I recently did a Google search for “photobiomodulation for brain disorders.” and it only turned up about 60,000 hits. This is a small number of hits for a web search, and it might ordinarily indicate that there isn’t much interest in the topic. On the other hand, the search results had a high density of hits for actual research papers and metastudies with few promotional pages. I interpret that as showing the scientific community is very interested in the topic, even if the marketing community isn’t.
So is photobiomodulation (PBM) useful for treating brain disorders? To answer that, we first need to understand that “brain disorders” don’t constitute a single, clearly definable illness. There are three broad types of brain disorders: traumatic (otherwise known as brain injuries), degenerative (diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s), and psychiatric (such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar).
As I wrote a little more than a year ago, a 2016 article in BioOptics World reported on the work of researchers who had proved “PBM prevents the inhibition of respiration (and subsequent decrease in energy storage) in a stressed cell by dissociating nitric oxide (NO) and reversing the displacement of oxygen from CCO.” In other words, PBM reduces oxidative stress at the cellular level, which gives the cells a chance to repair themselves, which can facilitate recovery from traumatic brain injuries. Given the extraordinary growth of concussion over the past decade or two, this is both promising and exciting.
This same effect — boosting cells’ ability to repair themselves — seems to work for degenerative diseases as well. As I noted in this post last year, a 2017 paper in Photomedicine and Laser Surgery found that Alzheimer’s patients had a dramatic reduction of symptoms while they were being treated with PBM. Even more compelling: the effects were reversed when the treatments stopped.
In this post, I noted that mouse studies of PBM for Parkinson’s disease have been compelling. Again, the mechanism seems to be the restoration of cellular health, which permits the cells to make repairs to the damages caused by the disease.
In this post from last fall, I reported on the work of a researcher who thinks that PBM will be useful in treating all kinds of brain disorders. Furthermore, his work has shown that PBM even improves cognitive functions in healthy individuals. He is also an odd man out in the research community in that he believes PBM’s effects do not arise from improved cellular health, but from more permanent changes in neural signaling and pathways. In this post at the beginning of last winter, I also described some of the research on PBM for depression that has been so promising.
I am talking more about the future than the present. Most of the clinical research on PBM and brain disorders has been done with light applied directly to the head — via helmets, headsets, even nasal probes. You won’t find those devices at the drug store, and you won’t find them at Peak Recovery & Health Center. But I can tell you that scientists are currently discussing whether PBM’s beneficial effects on brain health result more from application directly to the head or from systemic treatment. There are good technical arguments for systemic treatment.
In any case, everybody agrees that PBM is noninvasive and has no side effects. So if you are looking to help yourself or a loved one with the kind of systemic (i.e., whole-body) PBM we offer here at Peak Recovery & Health Center, you can do so without risk. One of our PBM sessions is usually 12 minutes long, which is a minimal time investment for a potentially massive benefit. Book a session or two here.