Immune System & Light Therapy

There is a great deal of evidence that Light Therapy can help strengthen the immune system and boost the immune response17. Light Therapy has been tested as a means to strengthen components of the immune system both among humans and animals.

The immune system is a set of biological structures (such as cells, glands, and organs)) and chemical responses (e.g., inflammation) within the human body with a primary function to prevent the body from developing an infection (e.g., bacterial or viral)14,1,19. The immune system includes cells like white blood cells (leukocytes), that circulate throughout and recognize problems in the body14,19. The immune system also includes organs like the thymus gland, which produces cytotoxic T cells that kill cells infected by microbes such as bacteria and viruses (foreign invaders to the body)14,1.

How Does the Immune System Respond to a Virus Hijacking the Body?

Viruses take over the cells of their hosts (humans or animals), and replicate themselves, spreading infection and causing health issues in the host. Cytotoxic T cells help the human body fight viruses. Cytotoxic T cells rely on TCRs (T cell receptors, proteins that help the T cell detect virus material) to recognize virus-infected cells and trigger a chemical reaction to kill any such harmful cells8,19. However, the immune system is multidimensional and complicated and does not always work at its best to fulfill its intended function to protect our bodies from infection.

Immune System is Not Optimal: Aging

Your immune system may do a remarkable job throughout your lifetime to prevent infections from developing in your body. As we grow into adults, our immune system gradually improves. Specifically, it acquires antibodies (proteins that neutralize pathogenic factors) to the viruses and bacteria we have defeated in the past. That would explain why as adults we tend to contract fewer colds than as children1. Age is both a blessing and a curse, however.

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The more we age, the more our immune system slows down its operations.  Age reduces the strength of the immune system2, so, for instance, we have a reduced function of T cells and our thymus gland shrinks13. That may explain why after we reach a certain age we become more ill or why cancers (uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that the immune system should otherwise catch) are more common among elderly folks1.

Decreased T cell function may also explain why vaccines do not work as well for older individuals. The body produces fewer T cells with advanced age, and most vaccines rely on high T cells production to work15.

Last but not least, decreased immune system function increases the chances to develop inflammation, which can lead to a host of other health problems.

Light Therapy: Boost and Optimize the Immune System

Human trials that have sought answers on the effects of Light Therapy and immune system function have revealed the following findings:

  • Light Therapy uses light energy to prompt various biological responses in the body, such as wound healing, muscle relaxation, nerve regeneration, and importantly, immune system modulation20
  • Light Therapy has been shown to inhibit the function of infected cells, while at the same time, not affecting healthy cells in individuals infected by HIV10,19.
  • Light Therapy may also help prevent shrinking of the thymus gland, and subsequently improve immune functioning in elderly people and even extend lifespan13.
  • Light Therapy, when paired by other treatments, may increase healthier cell signaling of the immune system in patients with cardiovascular, autoimmune, and other chronic health problems, potentially alleviating the severity of chronic diseases17.
  • A clinical trial with 60 oncological patients has shown that Light Therapy can boost the immune systems and T cells of preoperative cancer patients without increasing tumor size18.
  • Light Therapy has been shown to improve immune function in the lungs, decrease respiratory system inflammation, increase respiratory function and muscle strength, and increase overall well being in patients with respiratory issues and diseases3,11.

In animal studies, Light Therapy has also shown to have a boosting effect on the immune system:

  • Light Therapy can slow vision loss in aging mice by reducing inflammation and other factors that suppress the mice’s innate immune system7.
  • Applying Light Therapy to the parts of the brain that regulate bodily functions increased the brain’s ability to fight inflammation with the immune system21. As a result, Light Therapy reduced the likelihood that mice would suffer from irregular heartbeats, and in turn, heart attacks21.
  • Researchers found that by using Light Therapy on the spleen and liver of mice (body areas susceptible to inflammation and infection), the body was better able to use the immune system to clear out harmful chemicals left behind from inflammation23. These benefits were enabled by Light Therapy, and significantly increased the number of cells that clear the bloodstream from infections and particles (phagocytes), increasing red and white blood cell counts, and increasing the number of supporting proteins that deliver vitamins and minerals throughout the body (plasma cells)23.
  • When the immune system works overtime to fight infection, it can release dangerous amounts of chemicals in the blood and trigger widespread inflammation22. This condition, known as sepsis, can be life-threatening, but researchers have shown that in mice Light Therapy can improve the immune system and fight off the severe negative effects of widespread inflammation22.
  • Light Therapy has shown to improve tough, drug-resistant bacterial (MRSA) infections in animals by enhancing the animal’s immune system response9.
  • Last but not least, in mice, Light Therapy has also increased the effectiveness of the flu vaccine6,4,5,12. Researchers found that giving a mouse a standard dose of flu vaccine coupled with Light Therapy made the vaccination last longer and allowed the mice to fight off infections faster with a stronger immune response to the flu6,4,5,12.

Conclusion

Light Therapy supports the optimal functioning of the immune system in a wide variety of different scenarios and health conditions.

Both human and animal trials suggest that Light Therapy can help boost the body’s immune system. Light Therapy may potentially help overcome weakening immune effects of aging, can improve brain and heart health and help prevent life-threatening medical conditions such as heart attacks and infections. When paired with other treatments, Light Therapy can also help the body clear out junk and harmful chemicals from inflammation and can help boost vaccine effectiveness.

Regardless of whether someone has experienced decreased immune function during an infection, or during a serious condition such as cancer, or an overactive immune system due to autoimmune disease, research and clinical evidence show that Light Therapy may help balance the working of the body’s immune system.

  1. Aging Lowers Your Immunity. (n.d.). Retrieved March 19, 2020, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system
  2. Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). How to boost your immune system. Retrieved March 19, 2020, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system
  3. Kashanskaia, E.P, Fedorov, A.A. (2009, March-April). Low-intensity laser radiation in the combined treatment of patients with chronic obstructive bronchitis. Vopr Kurortol Fizioter Lech Fiz Kult (2):19-22.
  4. Kashiwagi, S., Brauns, T., Gelfand, J., Poznansky, M.C. (2014). Laser vaccine adjuvants. History, progress, and potential. Hum Vaccin Immunother, 10(7):1892-907. doi: 10.4161/hv.28840
  5. Kashiwagi, S., Yuan, J., Forbes, B., Hibert, M. L., Lee, E. L. Q., Whicher, L., … Poznansky, M. C. (2013). Near-Infrared Laser Adjuvant for Influenza Vaccine. PLoS ONE, 8(12). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0082899
  6. Kimizuka, Y., Callahan, J. J., Huang, Z., Morse, K., Katagiri, W., Shigeta, A., … Kashiwagi, S. (2017). Semiconductor diode laser device adjuvanting intradermal vaccine. Vaccine, 35(18), 2404–2412. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2017.03.036
  7. Kokkinopoulos, I. (2013). 670nm LED ameliorates inflammation in the CFH−/− mouse neural retina. Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B: Biology, 122, 24–31. doi: 10.1016/j.jphotobiol.2013.03.003
  8. Laing, K. (n.d.). Immune responses to viruses. Retrieved March 19, 2020, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system
  9. Lee, S. Y. C., Seong, I.-W., Kim, J.-S., Cheon, K.-A., Gu, S. H., Kim, H. H., & Park, K. H. (2011). Enhancement of cutaneous immune response to bacterial infection after low-level light therapy with 1072nm infrared light: A preliminary study. Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B: Biology, 105(3), 175–182. doi: 10.1016/j.jphotobiol.2011.08.009
  10. Lugongolo, M. Y., Manoto, S. L., Ombinda-Lemboumba, S., Maaza, M., & Mthunzi-Kufa, P. (2017). The effects of low level laser therapy on both HIV-1 infected and uninfected TZM-bl cells. Journal of Biophotonics, 10(10), 1335–1344. doi: 10.1002/jbio.201600217
  11. Mehani, S. H. M. (2017). Immunomodulatory effects of two different physical therapy modalities in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 29(9), 1527–1533. doi: 10.1589/jpts.29.1527
  12. Morse, K., Kimizuka, Y., Chan, M. P. K., Shibata, M., Shimaoka, Y., Takeuchi, S., … Kashiwagi, S. (2017). Near-Infrared 1064 nm Laser Modulates Migratory Dendritic Cells To Augment the Immune Response to Intradermal Influenza Vaccine. The Journal of Immunology, 199(4), 1319–1332. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1601873
  13. Odinokov, D., & Hamblin, M. R. (2018). Aging of lymphoid organs: Can photobiomodulation reverse age-associated thymic involution via stimulation of extrapineal melatonin synthesis and bone marrow stem cells? Journal of Biophotonics, 11(8). doi: 10.1002/jbio.201700282
  14. Overview of the Immune System. (n.d.). Retrieved March 19, 2020, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system
  15. Pagán, C. N. (2016, August 23). The Immunity Challenge: How aging affects your immune system. Retrieved March 19, 2020, from https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/guide/seniors-boost-immunity#1
  16. Shi, H.-J., Song, H., Zhao, Q.-Y., Tao, C.-X., Liu, M., & Zhu, Q.-Q. (2018). Efficacy and safety of combined high-dose interferon and red light therapy for the treatment of human papillomavirus and associated vaginitis and cervicitis. Medicine, 97(37). doi: 10.1097/md.0000000000012398
  17. Shui, S., Wang, X., Chiang, J. Y., & Zheng, L. (2015). Far-infrared therapy for cardiovascular, autoimmune, and other chronic health problems: A systematic review. Experimental Biology and Medicine, 240(10), 1257–1265. doi: 10.1177/1535370215573391
  18. Skobelkin, O. K., Michailov, V. A., & Zakharov, S. D. (1991). Preoperative Activation Of The Immune System By Low Reactive Level Laser Therapy (Lllt) In Oncologic Patients : A Preliminary Report. Laser Therapy, 3(4), 169–175. doi: 10.5978/islsm.91-or-23
  19. Tadakuma, T. (1993). Possible Application of the Laser in Immunobiology. The Keio Journal of Medicine, 42(4), 180–182. doi: 10.2302/kjm.42.180
  20. Tunér, J., & Beck-Kristensen, P. H. (2011). Low-Level Lasers in Dentistry. Principles and Practice of Laser Dentistry, 263–286. doi: 10.1016/b978-0-323-06206-0.00015-1
  21. Wang, S., Wu, L., Li, X., Li, B., Zhai, Y., Zhao, D., & Jiang, H. (2019). Light-emitting diode therapy protects against ventricular arrhythmias by neuro-immune modulation in myocardial ischemia and reperfusion rat model. Journal of Neuroinflammation, 16(1). doi: 10.1186/s12974-019-1513-5
  22. Yu, W., Chi, L.-H., Naim, J. O., & Lanzafame, R. J. (1997). Improvement of host response to sepsis by photobiomodulation. Lasers in Surgery and Medicine, 21(3), 262–268. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1096-9101(1997)21:3<262::aid-lsm6>3.0.co;2-o
  23. Zheng, H., Qin, J.-Z., Xin, H., & Xin, S.-Y. (1992). The Activating Action Of Low Level Helium Neon Laser Radiation On Macrophages In The Mouse Model. Laser Therapy, 4(2), 55–58. doi: 10.5978/islsm.92-or-04

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