Red Light Therapy, Vitamin D, and COVID-19: A Crucial Connection?
It’s widely known that vitamin D plays a key role in maintaining good health. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a multitude of health issues, including misshapen and weakened bones, weak immunity, depression, multiple sclerosis, and even some cancers. It’s also the main cause of rickets in children.
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Despite its importance, an astounding number of people suffer from vitamin D deficiency. Given that exposure to sunlight is the most efficient way to absorb vitamin D, this widespread deficiency can in large part be attributed to a general increase in time spent indoors, as well as a change in attitude toward the sun in recent decades.
But what’s the link between red light therapy, vitamin D, and COVID-19? Read on to find out how red light therapy treatment can help keep you healthy and improve your outcome should you contract the virus.
Vitamin D Plays An Important Role in Combating COVID-19
While vitamin D deficiency tends to hit the spotlight every winter, especially in areas with reduced sunlight hours, this year it’s become even more relevant. A recent Spanish study found that more than 80% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients were vitamin D deficient. This is compared to less than 50% of the non-hospitalized control group. Close to 30 studies have more or less replicated these findings. These results have shed new light on vitamin D’s potentially crucial role in positive COVID outcomes.
Given the current infection rate in the US and many parts of Europe and Canada, the likelihood of contracting the coronavirus is greater than ever. Therefore, it’s uber-important that we arm ourselves with the proper tools to help us come out the other side with as few issues as possible. And one of those tools, it appears, is vitamin D.
While you can obtain vitamin D through certain foods and supplements, sunlight is widely known to be by far the most efficient source. This is why you’ll often hear vitamin D referred to as the “sunshine vitamin”.
So what’s red light therapy’s role in all this? Well, it turns out that red and near-infrared light plays a protective role when it comes to sun exposure, allowing your body to reap the benefits of sunlight with less damage to the skin. It’s a little-known process called photoprevention. Let’s take a look at how it works.
How Does Red Light Therapy Help With Vitamin D Production?
While there is some evidence that red light therapy can thicken the dermis layer of the skin, allowing it to more efficiently produce vitamin D, more research is needed to confirm this. It has been shown, however, that red light therapy has an indirect effect on vitamin D synthesis, by helping mitigate the negative effects of sun exposure. In short, it prevents and repairs skin damage caused by UV rays, allowing you to more safely utilize the sun to increase your vitamin D levels.
So what, exactly, does the research say? Before we get to that, let’s quickly go over the complicated history of sun exposure and its effect on vitamin D and our health.
Why Are We Vitamin D Deficient?
For millennia, humans lived by the light of the sun, and much of our work and leisure was done outdoors under the sun’s rays. In fact, it’s only very, very recently in our timeline that we switched to more of an indoor lifestyle. In fact, according to the EPA, the average American spends a whopping 93% indoors. And children today spend half the time on average playing outdoors as their parents did.
Even more recently, direct sunlight has become a thing to avoid at all costs. This so-called vilification of the sun is certainly justified in many ways. After all, UV exposure is the leading cause of skin cancer. Plus, it is known to cause premature aging in the form of wrinkles, sun spots, and loss of skin tone (sagging).
However, we went very quickly from a species that spent quite a substantial amount of time outdoors largely unprotected to one that barely sets foot outside. This cultural change happened over such a small amount of time that our bodies have not had the time to evolve to make up for the effects of lack of sunlight.
The good news is that we really don’t need more than a few minutes of sunlight to meet our vitamin D requirements. Experts generally recommend getting 10-15 minutes of unprotected midday sun exposure a few times a week. The bad news is that even this small amount of time can cause both skin damage and sunburn, since we need midday sun exposure to effectively synthesize vitamin D. This is especially true for those with less lower melanin levels (i.e. light-skinned folk). These risks are also greater in the winter months, when skin becomes unaccustomed to UVA and UVB exposure. This is where red light therapy comes in.
Special thanks to Christopher Joannou and the team at Excercising Health for the video that was the inspiration for this post. Check it out here for an enlightening look at red light therapy's role in sun health!
Red Light Therapy Helps Prevent and Repair Sun Damage
So now we’re getting to the meat of the issue: photoprevention. Recent research by the dermatologist and leading expert on skin photorejuvenation, Dr. Daniel Barolet, posits that the IR-A (infrared-A) wavelengths found in early morning sunlight can have a protective effect on the skin. Late afternoon sunlight, conversely, can have a reparatory effect. To quote the article:
“As a precursor to the day's coming UV insults to the skin, the ratio of UV to IR-A, as measured in the tropics, is lower in the morning and at the end of the day. Cooler morning temperatures combined with the proportionally lower UV/IR-A ratio provide the ideal conditions to trigger IR-A beneficial effects without skin hyperthermia before potential UV insults (higher UV/IR-A ratio at noon). The same applies late in the afternoon with PBM tissue repair, if UV damage occurs. Consequently, IR-A prevents and restores the possible mid-day UVR damage to the skin within beneficial physiological irradiance boundaries.”
Dr. Barolet refers to an earlier study of his and Dr. Annie Boucher from 2008, in which they recorded the effects of sun exposure on the skin 24 hours after the application of LED (red) light, compared to a control group. They found that the spots treated with LED light had significantly lower UV-induced erythema (sunburn, for us non-sciency folks) than the control group.
The researchers conclude that red light is a potentially useful solution to the deleterious effects of the sun. In fact, Barolet believes, as quoted in the Dermatology Times (2008) that, “‘one day, we may avoid having to apply a sunscreen or sunblock’ before sun exposure”. This isn’t to say you should toss your Banana Boat altogether in favor of your red light therapy device. On the contrary: we believe that red light therapy in conjunction with limited sun exposure is the key to healthy-looking skin. Plus, according to an article in Harvard Health Publishing, most people’s use of sunscreen is not consistent or comprehensive enough to negatively impact vitamin D levels. So the issue is not sunscreen; it’s simply getting outdoors.
This is yet another reason to spend more time outdoors to help combat COVID-19. It is often erroneously thought that we get sick more often in winter because of the cold, or weakened immune systems. The reality is much simpler: we spend more time indoors, where ventilation is poorer, and where we are in closer contact with sick people.
Therefore, in the context of COVID-19, it’s important for those who live in warmer climates to keep gatherings outdoors (respecting, of course, community guidelines and mandates regarding numbers). For those who live in colder climes, consider going for a walk with a friend rather than catching up indoors. Or maybe take up a winter sport such as cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. Staying active is a great way to maintain good health in general, and the extra sunlight and vitamin D just might help you avoid the hospital if you happen to contract COVID-19.
How You Can Mitigate the Sun’s Damaging Effects While Boosting Your Vitamin D With Red Light Therapy
Just a few minutes of red light therapy a day can mimic the effects of early morning and late afternoon sun. This can allow your skin to fight against the damage caused by midday UV rays while it synthesizes the all-important vitamin D. Not only is the treatment non-invasive and painless, it is completely safe to use every day. In fact, across the thousands of studies researching the effectiveness of red light therapy, one overwhelming consensus is that there are no major risks or side effects associated with the treatment. This is important, considering that consistent use is necessary to reap the full benefits of red light therapy. And those benefits don’t end with sun protection.
What Are Some Other Benefits of Red Light Therapy You Might Encounter?
Red light therapy has an impressively long list of health claims, all of which are supported by peer-reviewed scientific research. Some of these benefits include:
- Skin rejuvenation, wound, and scar healing;
- Muscle growth, performance, and recovery;
- Weight loss;
- Hair growth;
- Cognitive health;
- Immune health;
- Hormones and sex drive;
- Pain and inflammation;
- Mental health and depression;
- Sleep disturbances;
- Eye health;
- Oral and dental health.
In fact, many regular users of red light therapy have reported benefits outside those for which they purchased the device. For instance, healthier hair and clear-headedness are common secondary results people notice after beginning their regimen. What surprises are in store for you?
For a full list of the many benefits of red light therapy, check out this article.
Why Choose Rouge?
First, Rouge’s family of red light therapy devices are available in an assortment of sizes and price points. We’ll also work with you for any custom requests, so you’re sure to find the system that works best for you. Plus, we provide worldwide shipping, and we offer a full-satisfaction guarantee.
Most importantly, however, is that Rouge offers the most powerful personal devices on the market today. Check out how we compare to other leading red light therapy brands here.
Someday, hopefully sooner than later, COVID-19 will be a thing of the past. However, the importance of vitamin D will remain forever. Help protect yourself while boosting your vitamin D with red light therapy, and enjoy a brighter, healthier future.