impacting their quality of life. RLT has the potential to address these symptoms through its effects on the microbiome, gut-brain axis, and inflammation.
Common symptoms of IBD include abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, diarrhea, weight loss, anemia, and fatigue. Fatigue, depression, and pain significantly impact the quality of life for individuals with IBD. RLT has the potential to address these symptoms through its effects on the microbiome, gut-brain axis, inflammation, and pain perception.
The Microbiome and RLT
RLT has the potential to influence the gut microbiome directly and indirectly through the bidirectional microbiome-gut-brain axis. Studies have shown that RLT can alter gut microbiome diversity and increase beneficial bacteria associated with a healthy microbiome. Further research is ongoing, exploring the effects of RLT on the gut microbiome in people with IBD, which could potentially reduce local and systemic inflammation associated with the disease. Quality Light Therapy Wraps such as the NIRFLEX by Leredd (as pictured below) that is totally dedicated to Near-infra Red Wavelengths which are the longer wavelengths that reach through the dermal levels and well into the gut microbiome, would be most suitable for treatment.
Numerous published studies investigating the abdominal applications of RLT in animals and humans have consistently reported the absence of adverse effects related to RLT. Authors have highlighted the safety and lack of toxicity associated with RLT in these studies.
- Remote photobiomodulation treatment for the clinical signs of Parkinson’s disease: A case series conducted during COVID-19.
- The effect of photobiomodulation therapy on the management of chronic idiopathic large-bowel diarrhea in dogs
- Low-level laser therapy for weight reduction
- Improvements in clinical signs of Parkinson’s disease using photobiomodulation: A prospective proof-of-concept study
Based on the available evidence, it is unlikely that adverse reactions will significantly impact the use of RLT in individuals with IBD. Individuals taking steroidal medications should consult with their treating medical health and wellness specialists to ensure that there are no contraindications.
The use of RLT shows promising potential in managing various aspects of inflammatory bowel disease, including inflammation, fatigue, pain, and depression. Through its multifactorial mechanisms, RLT can target key components and pathways within the IBD interactome.
Further research continues to optimise treatment parameters and to understand the specific mechanisms involved. RLT has the potential to serve as a stand alone and adjunct therapy alongside conventional medical treatments, contributing to improved outcomes and overall well-being for individuals with IBD.