Noreen Ziegler, DVM, CNC
Healing the human body with a beam of light sounds like something out of a
classic Star Trek episode.  But even Dr. McCoy never dreamed of the
futuristic ways that today’s doctors are finding to use different kinds of light in

Researchers are exploring everything from penetrating beams of light that
seem to repair heart tissue after a heart attack to “light therapy” that appears
to improve Alzheimer’s patients’ ability to sleep through the night.  Doctors are
remedying the side effects of cancer treatments, severe acne and other
ailments just by shining high-intensity light in varying colors on the affected

In ground-breaking therapies, light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, most often are
used to apply concentrated doses of light to patients.  LEDs are not lasers, so
tissue does not get hot, and the treatment is pain-free.  “It represents a
quantum leap in medicine,” says Harry T. Whelan, M.D., who is a professor of
neurology at the Medical College of Wisconsin and a leading researcher in
the field.  “It’s a change from the standard medical models of drugs and
surgery, where you are basically either poisoning or cutting the patient.”

Light apparently works on human tissue at the cellular level, transferring
energy to the mitochondria, which function as microscopic power plants,
helping the body repair itself.  Light also can speed up or slow down certain
chemical processes in cells.

The secret to the many ways that light can be used in medicine lies in the
varying wavelengths of different colors of light.  “These are essentially the
different colors of the rainbow, and each has a different effect on human
tissue,” says David Goldberg, M.D., director of Skin Laser & Surgery
Specialists of New York & New Jersey, who has been doing research in the
field for two decades.

Near Infrared Light
The long wavelengths of near infrared light, next to red on the spectrum and
invisible to the human eye, can penetrate deeply into human tissue.  For that
reason, it may be the light treatment with the most dramatic potential for
revolutionizing medicine.

Working with patients at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, professor Whelan
and his colleagues have used infrared light to treat “severe mucositis, “ oral
sores that are a side effect of chemotherapy and radiation treatment and
leave patients unable to either eat or drink.  “We’ve essentially eliminated
severe mucositis here in the ward,” Whelan says.

Bigger applications could be ahead.  Tests on animals have shown success
reversing blindness by stimulating retinal cells in the eye.  Animal studies also
indicate that infrared light can help cut a heart attack’s severity by up to 50%
and repair tissue afterward.

Red Light
Red light, which does not penetrate as deeply as near infrared, seems to help
wounds heal more quickly.  In addition, the light can be used to remove
certain precancerous skin cells without scaring, Goldberg says.

But what many people may be most interested in is red light’s ability to
reverse aging.  Used in conjunction with near infrared, the light promotes
collagen formation, which smooths out wrinkled skin.  “You’re not going to
take somebody who is 60 and turn them into a 20 year old, “ Goldberg
cautions, “but it is very clear that you can take people’s skin and make them
look younger and more vibrant.”

Red light also has an anti-inflammatory effect and can kill bacteria, as can
blue light.  In fact, Goldberg has had success using red light and blue light
together to treat severe cases of acne.  He says that light therapy “has
revolutionized the treatment of the skin.”  

Blue Light
Besides its use as an antibacterial agent, blue light has a special ability to
reset the biological clock.  The reason seems to be tied to the thousands of
years humans toiled almost completely outdoors.  “We are blue-sky sensitive
creatures,” says Mariana Figueiro, assistant professor at Rensselaer
Polytechnic Institute’s Lighting Research Center, based in Troy, N.Y.

Studies by Figueiro and others indicate “blue light boxes” are far more
effective than full-spectrum sunlight boxes of equal intensity at fighting
seasonal affective disorder, commonly known as the winter blues.  Studies at
Harvard Medical School in Boston and the Lighting Research Center also
indicate that a dose of blue light, depending on when it is given, can increase
alertness or help fight insomnia.  In particular, Figueiro’s studies show that
exposure to blue light in the evening makes Alzheimer’s patients more likely to
sleep through the night.

Ultraviolet Light
Ultraviolet light, which exists just below violet on the spectrum, can be used to
keep bacteria and viruses from reproducing.  A study by the Lighting
Research Center is now underway in which the air being circulated through a
Manhattan office and retail building is being treated with UV light in the vents.  
“It’s potentially and efficient way to sterilize the air,” says Andrew Bierman,
who is a researcher at the center.  UV light is being used in water treatment
plants, and New York City is now building the world’s largest UV treatment
facility, which will be able to treat 2 billion gallons of water a day.

All information is for educational purposes only.  These statements have not been evaluated by the
Food and Drug Administration.  These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any