Red Light Therapy for Anxiety and Depression at HomeLast Updated:
In large part due to the COVID19 pandemic and lockdowns, a record number of people are left dealing with issues related to anxiety and depression. If ever there was a time for innovative ways to deal with mental and emotional health issues, now is certainly one of those times. Fortunately, there is a very interesting treatment technology out there called red light therapy.
While the jury is still out regarding the extent to which red light therapy will help with mental and emotional problems, there is substantial evidence that it does help. At issue is the depth to which LEDs can penetrate the skull. Do LEDs and lamps emit enough red or infrared light at an intensity high enough to affect deeper parts of the brain? It is good to know that light therapy technology has shown the ability to help people dealing with anxiety and depression issues.
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How Red Light Therapy Works in General
Before getting into the details regarding how red light therapy helps with anxiety and depression, you could benefit from a quick lesson on how this therapy works in general.
Remember, light is a source of energy. While blue and ultraviolet UV light rays can be harmful to humans, red and infrared light rays have shown they can provide many health benefits including clearing the skin of pimples and imperfections, improving vision, helping burn fat and spur hair growth. Red light therapy which is an acronym for both red light and infrared light wavelengths has also been adopted in a big way by sports persons for its muscle growth and rejuvenation properties. The last 2 years have seen the beauty and anti-aging industry adopt RLT. Here is how the magic happens.
Human body cells are filled with mitochondria. Mitochondria are organelles within eukaryotic cells. These organelles serve as the primary energy source for human cells. When mitochondria are hit with red or infrared light at a safe intensity range of 600 to 1000 nm, the mitochondria are activated or stimulated. At that point, its energy spurs cell growth and repair.
Researchers have found that activating and energizing mitochondria has a lot of health benefits. At first, they thought that the benefits were limited to physical benefits. Almost by accident, they discovered that red light therapy may have promise in the treatment of psychological disorders like Parkinson’s Disease, Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder (PTSD), stress disorders, Alzheimer’s Disease, depression, and anxiety.
More recent research indicates that there may be issues with red light therapy being able to penetrate the human skull enough to reach the brain centers where diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s originate. When it comes to stress, depression, and anxiety disorders, the needed penetration levels are reachable by the red or infrared light from LEDs and lasers. That’s where the potential lies.
Before going any further, it is important to state that infrared lasers should not be used on some parts of the human body. The intensity of red laser lights has the potential of causing harm to certain parts of the human body, eyes being one of them. It is always best for light therapists and home users to use LED lamps when initiating red light therapy.
Understanding the Pathophysiology of Depression
To understand how red light therapy can positively influence mental/emotional disorders like anxiety and depression, you would need to first understand how brain activity plays a role in anxiety and depression.
The best way to educate you about brain sources of anxiety and depression is to discuss the pathophysiology behind it. While there are several theories about how certain deficits in the brain can lead to anxiety and depression, we are going to focus on there of them, the easiest ones to understand without getting too technical.
1. Neurotransmitter imbalance – This theory is based on the premise that chemical imbalances in the brain can cause emotional/mental problems. This imbalance occurs because of deficiencies in neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline in the central nervous system [CNS). Also, the imbalance of GABA can cause atrophy for brain neurons.
2. Decreased cerebral blood flow – This occurs when low levels of nitric oxide get to the frontal lobe of the brain, leading to decreased oxygen flow and eventual brain damage.
3. Decreased cell energy – This occurs because of reduced glucose levels in the brain and mitochondrial dysfunction.
Is red light therapy good for depression?
At this point, you should be able to start seeing how red light therapy can exert its healing powers to help resolve issues with depression.
The healing power of red light therapy comes from its ability to energize mitochondria. As a reminder from above, mitochondria are the primary energy source for cells. In all three of the pathophysiological theories listed above, it has been implied that the causes of depression include cellular damage in the brain.
The path is clearly drawn now. If red light therapy stimulates mitochondria growth and health, and stimulated mitochondria generate enough energy to repair body cells and grow new ones, it is logical to assume that red light therapy will lead to repaired cells in the brain. That should initiate some relief from depression symptoms.
How long does it take for light therapy to work for depression?
By now, you can see that red light therapy has great promise as a treatment for depression. Imagine for a moment the possibilities. Will there come a time that a few minutes under an infrared lamp could replace the need to take psychiatric medications for both anxiety and depression?
As for what treatment would look like, there have been some significant studies on this issue. According to studies cited by Theodore Henderson, MD, Ph.D.  , a group of subjects who reported having mental/emotional issues like depression was given 20 red light treatments. All subjects reported significant improvement in their mental health issues. When the subjects were contacted 6 months later via phone, those who continued to use red light therapy at home confided that they were feeling mentally strong. Those who did not continue therapy saw a return of their mental health issues within 2 weeks of ceasing red light therapy.
This is strong enough evidence to warrant further research. It is also a good indication that it is safe for people to use red light therapy at home.
What is the best light therapy for depression?
Based on the representations from above, it should be clear that red light therapy represents a viable light therapy option for the treatment of depression issues. The process is safe, affordable, and offers lasting results.
However, there are claims and some evidence that white light therapy might be better for depression, using SAD (seasonal affective disorder) as the target of research. Also, green light shows some promise. What most researchers do agree upon is blue light therapy is not useful in the treatment of depression. Here's a detailed guide on therapeutic uses of different colors of light.
Does red light therapy help anxiety?
The answer to the titled question is yes. There is ample evidence that red light therapy also serves as a viable treatment for anxiety.
First, any anxiety disorders that might be caused by brain cell damage or dysfunction can be repaired in the same way that red light therapy helps with depression. However, there is another aspect of red and infrared lights that go right to the heart of anxiety. Red light has shown to be soothing. It acts to soothe the nerves and calm people down. It also decreases inflammation and pain, which can be direct causes of anxiety.
What color LED light helps with anxiety?
As you might expect, softer colors are good for anxiety. If red light therapy is being used, a softer red would be preferred. Otherwise, white and yellow LED lights appear to be most effective for the treatment of anxiety disorders.
What red light wavelength for anxiety and depression?
Wavelengths are measured by frequency and intensity. At higher levels, any kind and color of light could do damage to the human body. AS far as red light therapy, it is best delivered at a wavelength frequency of 600 to 1000 nm with a light intensity of up to 100 watts.
Red light therapy devices for anxiety and depression
The last piece of the puzzle involves choosing the right devices to deliver red light therapy.
As a fairly new phenomenon, innovators are out there trying to develop the perfect light source. As of now, there are some pretty nice and affordable LEDs and lamps on the market.
Keeping in mind that the rating of red light therapy devices would have to consider, functionality, features, durability, and price, here is a list of five devices (lamps) that seem to get high marks:
- Red light therapy beds
- Full body panels
- Specially designed RLT helmets
- Red light therapy head bands
If you are dealing with issues related to stress, depression, and anxiety, you might be tired on the monthly trek to your doctor for a new prescription. Given the evidence that red light therapy may offer a great alternative treatment, it might be something you want to consider. Under the right circumstances, you might find that red light holds the potential to resolve a lot of your mental and physical health issues.
 Reference from Psychiatry Advisor (opens in new tab)
 Reference from Sleep Passport (opens in new tab)