In a small clinical trial, one promising therapy that has been effective in pre-clinical studies of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s is near infrared light therapy, and it may improve other mental illnesses and neurodegenerative disorders including dementia, stroke, ALS, and traumatic brain injury as well.
Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease are the most common neurodegenerative disorders.
Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that occurs when an accumulation of abnormal protein deposits in the brain. The part of the brain responsible for learning, memory, language, decision-making, and problem-solving progressively degenerates. Brain inflammation is also common in Alzheimer’s.
Can Infrared Therapy Grow New Nerve Cells?
What is called “near infrared light therapy” has the potential to “mitigate ubiquitous processes relating to cell damage and death,” and may have applications in conditions that “converge on common pathways of inflammation and oxidative stress”. The efficacy of near infrared light therapy has been shown to improve conditions like traumatic brain injury, ischemic stroke, major depression, and age-related macular degeneration. In traumatic brain injury treatment with near infrared light improves social, interpersonal, and occupational functions, reduces symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and is helpful for abnormal sleep patterns.
In a revolutionary publication, scientists cite that infrared light is superior to the pharmacological standards of care for these brain debilitating conditions .
Near Infrared Light Therapy Use for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
As of yet, Human trials have not been conducted in Alzheimer’s disease, but mouse studies show that near infrared treatment reduces Alzheimer’s. Non-thermal near infrared light reversed significant deficits in the mice’s working memory and showed substantial improvement of cognitive function.
In animal models of Parkinson’s, the therapy has been shown to “rescue” dopaminergic neurons, which degenerate in in Parkinson’s, and even prevent a lethal outcome. In animal models of Parkinson’s disease improved motor control after near infrared therapy.
In case reports, humans have shown that near infrared administered through an intranasal apparatus improves symptoms in the majority of Parkinson’s patients, and that its application to the back of the head and upper neck reduced signs of Parkinson’s in one patient. Other reports indicate that gait, speech, cognitive function, and freezing episodes were improved in late-stage Parkinson’s, but the study was seen as low-quality.
Infrared therapy may also repair the blood-brain barrier and vascular network which is compromised in both conditions. Impressively, “This modulation of multiple molecular systems appears capable of both conditioning neurons to resist future damage and accelerating repair of neurons damaged by a previous or continuing insult.”
When applied to a local area Near Infrared Therapy shows benefits even in sites remote from the initial site. Near infrared also mobilizes tissue repair processes by improving the migration of white blood cells to wounds, increasing the formation of new blood vessels, and facilitating formation of collagen, a popular dietary supplement. There is also evidence that near-infrared light exposure causes stem cells from the bone marrow to navigate to the site of damage further enhancing nerve cell function and cellular survival. At the end of the day, the complex system of communications between in the brain function can lead to neural regeneration.
The Practical Application of Near Infrared Light Therapy
The biggest obstacle for infrared light therapy in neurodegenerative disease is “when there are many intervening body tissues, namely skin, thick cranium, and meninges, and brain parenchyma.” This is because there is a considerable amount of signal dissipation across the tiny connections of brain tissue. This is less problematic in Alzheimer’s but not easily rectified with Parkinson’s because of a where there is significant distance from th cranium to the brainstem where the neurodegeneration takes place with Parkinson’s.
With Alzheimer’s a near infrared light-emitting helmet would be worn over the entire cranium. Parkinson’s patients can achieve symptomatic relief when near infrared is applied as well, because this would focus th light on the abnormal neural circuitry in the cortex. Because of the distance to the region of concern for Parkinson’s, which is located in the brainstem, researchers propose that a minimally invasive surgical implantation of an optical fiber device would deliver therapeutic levels of near infrared light. Until these options are commercially available, near infrared saunas may be a viable option, although human studies have not proved their efficacy.
Given its large margin of safety and lack of adverse effects, near infrared light therapy should be offered as an option for patients suffering from a myriad of chronic conditions, but is especially promising for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and may even have future use in multiple sclerosis. Near infrared therapy is superior to drug treatments for these diseases since the pre-clinical proof-of-concept studies show that near infrared either arrests or slows the underlying pathology of these diseases, and leads to the birth of new neurons, rather than merely mitigating symptoms.
- Bird, T.D. (1998). Alzheimer disease overview. GeneReviews®[Internet]. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK1161/
- Goedert, M. (2015). Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases: the prion concept in relation to assembled Aβ, tau, and α-synuclein. Science, 349, 1255555.
- Stone, J. (2008). What initiates the formation of senile plaques? The origin of Alzheimer-like dementias in capillary hemorrhages. Medical Hypotheses, 71, 347-359.
- Gonzalez-Lima, F., Barksdale B.R., & Rojas J.C. (2014). Mitochondrial respiration as a target for neuroprotection and cognitive enhancement. Biochemical Pharmacology, 88, 584-593. 10.1016/j.bcp.2013.11.010
- Bergman, H., & Deuschl, G. (2002). Pathophysiology of Parkinson’s disease: from clinical neurology to basic neuroscience and back. Movement Disorders, 7(Suppl. 3), S28-S40.
- Lanciego, J.L., Luquin, N., & Obeso, J.A. (2012). Functional Neuroanatomy of the Basal Ganglia. Cold Springs Harbor Perspectives in Medicine, 2(12), a009621.
- De Virgilio, A. et al. (2016). Parkinson’s disease: Autoimmunity and neuroinflammation. Autoimmunity Reviews, 15(10), 1005-1011. doi: 10.1016/j.autrev.2016.07.022.
- Gitler A.D. et al. (2009). Alpha-synuclein is part of a diverse and highly conserved interaction network that includes PARK9 and manganese toxicity. Natural Genetics, 41, 308-315.
- Exner, N. et al. (2012). Mitochondrial dysfunction in Parkinson’s disease: molecular mechanisms and pathophysiological consequences. EMBO Journal, 31, 3038-3062. 10.1038/emboj.2012.170
- Johnstone, D.M. et al. (2015). Turning On Lights to Stop Neurodegeneration: The Potential of Near Infrared Light Therapy in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 9, 500. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2015.00500
- Colucci-D’Amato, L., & Bonavita, V. (2006). The end of the central dogma of neurobiology: stem cells and neurogenesis in adult CNS. Neurological Science, 27(4), 266-270.
- Altman, J. (1962). Are new neurons formed in the brains of adult mammals? Science, 135, 1127-1128.
- Kaplan, M.S., & Hinds, J.W. (1977). Neurogenesis in the adult rat: electron microscopic analysis of light radioautographs. Science, 197, 1092-1094.
- Martino, G. et al. (2011). Brain regeneration in physiology and pathology: the immune signature driving therapeutic plasticity of neural stem cells. Physiological Reviews, 91(4), 1281-1304.
- Nottebohm, F. (2002). Why are some neurons replaced in adult brain? Journal of Neuroscience, 22(3), 624-628.
- Naeser, M.A. et al. (2014). Significant improvements in cognitive performance post-transcranial, red/near-infrared light-emitting diode treatments in chronic, mild traumatic brain injury: open-protocol study. Journal of Neurotrauma, 31,(11), 1008-1017. doi: 10.1089/neu.2013.3244.
- Barrett, D.W., & Gonzalez-Lima, F. (2013). Transcranial infrared laser stimulation produces beneficial cognitive and emotional effects in humans. Neuroscience, 230, 13-23. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2012.11.016.
- Blanco, N.J., Maddox, W.T., & Gonzalez-Lima, F. (2015). Journal of Neuropsychology, 11(1),14-25. doi: 10.1111/jnp.12074.
- Xuan, W. et al. (2013). Transcranial low-level laser therapy improves neurological performance in traumatic brain injury in mice: effect of treatment repetition regimen. PLoS ONE, 8, e53454.
- Xuan, W. et al. (2014). Transcranial low-level laser therapy enhances learning, memory, and neuroprogenitor cells after traumatic brain injury in mice. Journal of Biomedical Optics, 191(10), 108003.
- Michalikova, S. et al. (2008). Emotional responses and memory performance of middle-aged CD1 mice in a 3D maze: effects of low infrared light. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 89(4), 480-488.
- Shaw, V.E. et al. (2012). Patterns of Cell Activity in the Subthalamic Region Associated with the Neuroprotective Action of Near-Infrared Light Treatment in MPTP-Treated Mice. Parkinsonian Disease, 2012, 29875. doi: 10.1155/2012/296875.
- Darlot, F. et al. (2016). Near-infrared light is neuroprotective in a monkey model of Parkinson disease. Annals of Neurology, 79(1), 59-65. doi: 10.1002/ana.24542.
- Maloney, R., Shanks, S., & Maloney J. (2010). The application of low-level laser therapy for the symptomatic care of late-stage Parkinson’s disease: a non-controlled, non-randomized study. American Society of Laser Medicine and Surgery, 185.
- Rojas, J.C., & Gonzalez-Lima, F. (2011). Low-level light therapy of the eye and brain. Eye and Brain, 3, 49-67.
- Muili, K.A. et al. (2012). Amelioration of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis in C57BL/6 mice by photo biomodulation induced by 670 nm light. PLoS ONE, 7, e30655.
- Chung, H. et al. (2012). The Nuts and Bolts of Low-level Laser (Light) Therapy. Annals of Biomedical Engineering, 40(2), 516-533.gma
- Hou, S.T. et al. (2008). Permissive and Repulsive Cues and Signalling Pathways of Axonal Outgrowth and Regeneration. International Review of Cell and Molecular Biology, 267, 121-181.
- Purushothuman, S. et al. (2013). The impact of near-infrared light on dopaminergic cell survival in a transgenic mouse model of parkinsonism. Brain Research, 1535, 61-70.