If you’re not familiar with the term “photomedicine”, then you will be soon, because one of the most cutting-edge features of the future of medicine and performance-enhancing biohacking involves the use of light and lightwaves (also known as “photobiomodulation”) for everything from nitric oxide release for physical and mental performance, to amplifying blood flow to the brain, to enhancing cognitive, muscular and mental performance, to building new red blood cells and optimizing oxygenation and far, far more.
For example, intranasal light therapy, which Ben Greenfield first introduced to the world in his podcast “How To Use Low Level Light Therapy and Intranasal Light Therapy For Athletic Performance, Cognitive Enhancement & More“, is literally light stimulation of blood capillaries in the nasal cavity and head. It has been used for the past couple decades as a very non-invasive method to introduce therapeutic light energy into the human body, and there’s actually a surprising amount of research (more details below) on this form of non-ionizing radiation on biological systems, including effects on cognitive performance, fighting free radicals, combatting Alzheimer’s symptoms and more.
This form of photobiomodulation used to be something you could only find in a hospital or expensive clinical setting, but it can now be delivered via an extremely affordable headset device called the Vielight. You can click here to peruse the Vielight models now or just keep reading for the nitty-gritty science and details behind how photomedicine works.
What Is Photobiology?
Let’s begin with photobiology, because to understand photobiomodulation and photomedicine, you must first grasp the concept of photobiology.
Photobiology is simply the study of the effects of non-ionizing radiation on biological systems. The biological effect varies with the wavelength region of the radiation (in this case “radiation” is not a bad term, but rather a completely natural phenomenon, similar to sunlight). The radiation is absorbed by molecules in skin such as DNA, protein or certain drugs. The molecules are changed chemically into products that initiate biochemical responses in the cells.
Biological reaction to light is nothing new or unnatural, and there are numerous examples of light induced photochemical reactions in biological systems. Vitamin D synthesis in our skin is an example of a photochemical reaction. The power density of sunlight is only 105 mW/cm2 yet when ultraviolet B (UVB) rays strikes our skin, it converts a universally present form of cholesterol, 7-dehydrocholesterol to vitamin D3. We normally experience this through our eyes which are obviously photosensitive – our vision is based upon light hitting our retinas and creating a chemical reaction that allows us to see. Throughout the course of human and plant history, photons have played a vital role in photo-chemically energizing certain cells.
At the cellular level, visible red and near infrared light energy stimulates cells to generate more energy and undergo self-repair. Each cell has mitochondria, which perform the function of producing cellular energy called “ATP”. This production process involves the respiratory chain. A mitochondrial enzyme called cytochrome oxidase c then accepts photonic energy when functioning below par.
Now here’s where things get really important, because the actual wavelength of light is crucial.
How To Get The Right Wavelengths To Get The Photomedicine Effect
For decades, scientists in Russia, parts of Eastern Europe and China researched the effects of light energy of specific wavelengths and power density on blood, in everyday people and athletes. They discovered that light energy has positive modulating effects on red blood cells, optimizing their cellular structure and oxygenation capacity. Additionally, photobiomodulation may stimulate mitochondria within white blood cells, potentially leading to an enhanced immune system.
And that’s not all.
Electromagnetic radiation within the 633-655nm wavelength is ideal for blood photobiomodulation, due to the higher degree of scattering and absorption by blood and water and energy density. This is because each photon contains a certain amount of energy. The different types of radiation are defined by the the amount of energy contained in the photons. Red photons are ideal due to their relatively lower energy density and higher absorption coefficient. On the other hand, blue photons contain sufficient energy to kill bacteria and activate photosensitizers – while, UV photons have the ability to destroy and alter DNA cellular structure upon prolonged exposure. This same wavelength can also be used to boost oxygenation, because the improved cellular erythrocyte structure in response to this light augments the oxygenation capacity of your circulatory system.
In recent years, the ability of mammalian mitochondria to capture photonic energy and produce ATP has been studied. The correct wavelength for the target cells or chromophores must be employed (633-810 nm). If the wavelength is incorrect, optimum absorption will not occur and as the first law of photobiology states, the Grotthus-Draper law, without absorption there can be no reaction.
The photon intensity, i.e., spectral irradiance or power density (W/cm2), must be adequate, or once again absorption of the photons will not be sufficient to achieve the desired result. If the intensity is too high, however, the photon energy will be transformed to excessive heat in the target tissue, and that is undesirable.
Finally, the dose or fluence must also be adequate (J/cm2), but if the power density is too low, then prolonging the irradiation time to achieve the ideal energy density or dose will most likely not give an adequate final result, because the Bunsen-Roscoe law of reciprocity, the 2nd law of photobiology, does not hold true for low incident power densities.
Near-infrared light stimulates mitochondrial respiration in neurons by donating photons that are absorbed by cytochrome oxidase, a bioenergetics process called photoneuromodulation in nervous tissue. The absorption of luminous energy by the enzyme results in increased brain cytochrome oxidase enzymatic activity and oxygen consumption. Since the enzymatic reaction catalyzed by cytochrome oxidase is the reduction of oxygen to water, acceleration of cytochrome oxidase catalytic activity directly causes an increase in cellular oxygen consumption. Increased oxygen consumption by nerve cells is coupled to oxidative phosphorylation, ATP production increases as a consequence of the metabolic action of near-infrared light. This type of luminous energy can enter brain mitochondria transcranially, and—independently of the electrons derived from food substrates—it can directly photostimulate cytochrome oxidase activity.
How The Vielight Works
So how does brain photobiomodulation using a device like the Vielight actually work? Here’s an excerpt from Mechanisms of Brain Photobiomodulation (Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003 Mar 18; 100(6): 3439–3444.)
“Low-energy photon irradiation in the near-IR spectral range with low-energy lasers or LEDs positively modulates various important biological processes in cell culture and animal models. Photobiomodulation is applied clinically in the treatment of soft tissue injuries and accelerated wound healing. The mechanism of photobiomodulation by red to near-IR light at the cellular level has been ascribed by research institutions to the activation of cellular mitochondrial respiratory chain components, resulting in a signaling cascade that promotes cellular proliferation and cytoprotection.
Research indicates that cytochrome c oxidase is a key photo-acceptor of irradiation in the far-red to near-IR spectral range. Cytochrome c oxidase is an integral membrane protein that contains multiple redox active metal centers and has a strong absorbency in the far-red to near-IR spectral range detectable in-vivo by near-IR spectroscopy.
Additionally, photobiomodulation increases the rate of electron transfer in purified cytochrome oxidase, increasing mitochondrial respiration and ATP synthesis in isolated mitochondria, and up-regulating cytochrome oxidase activity in cultured neuronal cells – leading to neuroprotective effects and neuronal function.
In addition to increased oxidative metabolism, red to near-IR light stimulation of mitochondrial electron transfer is known to increase the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS functions as signaling molecules, providing communication between mitochondria and the nucleus.”
There are several mechanisms associated with promoting physiological change through this type of photobiomodulation therapy (PBMT). The wavelengths primarily used with PBM is within the near-infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum with a sufficient power density. When hypoxic/impaired cells are irradiated with low level NIR photons, there is increased mitochondrial adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP) production within their mitochondria. Another change is the release of nitric oxide from the hypoxic/impaired cells. Neurons are cells that contain mitochondria and nitric oxide.
In hypoxic neuronal cells, cytochrome-C oxidase (CCO), a membrane-bound protein that serves as the end-point electron acceptor in the cell respiration electron transport chain, becomes inhibited by non-covalent binding of nitric oxide. When exposed to NIR photons, the CCO releases nitric oxide, which then diffuses outs of the cell – increasing local blood flow and vasodilation.
Following initial exposure to the NIR photons, there is a brief burst of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the neuron cell, and this activates a number of signaling pathways. The ROS leads to activation of redox-sensitive genes, and related transcription factors including NF-κβ. The PBMT stimulates gene expression for cellular proliferation, migration, and the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines and growth factors.
In a nutshell, this all means that you can use photobiomodulation to deliver massive amounts of blood flow and nitric oxide to your brain, fix mitochondria in neural tissue, deliver more blood flow to the rest of your body, decrease risk of brain degradation in the case of disease such as Alzheimer’s, and even enhance cognitive function and both physical and mental performance.
And you can now use the Vielight Neuro Alpha or the Vielight Neuro Gamma to get these effects via an easy-to-use, single-button headset device.
The Vielight Neuro Models
The Vielight Neuro Alpha and Neuro Gamma are next-generation transcranial-intranasal brain photobiomodulation headsets, with varying pulse frequencies. These devices utilize state-of-the-art microchip technology to boost photonic 810nm power density within the transcranial clusters, reaching 300% of the power output of the original Neuro. Their engineering team has downsized equivalent technology into the intranasal diode. Each session is auto-timed for 20 minutes, resulting in specific total irradiation with near-infrared photons of sufficient power density per cycle.
So what’s the difference between the two? In the Vielight Neuro Alpha, a 10 Hz pulse rate correlates with alpha brainwave oscillations and overall enhanced cellular light absorption for overall neuronal photobiomodulation. In the Vielight Neuro Gamma, a 40 Hz pulse rate correlates with gamma brainwave oscillations and specifically, enhanced memory function and cognition.