What does red light therapy have to do with oxidative stress?

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At its most basic level, oxidative stress is an imbalance between reactive oxygen species (aka free radicals) and antioxidants within the cell.

Antioxidants are molecules that combat free radicals. When there are more free radicals than antioxidants, oxidative stress occurs.

Free radicals and antioxidants play a collaborative role within the human body and maintaining a balance between them both are critical for long-term health and wellness.

What are Free Radicals?

Free radicals are oxygen-containing atoms that cause disease and illness by damaging cells. While converting food to energy, our bodies constantly create these atoms. Free radicals and other reactive oxygen species (ROS) are constantly being created by natural metabolic reactions in your body or by outside sources like smoke, chemicals, and pollution.

By supporting the immune system, free radicals defend against intruding bacteria and viruses. While the body uses free radicals as a defense system, if they are not controlled, they can also damage good cells.

What are Antioxidants?

Antioxidants are essentially what stop the domino effect of free radicals. In order to keep free radicals from attacking good cells, our body needs antioxidants that can safely interact with free radicals and neutralize them. Similarly to free radicals, antioxidants are produced by the body and are also found in many foods we eat:

Meat and Fish
Berries
Green Tea
Coffee
Dark Chocolate
Antioxidants can also be consumed through supplementation such as Vitamin E, vitamin C, and other minerals. While dietary intake of antioxidants is critical for wellbeing, too much of it (including through supplementation) can be a bad thing. The best practice is to stick to the recommended daily limit or rely on eating whole foods rich in antioxidants, as well as maintaining a healthy lifestyle. [2] .

Negative Health Effects of Oxidative Stress

Free radicals are constantly being formed and set the stage for disease and premature aging if oxidative stress occurs for long periods of time. As a result of prolonged oxidative stress, free radicals begin damaging the body’s DNA, proteins, and fatty tissue. Some of the health issues associated with prolonged oxidative stress are: [1]

Cancer
Alzheimer's disease
Parkinson’s disease
Diabetes
Inflammatory disorders
High blood pressure
Ways to Limit Oxidative Stress

Since oxidative stress is part of life and the inevitable process of aging, there is no way to avoid it altogether. But there are ways to limit the effects of oxidative stress so you can live a healthier, happier life. Below are a few things you can do:

Exercise: Regularly exercise to relieve stress, boost mood, and build strength.

Eat a healthier diet: Stick to whole foods and less processed foods with little to no nutritional value.

Avoid harsh chemicals in the home: Swap detergents, soaps, disinfectants, and fragrances for natural, safer alternatives.

Limit Alcohol: Excess alcohol can harm your liver, as well as disrupt your sleep. If you enjoy having the occasional drink, you may benefit from red wine since it contains natural antioxidants called polyphenols.

Grounding: Going barefoot on the earth's surface (aka grounding) allows your body to absorb free electrons which can help neutralize free radicals.

Red light therapy: Treatment with red light therapy can help reduce oxidative stress and boost cellular energy.

Red Light Therapy Helps Reduce Oxidative Stress

There are several different mechanisms of action by which red light therapy works on a cellular level, but one of the most significant is its ability to heal damaged cells under oxidative stress. According to Dr. Michael Hamblin, a leading researcher in photomedicine, “It is well-accepted that PBM when as a treatment for tissue injury or muscle damage is able to reduce markers of oxidative stress.” Not only can these cells heal and return to homeostasis but Hamblin also states these cells have “antioxidant defenses upregulated”.

To summarize, red light therapy acts as a very mild form of stress that activates protective mechanisms in damaged cells. When red light hits the skin and penetrates into cells, mitochondria are nudged to make energy more efficient. This boosts the production of healing anti-inflammatories and antioxidants that speed up healing and reduce oxidative stress.

This is one of the many reasons why red light therapy has shown such positive results for things like recovery, skin health, and inflammation.

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