Red Light and Radical Scavengers

Red Light and Radical Scavengers

Protecting Our Cells Against Oxidative Stress

Did you know that things we encounter every day, like sunlight and car exhaust, can be damaging to our cells? The cellular damage caused by aspects of our environment like these has been linked to the development of diseases and is even thought to be one of the main reasons our bodies don’t function quite as well as we age. This, for many reasons, is a huge bummer, the most notable of which is that it’s challenging, if not impossible, to avoid these harmful environmental agents. Luckily, red light can help our cells defend themselves against this kind of damage!

At Lux, we believe that a comprehensive, scientifically-informed knowledge base is an essential part of decision making, which is why we are so excited to share the science behind red light therapy with you. We’ve already talked about how red light can improve cellular energy production and cell function (check out our previous posts if you haven’t yet), but current research suggests that red light also has protective effects on our cells, helping them stay healthy and youthful. Specifically, red light enhances our cells’ ability to protect themselves from the damaging effects of highly reactive molecules called free radicals.

red light enhances our cells’ ability to protect themselves from the damaging effects of highly reactive molecules called free radicals.

Free radicals are a normal part of our biology that are made during processes like immune responses or cellular respiration. For example, free radicals are produced when we place extreme demands on our muscle cells during exercise (Davies et al, 1982). However, their generation can also be triggered by our environment. Alcohol, tobacco, certain foods and medicines, and air pollution are all factors that can increase production of free radicals (NIH).

Alcohol, tobacco, certain foods and medicines, and air pollution are all factors that can increase production of free radicals (NIH).

These molecules can be hazardous to our health because of the damage they’re able to inflict on our cells. The molecular structure of free radicals gives them the ability to steal electrons from other parts of the cell, compromising the integrity of those structures. This electron theft is known as oxidation. Free radicals can oxidize important components of the cell -like DNA, the cell membrane, and mitochondria- causing those structures to lose their ability to function properly.

Free radicals can oxidize important components of the cell -like DNA, the cell membrane, and mitochondria- causing those structures to lose their ability to function properly.

Accumulation of toxic free radicals is known as oxidative stress. Damage to our cells that results from oxidative stress is associated with a number of diseases including cardiovascular diseases (Liguori et al, 2018) and neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s (Yan et al, 2013). Oxidative stress is also thought to play a big role in the functional losses that accompany aging (Liguori et al, 2018).

Oxidative stress is also thought to play a big role in the functional losses that accompany aging (Liguori et al, 2018).

Antioxidants, sometimes referred to as ‘free radical scavengers’, counteract oxidative stress by finding and neutralizing free radicals. Neutralizing free radicals renders them unable to steal electrons and thus totally harmless to the cell. The antioxidants our cells use for scavenging can come from sources external to our bodies -like fruits and vegetables or kombucha if you’re hip like that- but our cells are also able to create them on their own when they detect the presence of free radicals. Sometimes the concentration of free radicals can overwhelm our cells’ ability to fight them, no matter how much fermented tea you’ve been guzzling. Once the quantity of free radicals exceeds our cell’s ability to deal with them, you get oxidative stress, cellular damage, and sometimes even cell death.  

Once the quantity of free radicals exceeds our cell’s ability to deal with them, you get oxidative stress, cellular damage, and sometimes even cell death.

Current research shows that red light therapy can protect our cells against oxidative stress by improving their ability to produce free radical scavengers. For example, a recent study conducted in rodents showed that treatment with red light prior to exercise lead to a reduction in oxidative stress and an increase in antioxidant producing ability (known as the antioxidant capacity) in cells of the animals’ leg muscles (deOliveira et al, 2018).

These studies and others like them demonstrate that red light can improve our cells’ ability to produce antioxidants.

A similar study conducted in humans evaluated oxidative stress and antioxidant capacity following electrical stimulation of leg muscles. Like the rodent study, the data from this research also showed a reduction in oxidative stress and improvements in antioxidant production following red light treatment (Jowko et al, 2019). These studies and others like them demonstrate that red light can improve our cells’ ability to produce antioxidants. This research also shows that the boost in production of free radical scavengers helps prevent oxidative stress and cell damage.

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All in all, the science says that red light is beneficial for us in a variety of ways. In addition to enhancing cellular function, red light also protects our cells by boosting their defenses against free radicals. When our cells are better at creating antioxidants to neutralize free radicals, they experience less oxidative stress and are able to stay healthier for longer.

red light also protects our cells by boosting their defenses against free radicals. When our cells are better at creating antioxidants to neutralize free radicals, they experience less oxidative stress and are able to stay healthier for longer.

Healthy cells, of course, are critical for our vitality and well-being. Even when we lead a healthy lifestyle, consume plenty of antioxidant rich foods and beverages, and avoid substances like alcohol and tobacco that generate free radicals, our cells are still vulnerable to oxidative stress. Red light offers a safe and sustainable way to help our cells fight against oxidative stress by improving their ability to create antioxidants.

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