Infrared Light Therapy In Regards to Health, Wellness, and Fitness
Infrared light therapy is all the rage in the fitness industry, but is it truly as beneficial as people make it out to be, or is it a fad that will fade out soon? It’s hard to know what’s true and what’s fabricated these days. Money, biased information, and complexities in research can alter and favor certain outcomes. Today, we’re taking a look at the research behind infrared light therapy to better equip you, the reader, with unbiased information so that you can make a better decision for yourself without falling victim to what would otherwise be pseudoscience.
Infrared light is a type of electromagnetic radiation as well as a radiant light that is invisible to the human. It can be sensed through its heat output and is most sourced from our sun and fire. Infrared light, or IR for short, was discovered in 1800 by an astronomer, William Herschal. According to NASA, Herschal was working on an experiment to understand the difference of temperatures on the color spectrum when he found that beyond our visible red, there was a high heat power output. It was there that Infrared was discovered.
There are many kinds of electromagnetic radiation which are scaled out based on their continuum of frequencies produced when atoms absorb and then release energy. Every frequency of light also has an associated temperature! Gamma Rays are the highest frequency of electromagnetic radiation which is then followed by X rays, Ultraviolet radiation, visible light, infrared, microwaves, and radio waves, which are the lowest end of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Understanding that our own bodies are electromagnetic as well, it would only make sense that we may need a recharge, so to speak. While Gamma rays, X rays, and Ultraviolet are higher on the electromagnetic scale, visible light and infrared are more in line with our own electromagnetic output due to the slower wavelengths that our body
can experience. This is why we can see the light or feel the heat; It is within our scope of human experience. On the extreme ends of the spectrum, the radiation is at faster or slower frequencies which are invisible and cannot be sensed by our body or mind.
No matter the wave length, every part of the magnetic spectrum is emitted by the sun. It's benefits are not limited to the visible light it emits that allows us to see during the day or the warmth it provides for life to exist. Much of the benefits we receive from the sun are in fact undetected without technological assistance and are being discovered the more we look. From photosynthesis in plants to our circadian rhythms, the sun plays a large role in our overall health and well being. Infrared for example, is one form of such light and is invisible to the human eye. It can only be sensed through the heat it emits and seen through external instruments. Near-Infrared on the other hand, being just below infrared on the spectrum, does not emit thermal radiation (heat). It is the same type of light that allows our TV remotes to send signals to our TVs. Furthermore, Far-infrared waves, which are somewhat closer to the microwave side of the scale, emit a considerable amount of heat, and more closely resemble the heating properties of the sun.
Unfortunately, attempting to reap the benefits of the sun by exposing ourselves to the sun itself is not necessarily effective nor safe. Too much sun exposure can be harmful to our health given that the sun also emits non-visible light that can be dangerous to absorb. This is why near-infrared therapy has risen to the scene. In numerous scientific studies, scientists, physical therapists, doctors, nutritionists, dietitians, and personal trainers have teamed up to study the impacts of introducing infrared therapy into a holistic based health regimen.
According to the findings of Nguyen Linda, M.-D., et. al., near-infrared light or NIR for short, activated mitochondrial signaling in C2C12 muscle cells, activated mitochondrial regulatory proteins, and may have many therapeutic benefits. Many studies have concluded that near-Infrared lighting, whether in a sauna, or alone, increased mitochondrial function, improved skin, added deeper sleep time, improved digestion, improved mood and hormonal function/balance, and overall increased quality of life in all participants. Due to the improvement of circulation in the skin and other parts of the body, NIR can bring nutrients and oxygen to injured tissues, promoting healing. In the fitness sense, having healthy mitochondria is important because our mitochondria are responsible for converting the energy released during the oxidation of the food we eat into Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) which is responsible for the biochemical reactions in the process of a contracting muscle. When we are at peak ATP levels, we see high levels of strength and muscular endurance.
Implementing NIR into a fitness regimen, therefore, can benefit the strength output as well as recovery of an athlete over time. But NIR doesn’t only have benefits in regards to mitochondrial health. In a study completed by Shang-Ru Tsai, PhD and Michael R Hamblin, PhD, findings showed that infrared light can induce neural stimulation effects and promote an exponentially large range of benefits in the therapeutic sense for cells and/or tissues. Not only can it positively impact mitochondria, but IR therapy can activate the healing process in cells, slow the aging of skin, inhibit cancer cell growth (also known as anticancer action), and improve brain neuro-protection which is the capability of treating stroke patients, Alzheimer’s patients, and Parkinson’s disease patients. On top of that, IR can elevate the natural circulation of blood, and relieve fatigue and soreness in athletes. Its benefits are far and wide, and is a complementary addition to the fitness and general health regimen that people implement into their daily life.
Overall, in the sense of fitness, infrared light therapy can assist in muscle strength and recovery, better overall circulation, optimal cell and mitochondrial function, reduce soreness, increase cognitive function and decision making, and allow for a healthier, more energized take on day to day life.
Brand, M.D., et al. The Role of Mitochondrial Function and Cellular Bioenergetics in Aging and Disease. British Journal of Dermatology, vol. 169, 2013, pp. 1-8., https://doi.org/10.1111/bjd.12208
Light, Ultraviolet, and Infrared: AMNH. American Museum of Natural History, https://www.amnh.org/research/natural-science-collections-conservation/general-conservation/preventive-conservation/light-ultraviolet-and-infrared
Lucas, Jim. What Is Infrared? LiveScience, Purch, 27 Feb. 2019, https://www.livescience.com/50260-infrared-radiation.html
Nguyen, Linda M.-D., et al. Effect of near-Infrared Light Exposure on Mitochondrial Signaling in C2C12 Muscle Cells.â€Â Mitochondrion, vol. 14, 2014, pp. 42-48., https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mito.2013.11.001
Pereira, Marta I, et al. A Brief Review of the Use of near Infrared Spectroscopy with Particular Interest in Resistance Exercise. Sports Medicine, vol. 37, no. 7, 2007, pp. 615624., https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200737070-00005