Multiple published research studies have validated the healing mechanisms of Near Infrared (NIR) light.
The mechanism of action that is central to the healing effect of NIR is the release of nitric oxide from red blood cells (Lohr, Keszler, Pratt, Bienengraber, Warltier, & Hogg, 2009). Local increases in nitric oxide increase blood flow through arteries, veins and lymphatic ducts. Increased return of flow from treated sites helps to diminish intracellular acidosis that could alter mitochondrial membrane potential(s). This hypothesis holds that when blood flow is adequate, it provides a sufficient amount of oxygen and glucose to cells for adenosine triphosphate (ATP) generation by mitochondria. However, even a modest decrease in regional or global blood flow in the brain, such as that seen in TBI, will limit the amount of oxygen delivered to neurons. Restoring blood flow levels in damaged regions of the brain thus restores the necessary levels of glucose and oxygen required for ATP generation and proper neuronal functioning.
In addition, nitric oxide stimulates angiogenesis (Cooke & Losordo, 2002). An increased number of capillaries will aid in increasing blood flow (and oxygen and glucose) in inured areas of the brain where blood flow was subnormal. This effect contributes to enhanced mitochondrial function. The 1998 Nobel Prize for physiology was awarded to Furchgott, Ignarro and Murad for their discovery that nitric oxide acts as a signaling molecule and activates an enzyme, guanylate cyclase (GC), which is necessary for subsequent vasodilation. Finally, nitric oxide is an effective analgesic; it appears to reduce pain either by reversing local ischemia (when blood flow is initially subnormal) or directly in a manner akin to the analgesic effect of morphine (Ferreira, Duarte, & Lorenzetti, 1991). In the latter case, nitric oxide helps to regulate membrane potential via alterations in the activity of the ATP dependent potassium channel. This effect may be mediated by activated GC and subsequent phosphorylation of the potassium channel (Rodrigues, Castro, Francischi, Perez, Duarte, 2005).
Due to its capacity to non-invasively penetrate the skull, NIR has been safely used since the late 1970s for the determination of cerebral blood flow and oxygen levels in brain injured adults, post-stroke patients, and in pediatric patients (Taussky et al., 2012; Bönöczk, Panczel, & Nagy, 2002; Skov, Pryds, & Greisen, 1991). Furthermore, transcranial NIR has been shown to increase cortical perfusion and is associated with clinical improvement in human subjects with traumatic brain injury (Naeser, 2011), neurodegenerative disease (Lapchak, 2010; 2012) and depression (Schliffer et al., 2009). The NIR device is FDA cleared for increasing circulation and reducing pain.
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