If you’re interested in Multiple Sclerosis alternative treatment, a disease of the central nervous system, consider red light therapy, a safe and natural treatment option. This article will explore red light therapy as a potential treatment to help alleviate the symptoms and underlying contributors to MS, with no side effects.
Does Red Light Therapy Work for MS?
The short answer is that red light is clinically proven to regenerate nerves, which has implications for MS, but it’s certainly not a cure. It also has a neuroprotective effect on nerves, stimulates peak cellular functioning, and reduces chronic inflammation. Red light may be a complementary therapy that addresses the underlying causes of MS when used in conjunction with traditional medicine.
Current Treatment Options
Conventional treatments for MS focus on slowing the progression of the disease, relieving symptoms, and treating relapses. Some medications, particularly those that fall under a treatment protocol called disease-modifying treatments (DMTs), suppress the immune system so the body doesn’t attack its myelin sheaths, which are the protective coatings that surround nerves.
As you might imagine, this isn’t an ideal solution because a suppressed immune system can invite secondary infections.
In April 2020, an article published in the Journal of Neurology stated that patients with MS have an increased risk of infection leading to hospitalization. As confirmed by multiple studies cited in the article, these infections may contribute to relapses and worsening of symptoms. Infections can make the individual more vulnerable to viruses such as COVID-19.
Red light therapy takes a different, and highly effective, approach: reversing cellular dysfunction and reducing inflammation, which may be underlying causes or contributing factors to this progressive disease.
Red Light Basics
Red light therapy, also known as photobiomodulation or low-level light therapy (LLLT), utilizes several precise wavelengths of natural light that are clinically recognized for their healing properties. These wavelengths are measured in nanometers (nm), and the most beneficial is red light (630nm to 660nm) and near-infrared (NIR) light (820nm to 850nm). “Red light” is often used as an umbrella term that refers to the red light and NIR light wavelengths.
When someone is treated with red light therapy, the light is delivered to bare skin via powerful light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs. The key function is to stimulate the production of energy within cells through the absorption of red/NIR waves. More specifically, light photons are absorbed into the skin and underlying tissue where they interact with mitochondria, which are colloquially referred to as the “energy factories” inside cells.
Mitochondria are then stimulated to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the primary fuel for cells. This process is much like photosynthesis, whereby plants absorb energy from the sun to make glucose for their food.
The shorter red wavelengths (630nm to 660nm) absorb into the skin to a depth of about 4-5mm (.15 to .2 inch), making them an effective treatment for skin problems, including the effects of aging. Aside from their cellular energizing effects, red wavelengths have a stimulating effect on collagen and elastin production in the body, which enhances skin and connective tissue health.
NIR wavelengths (820nm to 850nm) soak deeper into the body where they stimulate mitochondrial functioning in the muscles, connective tissue, bone, and even the brain and spinal cord. Because of the effects of these longer wavelengths, NIR therapy, in particular, is a promising treatment for MS.
Using Red Light Therapy for MS
Before we get into how red light therapy can be an alternative treatment for MS, here’s a brief overview of the disease to help convey how powerful the treatment can be.
MS is an autoimmune disorder, meaning a disorder in which the body’s own immune system attacks the central nervous system; specifically, the myelin sheath that surrounds and insulates nerve fibers. This demyelination, as it is known, can lead to nerve damage.
But MS also attacks the nerve fibers themselves, which disrupts or stops messaging within the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system. The resulting damage leads to various manifestations of neurological and psychological dysfunction.
Here are the most common symptoms of MS, with information about how red light therapy can address them:
Autoimmune disorders have one thing in common: chronic inflammation. Inflammation is both necessary and detrimental. Acute or short-term inflammation is a natural function of the immune system and necessary for healing. Chronic inflammation, however, is associated with numerous health problems and diseases. It has been directly linked to cancer, autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular disease, chronic wounds, arthritis, pulmonary diseases, Type II diabetes, and neurological diseases.
Inflammation of the brain interferes with normal central nervous system functioning. Inflammatory cytokines (cell-signaling proteins) can damage the blood-brain barrier—and once the blood-brain barrier is breached, even more inflammatory chemicals can enter the brain. Inflammation is a key factor in the severity of an individual’s MS symptoms.
A study by Dr. Michael Hamblin, one of the world’s premier researchers into the effects of red light, found that LLLT may be responsible for reducing chronic inflammation, including inflammation in the brain. Dr. Hamblin said, “PBM is able to up-regulate antioxidant defenses and reduce oxidative stress…One of the most reproducible effects of PBM is an overall reduction in inflammation, which is particularly important for disorders of the joints, traumatic injuries, lung disorders, and in the brain.”
Cognitive and Psychological Dysfunction
More than half of MS patients suffer from cognitive dysfunction. This includes impairments to learning, information processing, problem-solving, organization, focus and concentration, and perception. Cognitive dysfunction can be caused by oxidative stress and nitrosative stress.
Oxidative stress refers to an overabundance of free radicals, or molecules that are missing an electron, and “steal” electrons from other molecules, causing damage. Nitrosative stress refers to the overproduction of nitric oxide in the brain, which leads to interference with normal central nervous system functioning.
Oxidative stress has been shown to contribute to mitochondrial dysfunction, which creates a negative chain reaction of more cell-damaging oxidative stress, even worse cell functioning, and eventually permanent cell damage.
While oxidative stress is generally associated with neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, it is increasingly recognized as a contributing factor to psychological disorders such as clinical depression—one of the most common symptoms of MS.
A 2019 study by researchers from South Korea found that red light (660nm) was effective at reducing oxidative stress in the hippocampus, which is responsible for regulating emotion, learning, memory, and motivation: all of which are adversely affected by MS.
Research has also shown that nitrosative stress plays a key role in the development of MS-related depression. According to a study by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, red light therapy can help protect against nitrosative stress and abnormal cell death.
Large Motor Skill Dysfunction, Loss of Balance, Pain, and Neuropathy
One of the first signs of MS is the loss of feeling in the extremities, face, or torso due to poor nerve signaling. Once the myelin sheath is damaged, symptoms of neuropathy often follow. This can result in difficulty walking, muscle weakness, loss of balance, dizziness, tingling, numbness, exaggerated sensations of pain, and vertigo, which severely impact the ability to perform everyday tasks. Likewise, spasticity (involuntary muscle spasms) occurs, most often in the legs and hands. In severe cases, MS can lead to paralysis.
Boosting mitochondrial metabolism was one of the ways that researchers used near-infrared red light to improve nerve regeneration in a 2014 study edited by Dr. Michael Hamblin. Rats with induced sciatic nerve injuries received LLLT. The irradiated rats showed an increase in myelin sheath thickness, an increase in proteins associated with nerve growth, and increased numbers of Schwann cells (which form the myelin sheath). These findings suggest that LLLT has beneficial effects on sciatic nerve regeneration.
One of the first signs of MS is the onset of vision problems, including problems with contrast and color, painful eye movement, blurred vision, and involuntary rapid eye movement.
In a 2014 University of Texas review of studies that focused on the effects of red light on the eyes and brain, researchers concluded that LLLT potentially counteracts the consequences of mitochondrial failure. Authors Rojas and Gonzales-Lima said,
The data on LLLT suggest it can exert effective, reproducible, and meaningful changes in the normal and dysfunctional nervous tissue. This highlights the value of LLLT as a novel and useful paradigm to treat visual, neurological, and psychological conditions, and supports that neuronal energy metabolism could constitute a major target for neurotherapeutics of the eye and brain.
LLLT also appears to have a neuroprotective effect on the eyes, according to a 2008 animal study that observed rats with rotenone-induced impaired visual function. Rotenone is a toxic compound often used as an insecticide. It causes vision loss by reducing metabolic activity in the visual pathway, the thickness of the nerve fibers, and the density of the ganglion cell layer. Near-infrared light prevented these neurotoxic effects. The researchers suggested that NIR light could potentially treat neurodegenerative disorders associated with mitochondrial dysfunction.
UV Light Therapy for MS Fatigue
MS is much more common in high latitudes, which scientists theorize is related to low vitamin D levels due to less sun exposure. Yet even though sunlight may be the ultimate in natural light therapy, it’s not a good idea to spend several hours every day in direct sunlight to experience its MS symptom-reducing effects.
Rather than sending patients into the great outdoors for daily sun therapy, doctors may use narrow-band UVB (nbUVB) light to suppress the inflammatory response and regulate the immune response as a new multiple sclerosis treatment.
An animal study by the University of Münster investigated the effects of UVB light on the immune regulatory processes. Researchers concluded that UVB radiation applied to the skin reduces systemic immune reactions and improves disease symptoms.
Red Light Addresses MS-Related Progressive Weakening of the Entire Body
During an MS attack or relapse, the immune system goes into overdrive. Each attack puts additional stress on the body, more cells are damaged, and each subsequent attack makes it harder for the body to recover.
Over time, cellular damage becomes progressively worse until it becomes permanent. This is why restoring cellular vitality is so important, and why red light therapy can be a potentially helpful part of ongoing MS treatment.
Controlled and acute (temporary) inflammation is also a necessary part of healing but uncontrolled inflammation can lead to neurodegeneration. According to a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee animal study led by Jeri-Anne Lyons, red and near-infrared light down-regulates pro-inflammatory processes and up-regulates anti-inflammatory mechanisms.
Mice with induced autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) showed less cell death (apoptosis) and, according to Lyons, “…photobiomodulation may be an effective treatment that not only targets the immune response but also offers the neuroprotection lacking with current treatment strategies.”
To recap, LLLT as one of the newest treatments for MS helps the suffers by improving cellular functioning, reducing inflammation, supporting the regrowth of the myelin sheath, and restoration of nerve function.
Using Red Light for MS at Home
Always use LLLT under your doctor’s supervision and don’t discontinue any treatment unless advised by your doctor. To give yourself the best chance of alleviating MS symptoms, there are a few considerations to keep in mind:
1. Quality matters: Use a high-output LED device that delivers the highest possible amount of photo-energy or light energy to the skin. Since MS can be widespread in the body, you will get faster and more comprehensive results with larger panels, or a combination of panels for full-body therapy (the BIOMAX series is modular, allowing you to link up to four panels together).
2. Be consistent with treatment: It’s important to recognize that LLLT isn’t an instant fix. While you may experience fast relief of some symptoms, the greatest benefits come over time, as the treatment sparks a chain reaction in the body that begins with improved cellular energy. Since nerve cells don’t regenerate at the same time, you can expect this chain reaction to take several months.
Commit to several 10- to 20-minute sessions weekly. Managing the disease will be an ongoing endeavor, but since LLLT is so pleasant and pain-free, it could become a treasured part of your self-care routine.
3. Support natural healing: In addition to several LLLT treatments per week, follow these practices for supporting your body:
- Eat a diet high in leafy greens while minimizing sugar and other simple carbohydrates
- Boost your vitamin D and B-complex intake (with a doctor’s supervision)
- Improve your balance with yoga, dance, or a balance ball
- Get enough sleep (that’s when your body does most of its repair/regeneration)
- Exercise daily, to help prevent muscle degeneration (focusing on strength and flexibility)
- Manage stress through meditation, being in nature, hobbies, and social interaction
- Challenge your brain, focusing on memory and problem-solving exercises
Although red light therapy should not be considered a cure for MS, it has the potential to offer relief and reduce relapses, while supporting your body’s ability to heal and regenerate.
Give Red Light therapy a Try for Multiple Sclerosis An Alternative Treatment
Experience relief from the debilitating symptoms of MS, and regain your enjoyment of life using LLLT. A few sessions under a red light LED device on an ongoing basis maybe the non-invasive, natural, painless, pleasurable, and effective alternative MS treatment option you’ve been seeking.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What are the early signs of multiple sclerosis?
Ans: Some of the most common symptoms of multiple sclerosis (ms) are dizziness, pain and spasms, vision problems, sexual dysfunction, and cognitive problems.
Q. What is the difference between MS and fibromyalgia?
Ans: Multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia both have similar symptoms. But the causes and treatments are totally different.