Photobiomodulation for Autoimmune Disorders

An autoimmune reaction happens when your immune system sends antibodies to attack your own tissues. The attack causes inflammation and tissue damage. The inflammation and tissue damage result in symptoms such as pain, weakness, breathing problems, itching, deformed joints, or delirium — depending on the organ or body part affected. Some autoimmune disorders are even fatal. That’s why I have been searching on the web for evidence that photobiomodulation (PBM) is helpful for autoimmune disorders.

Research, Mostly In Mice

I haven’t found much. There appear to be some mouse studies (here and here), but there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of clinical studies involving human beings. I did find a study that showed PBM helps dramatically for a particular autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto Thyroiditis. But Hashimoto Thyroiditis, although it is a growing health problem, is small potatoes next to the more common autoimmune disorders. There are more than 80, including celiac disease, diabetes type 1, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus.

Nobody knows what causes an autoimmune disorder, so there is no real cure. According to the Merck Manual, “Some autoimmune disorders resolve as inexplicably as they began. However, most autoimmune disorders are chronic. Drugs are often required throughout life to control symptoms.” In other words, you treat an autoimmune disorder by fighting not the disease but the symptoms.

Treatment: Mostly Drugs

There are two types of medication that treat the symptoms of autoimmune disorder: 1) Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, which can help manage pain and inflammation and 2) immunosuppressive drugs, which reduce the body’s immune response. Because they suppress the immune system, immunosuppressive drugs are only used in the most serious cases. But even NSAIDs, although often available without prescription, have risks and side effects.

But there’s good reason to believe PBM can help to relieve the symptoms of autoimmune disorders. The reason is that it can reduce tissue damage and inflammation. Tissue damage and inflammation, after all, are what cause the symptoms in autoimmune disorders. So, while it’s doubtful PBM can cure an autoimmune disorder, it’s very likely it can relieve its symptoms to some extent. At least one study has shown that PBM reduces inflammation (as well as acute pain) in mice.

Photobiomodulation for Autoimmune Disorders

PBM reduces inflammation in mice. Here’s how scientists believe it reduces inflammation in people as well as mice. Our cells have organelles that they use to do their work. One of these is the mitochondrion (plural mitochondria), whose job it is to generate ATP, a chemical that regulates metabolism, generates cell energy, and carries signals to other cells. Damage to the mitochondrion (regardless of cause) slows or even stops the production of ATP. I am simplifying things considerably here, but slowing the production of ATP slows cellular healing processes, increases oxidative stress, and allows inflammation. Infrared light at the right frequency seems to revive the mitochondrion and increase ATP production, as well as relaxing muscle cells. Increased ATP production reduces oxidative stress, swelling, and inflammation.

Furthermore, I think PBM could have a distinct advantage over any kind of medication. It is safe. Even WebMD, which tends to be skeptical of nontraditional health applications, largely agrees. “Red light therapy is generally considered safe, even though researchers aren’t exactly sure how and why it works. And there are no set rules on how much light to use. Too much light may damage skin tissue, but too little might not work as well.”

We have never seen skin tissue damage from PBM here at Peak Recovery & Health Center. That may be because we have set rules on how much light to use. Our PBM sessions take 12-15 minutes. That means a small investment of time for the possibility of pain relief. Book some sessions today.