Red Light Therapy and Fertility Acupuncture
Red light therapy has been garnering attention in the biohacking world as a tool to support overall health, improve skin, diminish fine lines, heal rashes, support muscle recovery for athletes, and even promote regrowth of thinning hair, but it’s also been gaining traction in medical literature as an adjunct fertility treatment as well. The therapy involves red LED (light emitting diode) and near infrared to shine specific wavelengths of red light on the body to promote reproductive health. To add to the possibilities for fertility improvement with red light therapy, the studies are showing positive outcomes for women of advanced maternal age.
Why red light therapy for fertility?
As we age the overt vitality of our reproductive organs can decline which can affect egg quality, hormonal communication and uterine lining. (Notice I say can, in alternative and eastern medicine we take into account chronological age, but also physiological age. Meaning, though our age may creep up in number, we can still improve the function of our body, essentially reversing physiological age). There are many things a woman (and man, or person) can do to optimize fertility, especially as the timekeeper of age continues to tick.
Red light wavelengths increase blood flow to the reproductive organs, which can improve the health of the whole reproductive system, potentially increasing chances of conception for couples trying to conceive naturally or undergoing Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART). Supportive treatments for fertility focus on egg quality, uterine receptivity, hormone balance, sperm structure and motility. Red LED and infrared support these processes by increasing blood flow, ATP production (the production of energy powering a cell), and reducing inflammation.
Red LED, which is visible red light, penetrates the skin layers and is used widely for reducing inflammation. Near Infrared, invisible but gives off heat, penetrates into the deeper layers of tissue to reach muscle tissue, organ tissue, connective tissue, brain tissue, and bone tissue to increase circulation and energy activity in the cells. Photoreceptors in the cell react to the red light wavelengths by generating a chemical reaction which stimulates ATP (energy).
Why does increased energy production in the cells matter?
Increased energy can have profound ripple effects on the body’s systems. Increased energy and blood flow systemically enhances the health of the organ systems as well as the hormonal communication between the reproductive organs and the brain (the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis, or HPO axis).
To look at this more closely, developing oocytes in the ovaries (oocytes are developing eggs that will eventually be ovulated) require a lot of energy and we want to maximize their potential for development. It takes about 100 days for an oocyte to mature to an egg that will then be ovulated. These oocytes are initially receptive to a hormone called Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) which is produced in the pituitary gland in the brain. It is imperative this hormone effectively gets to the ovary (via flowing blood) in order to stimulate the ovarian follicles to produce estrogen that will build the uterine lining. Eventually a healthy follicle will mature enough to begin producing their own estrogen. Once ovulated (which happens once a month), an egg needs enough fortitude to fertilize, proliferate, travel through the fallopian tube to the uterus, and adhere to the endometrium (lining of uterus) for a strong implantation. It is not just the egg that is of importance during this time, when an egg is ovulated from the follicle a small scar (called the corpus luteum) is left in the follicle and this scar becomes the source of progesterone (a hormone) that will sustain early pregnancy. The corpus luteum will continue to be the source of progesterone until the placenta matures enough to take over progesterone production. It is important a strong follicle was produced to create a strong corpus luteum in order to produce adequate amounts of progesterone naturally.
As we age our blood flow can naturally wane (due to less movement, and/or a less nimble vascular system) and the vitality of the follicles in the ovaries, as well as the uterine lining and hormone communication can become compromised. This is why it is important to address adequate blood flow systemically with acupuncture, herbal medicine, red light therapy as well as movement, nutrition and supplements.
Essentially we want to wake up the reproductive system (in both women and men) to optimize fertility and red light therapy has been touted in the scientific community to bolster this endeavor.
A study using 830nm (near infrared wavelength) was found to be promising (Taniguchi) for supporting egg and follicle health in women of advanced maternal age. The treatment was conducted once weekly for 5-6 menstrual cycles to improve egg quality and blood flow to the reproductive organs.
This study found 3-4 sessions per month to be adequate as a means to increase blood flow and support reproductive health.
A study conducted in Denmark found red light therapy over the abdomen conducted two to three times in the follicular phase prior to ovulation, and one to two times in the post-ovulation phase to assist egg quality and uterine lining production. It is our recommendation that during the post ovulation time in a cycle when a couple is trying to conceive it is best not to apply heat, but acupuncture can be used to support implantation and to continue to support developing follicles in the ovaries.
For Assisted Reproductive Therapies such as In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) or Intrauterine Insemination (IUI), acupuncture and red light therapy has a cumulative effect to support egg retrievals and transfers. Treatment once a week for three months leading up to retrieval or transfer has been found to be more beneficial than a single treatment before the transfer or retrieval date. However, the same protocol of acupuncture and red light therapy can be used pre-transfer (24 hours before the transfer) to boost blood flow to the uterus and support receptivity, while acupuncture after a transfer has been found to calm the body to support implantation.
If complications besides egg quality impede fertility, red light therapy has been found to be a supportive remedy. Such conditions may include cysts, inflammation, pain, muscle tensions, and scar tissue (Grinsted). The beauty about acupuncture and the various adjunct therapies mentioned is we can tailor treatments to each patient’s unique needs.
In addition to its potential to improve fertility, red LED light therapy has also been studied for its potential to improve other health conditions. Research has suggested that this type of light therapy may be beneficial for reducing systemic inflammation, reducing pain, increased blood flow to the extremities and improved skin health. It has also been studied as a potential treatment for depression, anxiety, and sleep issues.
The lights used at our Santa Barbara clinic are PLATINUM RED LED LIGHTS which utilize a range of wavelengths including 630 and 660 nm LEDs, plus near infrared ranges of 810, 830, and 850nm. The Platinum company has done extensive research to ensure their devices provide adequate output of power with a balanced ratio of wavelengths to optimize absorption.
Red light therapy offers a natural, non-invasive treatment option for those facing reproductive health issues and at our Santa Barbara clinic we combine red light therapy with acupuncture, herbal medicine, and moxibustion to support patients trying to conceive. We work with each patient individually to find the best protocol to support fertility and balance the nervous and endocrine systems. We are always researching the best ways to offer care and have found these protocols to be exciting, supportive and successful.
What red light therapy is NOT:
Red light therapy is not Ultraviolet light, the wavelength found to be linked to cancer and skin damage.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions about how we can best support you.
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Grinsted, Arne. Grinsted-Hillegass, Maja. “PhotoBioModulation for Infertility.” EC Gynecology. August 29, 2019.
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