Red Light Therapy and Weight Loss: What Does the Research Show?

Posted August 31, 2021

Red light therapy is a new, popular form of treatment that is used for a variety of health and cosmetic purposes. This form of therapy uses specific wavelengths of light that penetrate deep into tissues and are thought to stimulate mitochondria, the energy powerhouse of the cells.

As a newer form of therapy, potential applications for red light therapy are still being discovered, with this modern form of therapy being used for skin care, sleep enhancement, wound healing and much more. One potential application that has only recently been discussed, however, is the use of red light therapy for promoting weight loss. Many people learning about this possible use wonder, “Can red light therapy be used for weight loss?”

The research into red light therapy and weight loss is still very new, however, there are some initial studies that indicate there may be some connection between using red light therapy and realizing a reduction in weight. There is some skepticism, too, whether this research is valid. To understand this topic, it is necessary to examine the evidence on both points of view.

What Causes Excess Weight?

The exact causes of excess body weight can be complex and are the result of a combination of genetics, lifestyle choices, health conditions, and the environment to which one is exposed. At its core, weight gain is caused by an imbalance between the amount of energy that the body gets vs the amount of energy that the body burns. Energy is very important to our survival, and the body is very efficient at storing extra energy for later, doing so by turning it into fat cells.

The imbalance between energy in and energy out can be caused by health conditions and is influenced by genetics. Lifestyle choices also play an important role with foods that are high in energy, often in the form of sugar, contributing to increased weight gain as the amount of energy the body gets increases. Activity level is also an important factor, with higher levels of activity burning more energy, thereby decreasing weight, and lower levels of activity encouraging the body to store energy.

Why is Weight Loss Important?

Everyone who wants to lose weight has their own unique reason for doing so, but these reasons will normally fall into two categories: health or cosmetics.

Health

Excess weight is commonly recognized as a health risk, increasing the probability of many dangerous conditions occurring. The risk of these conditions is directly proportional to an individual’s weight, and even a small reduction in weight can lead to important, lasting health benefits.

While there are many possible health problems that extra weight can cause, one of the biggest is heart problems. Increased weight can increase your blood pressure and cause plaque to build up in the arteries of your heart, increasing the risk of a heart attack and other heart problems. Another serious health condition caused by increased weight is type two diabetes. This condition can shorten your life and require lifelong treatment to manage correctly.

Cosmetic

While health risks are probably the biggest concern for most people, another potential concern with extra weight is the cosmetic implications. While our modern society is taking strides towards becoming more inclusive of everyone regardless of their body type, there is still a degree of social stigma associated with being overweight.

The social standard of the ideal body type and shape is normally at or below a normal, healthy weight. This can cause even those who have a weight that is ideal to want to lose weight and conform to social norms. The pressure to meet the expectations of society, right or not, has an influence on the weight that people choose to pursue.

What is Red Light Therapy

When examining the potential of using red light therapy for weight loss, it is important to understand what it is, how it is used, and the research supporting it. Red light therapy involves irradiating the skin with specific wavelengths of red and near-infrared light. Red light uses long, low energy wavelengths that allow it to penetrate deep into the body, through the skin and into the tissues under the skin.

Technology of Red Light Therapy

While the idea that shining certain wavelengths of light on the skin can cause physical changes may initially seem farfetched to some, there are actually multiple, well-documented examples that are accepted by mainstream medical science.

Some of the examples of the impact that light has on how our body functions include:

  • Vitamin D synthesis - Exposure to sunlight has been shown to stimulate the creation of vitamin D by skin cells. Research has shown that specific wavelengths of sunlight are associated with the effect in skin cells and that exposure to sunlight is one of the best ways to get vitamin D.
  • Melanin production - We don’t think too much of the fact that fair-skinned individuals have a slightly darker skin tone after being out in the sun, however, this effect occurs because of the way sunlight interacts with skin cells. The ultraviolet light in sunlight directly interacts with skin cells, increasing the amount of melanin they produce and creating a darker shade of skin pigmentation
  • Bilirubin breakdown - Ultraviolet light has been shown to breakdown a substance called bilirubin. While bilirubin levels do not affect most people, bilirubin can accumulate to dangerous levels in newborns, causing irreversible brain damage if not treated. The primary treatment for high bilirubin levels in newborns is phototherapy - exposure to specific wavelengths of ultraviolet light. This light breaks down bilirubin, lowering bilirubin to safe levels.

These well established and accepted effects demonstrate that the fundamental assumptions supporting red light therapy are scientifically sound.

Uses of Red Light Therapy

Red light therapy has only been used on a wide-scale basis for about two decades, as prior to this period, LED lights that allowed the creation of specific wavelengths of light were not available as a cost-effective source. In the two decades that red light therapy has become more practical, it has gained more mainstream acceptance for multiple uses, including:

  • Improving skin tone and color
  • Promoting sleep quality
  • Speeding wound healing
  • Enhancing athletic performance

Research into other areas is ongoing, and new potential applications are continuing to emerge.

Red Light Therapy for Weight Loss

In recent years, there has been increased interest in potentially using red light therapy to lose weight. Research into this area is continuing to emerge with some initially promising results. However, there are no major conclusive studies yet, leading the ability to predict results in this area to still be uncertain.

There are several important, recent studies done in this area. A 2020 study found that using low-level laser therapy (a type of red light therapy)  on 60 individuals for 6 weeks resulted in weight loss of over 2 pounds over the study period, as well as resulting in improved body satisfaction. While weight loss did occur, it was a small amount, and there was no control group in the study, making these results less impactful.

An earlier study, conducted in 2013, took a different approach. This study applied red light in the form of low-level laser therapy to perform body contouring specifically to the waist, hips, and thighs. This study demonstrated an average circumference change of almost 3 inches on average to the areas that therapy that was applied. This study, however, also lacked a control group to compare results against.

A more rigorous study performed in 2012, used a double-blind, randomized, controlled study, one of the most solid forms of research possible. This study examined arm circumference, finding a decrease of over an inch after 3 weeks of red light therapy, but not detecting any significant weight loss. This, however, would be somewhat to be expected when the only area of weight loss was an arm.

Yet another controlled study found that phototherapy doubled fat loss (11 vs. 6%), improved insulin sensitivity (40 vs. 22%) and helped conserve lean muscle mass in obese women. A 20 week 'Exercise for Weight Loss Trial', found significant benefit in augmenting exercise with Near Infrared (NIR) phototherapy (used immediately after the end of the exercise training session). Control subjects received “sham” treatment post exercise. The results were promising and suggest that NIR light therapy may enhance the beneficial weight loss, body composition and metabolic health benefits of exercise.    

There have been multiple other studies performed, with most of them following a similar design and providing results that are about the same. While this replication of results is positive, there is yet to a be a large-scale study that involves large groups of people on a scale that would lead to conclusive evidence.

Overview of Studies

One of the reasons that using red light therapy for weight loss is somewhat controversial, is that the studies on the topic are limited. Many involve small numbers of people or do not have control groups that enable researchers to compare how people who received treatment did against a similar group of people who did not receive treatment. There are, however, some examples of controlled studies that have indicated some positive results.

The other factor to consider with most existing studies is that the best results were seen in more subtle changes that included focused application with the purpose of sculpting the body rather than creating a significant drop in weight. While red light therapy may be effective for weight loss, it may be better applied for helping people shape their bodies rather than lose several pounds.

Using Red Light Therapy

If you are interested in using red light therapy to achieve the benefits that many people report experiencing with it, then it is very important that you consider the source of the red light that you use. There are many important factors to consider when using red light therapy, including the power of your light source, the actual wavelengths of light it provides, how steady the light is, and many other factors that could impact how effective this therapy is for you.

Mito Red Light provides a variety of red light products that are specifically designed to provide high-quality, dependable red light therapy. We welcome you to review our selection of high-quality products or to contact one of our expert representatives at 1-480-597-4649.