There is a lot of talk about the benefits of light therapy—especially red light therapy, also known as low-level light therapy (LLLT) or infrared light as a non-invasive fat removal treatment. But does it work and is there scientific evidence that this is an effective weight loss treatment?
What Is Red-Light Therapy?
Sometimes referred to as photobiomodulation, red light therapy refers to treatments from light emitting diodes (LEDs) that deliver specific wavelengths of red or near-infrared light to the skin and cells. The light mayabsorb light particles from the LLLT, which triggers the mitochondria to increase the production of adenosine triphosphate, also known as ATP, which is a source of energy for every cell in the body. In this state, the cells are effectively using more energy while stimulating the body’s natural processes. Other benefits included increased blood flow, decreased inflammation, increased collagen production, reduced effects of oxidative stress, and an increased ability to repair and restore damaged cells and tissue.
Is Red Light Therapy Effective For Weight Loss?
That’s a good question and one not answered with a simple "yes" or "no". Our bodies are amazing machines and they work optimally when they are in balance. To be in balance, not only does this include a lifestyle consisting of a healthy diet and exercise, but also exposure to light. It is estimated that Americans spend more than 90% of their time indoors. This poses a health problem since our cells need light to do their jobs and work efficiently. When the body’s cells don’t get enough light, they won’t make energy as efficiently and it can affect everything from sleep quality, inflammation levels, and body weight.
Another key effect of LLLT is that it increases circulation. Increased circulation has been linked to increased fat burning of brown fat, a type of body fat that is activated when the body temperature drops, which helps maintain the body’s temperature by producing heat.
The effects of light on leptin (a hormone that controls appetite) and grehlin (a hormone that increases appetite) were examined by the International Journal of Endocrinology in a 2012 study in conjunction with reduced sleep levels. Reduced sleep levels can increase the production of grehlin and reduce levels of leptin, which can contribute to weight gain. Their research concluded that exposure to red light increased leptin levels significantly while decreasing grehlin. It is the reduction of hunger levels that can help those trying to consume fewer calories and lose weight.
Another study published in Lasers in Surgery and Medicine looked at how light therapy could be beneficial to metabolic inflexibility (a condition often associated with obesity) in conjunction with regular exercise. The study included 64 women who were considered obese and were divided into two groups—a control group who first exercised and then were given a placebo light treatment and the second group who were given red light therapy immediately after exercise. The study lasted 20 weeks and in the end, researchers observed a greater reduction in fat mass and an increase in total skeletal muscle mass compared to the control group.
Even though there is some clinical evidence that supports red light therapy as an effective treatment for weight loss and fat reduction—most of the studies have only a few participants, they often lack placebo groups, and they lack consistency making it difficult to tell if the results have any real clinical value. However, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support the claim.
Where Can Red-Light Therapy Be Used On The Body?
Red light therapy can be used to treat the abdomen, hips, or thighs. This non-invasive treatment takes roughly 30 minutes per treatment area and requires no downtime. Results are visible in a few hours after the treatment and continue to develop as the body metabolizes and flushes out the fat. Typically, 3 or more treatments are needed to see the desired results. Once the desired results are achieved, they can be maintained with diet and exercise. While red light therapy is considered safe with no determined side effects, individuals who are pregnant or have diminished liver function should avoid this treatment type.
The bottom line is that red light therapy may help with reducing fat in the body and in the process help with weight loss. While there is some evidence that points to this fact, the results aren’t incredible. Unfortunately, there’s a lack of large-scale, clinical trials that conclusively demonstrate that red light supports weight loss. However, red light therapy appears to be safe with very few side effects, so there is no reason to try it out as an added tool to help the body function better.
In the end, maintaining a healthy body weight is a result of a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Weight and body fat are complex health issues that go beyond just diet and exercise. Sleep quality, hormones, circadian rhythms, gut health, inflammation, and light exposure are also critically important factors in weight and body fat. Finding a healthy balance across the board can help the body’s natural metabolic processes and support a healthy weight.