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Infrared radiation is a range of electromagnetic radiation which can be easily created using commercially available devices. From reducing inflammation and pain to improving mood, infrared radiation has a variety of benefits. It can even be used to treat some forms of cancer.

Find out more on how infrared radiation can improve your health and how it can treat many different conditions below.

Introduction

Infrared radiation (IR), sometimes known as infrared light, is a form of electromagnetic radiation outside the visual spectrum. It gets its name from the fact that it lies just beyond the wavelength of red light. It is often categorized as near-infrared (NIR), infrared (IR), and far infrared (FIR) radiation. NIR wavelength ranges from 700-810 nanometers (nm), IR wavelength ranges from 810-3000 nm, and FIR ranges from 3000 to 100,000 nm[R].

These differences in wavelength cause infrared radiation to have a range of effects and medical uses. It also has the ability to penetrate human tissue, as the wavelength with the greatest ability to penetrate tissue in regards to tissue lies between 690 and 900 nanometers [R].

Infrared light delivery uses simple lamps designed to emit radiation above 700 nm. They can also emit specific ranges within the IR spectrum. However, these lamps are less common due to their high cost [R].

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3699878/

Infrared saunas and smaller infrared devices use these lamps as well as infrared lasers to deliver infrared light to the entire surface of the body or to specific areas. Infrared radiation-emitting substances can also be used by incorporating them into fabrics or devices for a long-term, continuous delivery [R, R].

Mechanisms

As opposed to ionizing radiation forms such as far ultraviolet radiation and x-rays, which can damage DNA with exposure, infrared radiation is a non-ionizing form of radiation. This means that it does not damage DNA [R].

This allows scientists to use infrared radiation for research and medical purposes. It also decreased potential cell damage associated with ionizing radiation [R].

Infrared radiation’s mechanisms in interacting with biological tissue are unique within the electromagnetic spectrum because it is non-ionizing and has a specific set of wavelengths [R].

The first major effect infrared radiation has on biological tissue is increasing the temperature of the target tissue. Most infrared radiation sources also radiate a large amount of heat, which can affect a specific region. This has a similar effect to using a simple hot compress and thus helps relieve a variety of symptoms [R].

The second major category of interaction the infrared radiation can have is non-heating interactions. This generally involves infrared radiation being absorbed by the bonds of specific molecules or structures within the body. The structure is then excited, activated, or changes shape as a direct result [R].

Finally, infrared light can be used to activate biomedical devices (such as biopolymers) to release a drug or substance to a targeted area or interact with the tissue [R].

This allows extreme specificity and control in cases where the substances used are expensive or have negative side effects. It limits the quantity of these substances that are needed, the amount of affected tissue, and reduces cost [R].

Health Benefits

1) Infrared Radiation Reduces Inflammation

In a study (DB-RCT) of 37 arthritis patients, infrared pulsed laser devices reduced inflammatory cytokines (TNF, IL-1, and IL-2). The patients had clear improvement in function and pain after only a few months [R].

Vessel permeability is another important factor in inflammation. A high permeability will allow fluid to flow out of the blood vessel and get deposited in tissue, increasing inflammation [R].

Due to how close they are to the skin, infrared radiation therapy can easily treat many arthritic joints. This could allow arthritic patients to reduce their reliance on the standard clinical treatment, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) [R].

Infrared treatment significantly reduced immobility in rats with artificially induced arthritis by lowering inflammatory cytokines and decreasing vessel permeability [R].

2) Infrared Radiation May Speed Up Wound Healing

Infrared radiation therapy increased the rate at which skin wounds healed in rats [R].

Far-infrared rays increased the levels of key factors in the healing process (such as TGF-β1) as well as the activity of fibroblasts (connective tissues) and other reparative cell types [R].

Increasing TGF-β1 reduces the production of key inflammatory factors. Reducing the duration and intensity of the secretion of these factors shortens the inflammatory response period, allowing wound healing to move into the proliferative period quicker [R].

In addition to increasing TGF-β1, infrared light therapy increased connective tissue formation and collagen production in both human and mouse cells. One study showed epithelial cell growth increasing by up to 171% when exposed to near-infrared light therapy [R].

3) Infrared Radiation May Help Treat Cancer

Photodynamic therapy could create a viable cancer treatment which kills 90% of the cells. Nanoparticles that are exposed to near-infrared radiation can become highly toxic to nearby cancer cells [R].

After only 5 minutes of irradiation using nanoparticles, radiation raised the temperature high enough to cause significant cancer cell death. In mice, after only 21 days, infrared radiation caused all of the tumors to die [R].

One treatment called photoimmunotherapy binds the materials that manipulate light and heat (photothermal) to an antibody targeted specifically to the cancer cells. Upon binding to receptors on the surface of the cancer cells, infrared light is again used to cause the particles to heat up, which causes almost immediate cancer cell death [R].

4) Infrared Radiation Helps Improve Exercise and Recovery

Infrared radiation can help reduce the inflammation and soreness associated with post-exercise recovery and shorten recovery periods. This allows for more intense and frequent training and improved results [R, R].

In one study, 904 nm laser irradiation stimulated rat muscle tissue. It significantly reduced production of two inflammatory enzymes, COX-1 and COX-2. This also allowed the muscle tissue to perform a total work in subsequent testing [R].

In a separate study, infrared emitting fabrics improved the performance of soccer players during normal training. The players wore the fabrics for 10h at night and saw a moderate decrease in muscle soreness 24 and 72 hours after exercise [R].

5) Infrared Radiation Improves Circulation

Infrared radiation is able to increase circulation, even for extended periods after infrared therapy, and improve blood vessel function [R].

Through both thermal and nonthermal mechanisms, infrared radiation improved circulation in rats. Far infrared therapy was effective in increasing blood flow for up to 60 minutes, while skin temperature was held constant [R].

The results were not simply due to an increase in temperature, but rather the interaction of infrared light with the L-arginine/Nitric oxide pathway [R].

In a study (RCT) of 61 kidney dialysis patients, far infrared radiation also increased blood flow and oxygen levels in the body. This helped reduce fatigue [R].

In another study on blood vessels (endothelial cells), infrared radiation treatment reduced flow obstruction in arteriovenous fistulas. These fistulas are regions of abnormally connected blood vessels which divert the normal flow of blood and can cause swollen or painful veins [R].

The increase in temperature increased HO-1 gene production, which reduced abnormal blood flow. HO-1 can prevent thickening of blood vessels, platelet aggregation, and vasospasms, all of which can contribute to obstruction of blood flow. Additionally, it stimulates endothelial cell regrowth at injury sites, further aiding in vessel health and contributing to healthy circulation [R].

6) Infrared Radiation Protects the Heart

Repeated infrared sauna therapy helped improve heart cell function in patients with increased heart disease risk. After two weeks of daily sauna therapy, the patients also had improved blood flow and reduced atherosclerosis (plaque or fat buildup in the arteries) risk [R].

Far-infrared radiation increased miRNA-31 and miRNA-720 in various studies. This also helps improve heart cell function in heart disease patients [R].

In a study (RCT), daily far infrared sauna therapy lowered blood pressure in patients with increased risk for heart disease [R].

7) Infrared Radiation Treats Diabetic Complications

In a study of 10 type II diabetic patients, infrared light therapy helped lower blood glucose levels. Although these patients could not control their sugar levels using diabetes medication, infrared radiation did so by reducing insulin resistance and lowering cortisol (stress hormone) levels [R].

In another study of 15 middle-aged type II diabetes patients, three months of far-infrared sauna therapy improved the patients’ quality of life. The patients also reported an improvement in fatigue and stress. They also reported increased physical and emotional health [R].

In a study of 50 diabetic patients, one week of infrared therapy healed diabetic foot ulcers. After one month, the patients’ ulcers shrank in size and had fewer secretions. The infrared lamp helped prevent infection [R].

8) Infrared Radiation Improves Mood

In a study (RCT) of 70 participants, far infrared light treatment at acupuncture points increased their serotonin levels. Increasing serotonin levels can help increase mood [R].

In rats, long-term infrared light treatment reduced anxiety and depression-like behaviors. However, short-term infrared radiation had no effect on their behavior [R].

9) Infrared Radiation Treats Hay Fever

In a study of 31 allergic rhinitis (hay fever) patients, far infrared therapy improved their symptoms. The patients had less stuffiness, eye and nose itching, and sneezing [R].

Caveats

There are not many available human clinical trials that use infrared radiation. Additionally, most of the available human studies are not high quality (not double-blind or have a large sample size).

You should consult a doctor before going to an infrared sauna. Pregnant women, the elderly, and people with a weak immune system might not be able to withstand the heat.

You should be cautious while using infrared radiation for its purported health benefits.

Negatives to Infrared Radiation

Infrared radiation can only penetrate approximately 4 cm into the human body, so the primary risks of infrared radiation exposure are to the skin and the eyes. Although it is not a primary contributor to skin cancer, purposefully increasing your infrared radiation may increase your risk of other health issues [R].

1) Infrared Radiation Can Damage Skin

Approximately 65% of the infrared radiation that reaches the human body penetrates to the dermis before absorption. At this point, one potential concern is an increase in photoaging (aging due to light) [R].

UV rays are the main agents of photoaging, but one study found that increased exposure to infrared radiation increased MMP-1 production. MMP-1 is a known contributor to photoaging, which decreases collagen and elastin production in the skin [R].

The increase in skin temperature can also have negative effects. An increase in temperature via induced heat shock can lead to the creation of reactive oxygen species, which over time can inflict damage on DNA through oxidation (breakdown) [R].

Infrared radiation can also harm tattooed skin. In one man, far infrared light caused skin inflammation (pseudolymphoma) [R].

2) Infrared Radiation Harms the Eyes

The lens of the eye is extremely sensitive to infrared radiation. Long-term exposure of high power sources can contribute to cataract formation [R].

Infrared radiation can damage crucial proteins that facilitate the normal function and passage of ions and enzymes through the lens. This could reduce the clarity of the lens [R].

User Reviews

One user who went to an infrared sauna saw immediate improvements in her skin and mood. She felt more relaxed. The user recommends infrared saunas as an alternative to massage therapy.

Other consumers used infrared light devices to reduce back and shoulder pain. Although it worked well, you should make sure that the device you buy is high quality. Some devices can break easily, catch on fire, or cause skin problems.

FDA Compliance

The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.

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3 COMMENTS

  • Ruth Robertson

    Any ideas about where to get this in Australia?

  • Mike

    The “Effect of infrared radiation on the lens” paper uses a GE infrared lamp which does not emit only infrared, but also UV. They then conclude that IR damages the eye!

  • Mike

    This article should be merged with the LLLT/red light article, they overlap too much.

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