Light therapy improves hypothyroidism

Thyroid issues are pervasive in modern society, affecting all genders and ages to varying degrees. Diagnoses are missed more often than perhaps any other condition and typical treatment/prescriptions for thyroid issues are decades behind the scientific understanding of the condition.

What role can light therapy play in prevention and treatment of thyroid/low metabolism problems?
Looking through scientific literature we see that light therapy’s effect on thyroid function has been studied dozens of times, in humans (e.g. Höfling DB et al., 2013), mice (e.g. Azevedo LH et al., 2005), rabbits (e.g. Weber JB et al., 2014), among others, and looks like it might be a successful treatment for some of these issues. This makes sense as both involve energy production (or lack thereof) in the body, but to really understand why first we need to understand the basics.

Contents

Introduction
Light therapy helps low thyroid people
Symptoms of low metabolic rate
Thyroid system basics
Ideal light for thyroid treatment
Bottom Line
References

Introduction

Hypothyroidism (low thyroid, underactive thyroid) should be considered more of a spectrum that everybody falls onto, rather than a black or white condition that only older people suffer from. Barely anyone in modern society has truely ideal thyroid hormone levels (Klaus Kapelari et al., 2007. Hershman JM et al., 1993. J. M. Corcoran et al., 1977.). Adding to the confusion, there are overlapping causes and symptoms with several other metabolic issues like diabetes, heart disease, IBS, high cholesterol, depression and even hair loss (Betsy, 2013. Kim EY, 2015. Islam S, 2008, Dorchy H, 1985.).

Having a ‘slow metabolism’ is in essence the same thing as hypothyroidism, which is why it coincides with other problems in the body. It’s only diagnosed as clinical hypothyroidism once it reaches a low point.

In a nutshell, hypothyroidism is the state of low energy production in the entire body as a result of low thyroid hormone activity. The typical causes are complex, including various diet and lifestyle factors such as; stress, heredity, ageing, polyunsaturated fats, low carbohydrate intake, low calorie intake, sleep deprivation, alcoholism, and even excess endurance exercise. Other factors such as thyroid removal surgery, fluoride intake, various medical therapies, and so on also cause hypothyroidism.


Light therapy shown to help low thyroid people

Red & infrared light (600-1000nm) help metabolism in the body on several different levels, similarly to supplementing thyroid hormones but also complementary to it.

light therapy neck thyroid
Light therapy directly on the neck is highly effective for thyroid treatment
  1. Studies show that applying red light directly to the thyroid gland (front of the neck) improves production of the hormones. (Höfling et al., 2010,2012,2013. Azevedo LH et al., 2005. Вера Александровна, 2010. Gopkalova, I. 2010.) Like any tissue in the body, the thyroid gland requires energy to perform all of its functions. As thyroid hormone is a key component in stimulating energy production, you can see how a lack of it in the gland’s cells decreases further thyroid hormone production – a classic vicious cycle. Low thyroid -> low energy -> low thyroid -> etc.
  2. Light therapy directly on the neck breaks this vicious cycle, presumably by improving local energy availability, thus increasing natural thyroid hormone production by the gland again. With the thyroid gland restored, a host of positive downstream effects occur, as the entire body finally gets the energy it needs (Mendis-Handagama SM, 2005. Rajender S, 2011). Steroid hormone (testosterone, progesterone, etc.) synthesis picks up again – mood, libido and vitality are enhanced, body temperature increases and basically all symptoms of a low metabolism are reversed (Amy Warner et al., 2013) – even physical appearance and sexual attractiveness increases.
  3. Alongside systemic benefits from thyroid exposure, applying light anywhere on the body also gives systemic benefits, via the blood (Ihsan FR, 2005. Rodrigo SM et al., 2009. Leal Junior EC et al., 2010). Although red blood cells have no mitochondria; blood platelets, white blood cells and other types of cells present in the blood do contain mitochondria. This alone can lower inflammation and cortisol levels – a stress hormone that prevents T4 -> T3 activation (Albertini et al., 2007).
  4. Applying red light to specific areas of the body (such as the brain, skin, testes, wounds, etc.) gives a more intense local boost. This is best shown by studies of light therapy on skin disorders, wounds and infections, where healing time is dramatically reduced by red or infrared light (J. Ty Hopkins et al., 2004. Avci et al., 2013, Mao HS, 2012. Percival SL, 2015. da Silva JP, 2010. Gupta A, 2014. Güngörmüş M, 2009). The local effect of light is different yet complementary to thyroid hormone.

The mainstream and generally accepted theory of light therapy’s direct impact involves cellular energy production. The effects are exerted primarily by photodissociating nitric oxide (NO) from the mitochondrial enzymes (cytochrome c oxidase, etc.). You can think of NO as a harmful competitor to oxygen, much like carbon monoxide is. NO basically shuts down energy production in cells, forming an extremely wasteful environment energetically, which downstream raises cortisol/stress. Red light prevents this nitric oxide poisoning, and resulting stress, by removing it from mitochondria. In this way red light can be thought of as ‘protective negation of stress’, rather than immediately increasing energy production. It’s simply allowing your cells’ mitochondria to work properly by alleviating the dampening effects of stress, in a way that thyroid hormone alone doesn’t necessarily do.

So while thyroid hormone improves mitochondria counts and effectiveness, light therapy enhances and ensures that by inhibiting the stress molecules. There are several other indirect mechanisms by which both thyroid and red light reduce stress, but I won’t go into them here. With regular thyroid light therapy, less thyroid medication is required to treat hypothyroid symptoms. In a matter of just months, some people find no further use for their thyroid medication, no longer requiring a prescription or having severe symptoms – even after post-treatment periods of 9 months and 2 years. (Höfling et al., 2010,2012,2013. Azevedo LH et al., 2005. Вера Александровна, 2010. Gopkalova, I. 2010,2011). A weekly maintenance session of thyroid light therapy is probably ideal however to prevent the slip back into hypothyroid states.

Common symptoms of hypothyroidism such as dry skin, cold hands and feet, foggy thoughts, etc., can be treated with direct exposure.

Summary:

  • Red light therapy directly on the thyroid gland increases systemic thyroid hormone levels.
  • Systemic benefits come from thyroid gland and artery/vein exposure.
  • Light therapy anywhere else on body enhances effects of thyroid system.
  • Thyroid light therapy can replace or reduce need of thyroid medication.

Symptoms of low metabolic rate/hypothyroidism

hypothyroid face

  • Low heart rate (below 75 bpm)
  • Low body temperature, less than 98°F/36.7°C
  • Always feel cold (esp. hands and feet)
  • Dry skin anywhere on body
  • Moody / angry thoughts
  • Feeling of stress / anxiety
  • Brain fog, headaches
  • Slow growing hair/fingernails
  • Bowel issues (constipation, crohns, IBS, SIBO, bloating, heartburn, etc.)
  • Frequent urination
  • Low/no libido (and/or weak erections / poor vaginal lubrication)
  • Yeast/candida susceptibility
  • Inconsistent menstrual cycle, heavy, painful
  • Infertility
  • Rapidly thinning/receding hair. Thinning eyebrows
  • Bad sleep

low metabolism and body temperature


How does the thyroid system work?

thyroid hormone system flowchartThyroid hormone is first produced in the thyroid gland (located in the neck) as mostly T4, and then travels via the blood to the liver and other tissues, where it is converted into a more active form – T3. This more active form of thyroid hormone then travels to every cell of the body, acting inside the cells to improve cellular energy production. So thyroid gland -> liver -> all cells.

What usually goes wrong in this production process? In the chain of thyroid hormone activity, any point can pose a problem:

  1. The thyroid gland itself could not be producing enough hormones. This could be down to; a lack of iodine in the diet, an excess of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) or goitrogens in the diet, previous thyroid surgery, the so-called ‘autoimmune’ condition Hashimoto’s, etc.
  2. The liver could not be ‘activating’ the hormones (T4 -> T3), due to a lack of glucose/glycogen, an excess of cortisol, liver damage from obesity, alcohol, drugs and infections, iron overload, etc.
  3. Cells may not be absorbing the available hormones. Cells’ absorption of active thyroid hormone is usually down to dietary factors. Polyunsaturated fats from the diet (or from stored fats being released during weight loss) actually block thyroid hormone from entering cells. Glucose, or sugars in general (fructose, sucrose, lactose, glycogen, etc.), are essential for both absorption and usage of active thyroid hormone by cells.

Thyroid hormone in the cell

Assuming no impediment exists for thyroid hormone production, and it can reach cells, it acts directly and indirectly on the process of respiration in cells – leading to the complete oxidation of glucose (into carbon dioxide). Without sufficient thyroid hormone to ‘uncouple’ the mitochondrial proteins, the respiration process cannot complete and usually results in lactic acid rather than the end product of carbon dioxide.

thyroid hormone inside cells
Thyroid hormone has complex interactions inside cells

Thyroid hormone acts on both the mitochondria and nucleus of cells, causing short term and long term effects that improve oxidative metabolism. In the nucleus, T3 is thought to influence expression of certain genes, leading to mitochondriogenesis, meaning more/new mitochondria. On the mitochondria that already exist, it exerts a direct energy improving effect via cytochrome oxidase, as well as uncoupling respiration from ATP production.

This means that glucose can be pushed down the respiration pathway without necessarily having to produce ATP. While this may seem wasteful, it increases the amount of beneficial carbon dioxide, and stops glucose being stockpiled as lactic acid. This can be seen more closely in diabetics, who frequently get high levels of lactic acid leading to a state called lactic acidosis. Many hypothyroid people even produce significant lactic acid at rest. Thyroid hormone plays a direct role in alleviating this harmful state.

Thyroid hormone has another function in the body, combining with vitamin A and cholesterol to form pregnenolone – the precursor to all steroid hormones. This means that low thyroid levels inevitably result in low levels of progesterone, testosterone, etc. Low levels of bile salts will also occur, thereby hampering digestion. Thyroid hormone is perhaps the most important hormone in the body, regulating all essential functions and feelings of wellbeing.

Summary

  • Thyroid hormone is the body’s ‘master hormone’ and production relies mainly on the thyroid gland and liver.
  • Active thyroid hormone stimulates mitochondrial energy production, formation of more mitochondria, and steroid hormones.
    • Hypothyroidism is a state of low cellular energy with many symptoms.
  • Causes of low thyroid are complex, relating to diet and lifestyle.
    • Low carb diets and high PUFA content in the diet are prime offenders, along with stress.

Ideal light for thyroid light therapy

As the thyroid gland is located under the skin and fat of the neck, infrared is the most studied type of light for thyroid treatment. This makes sense as it is more penetrative than visible red (Kolari, 1985; Kolarova et al., 1999; Enwemeka, 2003, Bjordal JM et al., 2003). However, red as low as 630nm has been studied as effective for thyroid (Morcos N et al., 2015), as it is a relatively superficial gland.

The following guidelines are recommended for successful thyroid light therapy:

  • Infrared LEDs in the 700-910nm range.

    • 100mW/cm² or better power density
    • Few cm² or better beam area
  • The LED beam angle should be as narrow as possible – 90 degrees or less.
  • Therapy session times should be 5 – 15 minutes directly on the neck.

These guidelines are based on effective wavelengths in studies mentioned above, as well as studies on tissue penetration also mentioned above. Suggested session times come from light therapy results in other areas of the body, but should apply to the thyroid gland too. 4-6J/cm² is the dose typically considered ideal, however achieving this dose at the thyroid gland requires more application time than it would for the skin. Some of the other factors affecting penetration include; pulsing, power, intensity, tissue contact, polarization and coherence. Application time can be reduced if other factors are improved.

In the right strength, infrared LED lights could potentially affect the entire thyroid gland, front to back. Visible red wavelengths of light on the neck will also provide benefits, although a stronger device will be needed. This is because visible red is less penetrative as mentioned already. As a rough estimate, 90w+ red LEDs (620-700nm) should provide good benefits.

Other types of light therapy technology like low level lasers are fine, if you can afford them. Lasers are studied more frequently in the literature than LEDs, however LED light is generally considered equal in effect (Chaves ME et al., 2014. Kim WS, 2011. Min PK, 2013).

Heat lamps, incandescents and infrared saunas are not as practical for improving metabolic rate / hypothyroidism. This is due to wide beam angle, excess heat/inefficiency and wasteful spectrum. 1000w or more would be required for a significant effect. At this strength though, application to the thyroid would be very uncomfortable to say the least.


Bottom Line

  • Red or infrared light from an LED source (600-950nm) can be applied to the thyroid gland to treat hypothyroid states.
    • Thyroid hormone levels are improved in every study.
    • Light therapy can be used to wean off thyroid medication.
  • Thyroid system is complex. Diet and lifestyle should be addressed too.
  • Thyroid light therapy is probably the single most effective way to use light therapy, treating a foundational level of health.
  • Heat lamps/incandescent bulbs are not as effective or comfortable as LEDs or low level lasers.

Stick to LED light therapy or LLLT for maximum safety and benefits. Infrared (700-950nm) LEDs are optimal, visible red is fine too. Session time from 5-15 minutes depending on light strength/heat.


References

ISRN Endocrinol. 2012; 2012: 126720. Assessment of the Effects of Low-Level Laser Therapy on the Thyroid Vascularization of Patients with Autoimmune Hypothyroidism by Color Doppler Ultrasound. Danilo Bianchini Höfling, Maria Cristina Chavantes, Adriana G. Juliano, Giovanni G. Cerri, Meyer Knobel, Elisabeth M. Yoshimura, and Maria Cristina Chammas

Lasers Surg Med. 2010 Aug;42(6):589-96. Low-level laser therapy in chronic autoimmune thyroiditis: a pilot study. Höfling DB, Chavantes MC, Juliano AG, Cerri GG, Romão R, Yoshimura EM, Chammas MC.

Lasers Med Sci. 2013 May;28(3):743-53. Low-level laser in the treatment of patients with hypothyroidism induced by chronic autoimmune thyroiditis: a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Höfling DB, Chavantes MC, Juliano AG, Cerri GG, Knobel M, Yoshimura EM, Chammas MC.

Azevedo LH, Aranha AC, Stolf SF, Eduardo CD, Vieira MM. Evaluation of low intensity laser effects on the thyroid gland of male mice. Photomedicine and laser surgery 2005; 23: 567-570.

Photochem Photobiol. 2015 Jul-Aug;91(4):942-51. Phototherapeutic Effect of Low-Level Laser on Thyroid Gland of Gamma-Irradiated Rats. Morcos N, Omran M, Ghanem H, Elahdal M, Kamel N, Attia E.

Dubovik V. The postoperative rehabilitation of the autoimmune thyroiditis patients with the use of low­intensive laser radiation.

Photomed Laser Surg. 2014 Nov;32(11):612-7. Effect of three different protocols of low-level laser therapy on thyroid hormone production after dental implant placement in an experimental rabbit model. Weber JB, Mayer L, Cenci RA, Baraldi CE, Ponzoni D, Gerhardt de Oliveira M.

Вера Александровна Кривова: Non-invasive low level laser system in rehabilitation of patients with autoimmune thyroiditis (Диссертация, 2010) – Translated

Д.А. ПУЗИН: Laser therapy in the treatment of subclinical hypothyroidism of various etiologies – Translated

Photomed Laser Surg. 2014 Aug;32(8):444-9. Effects of low-level laser therapy on the serum TGF-β1 concentrations in individuals with autoimmune thyroiditis. Höfling DB, Chavantes MC, Acencio MM, Cerri GG, Marui S, Yoshimura EM, Chammas MC.

J Athl Train. 2004 Jul-Sep; 39(3): 223–229. Low-Level Laser Therapy Facilitates Superficial Wound Healing in Humans: A Triple-Blind, Sham-Controlled Study. J. Ty Hopkins et al.

Rajender S, Monica MG, Walter L, Agarwal A. Thyroid, spermatogenesis, and male infertility. Front Biosci (Elite Ed). 2011 Jun 1;3:843-55.

Kolarova H, Ditrichova D, Waqner J. Penetration for the laser light into the skin in vitro. Lasers in surg Med 1999; 24: 231.

Laser Ther. 2011; 20(3): 205–215. Is light-emitting diode (LED) phototherapy really effective? Won-Serk Kim and R Glen Calderhead

An Bras Dermatol. 2014 Jul-Aug;89(4):616-23. Effects of low-power light therapy on wound healing: LASER x LED. Chaves ME et al., 2014

Irani S, Monfared SSMS, Akbari-Kamrani M, Abdol-lahi M, Larijani B. Effect of low-level laser irradiation on in vitro function of pancreatic islets. Transplantation Proceedings 2009; 41: 4313-4315.

Mendis-Handagama SM, Siril Ariyaratne HB. Leydig cells, thyroid hormones and steroidogenesis. Indian J Exp Biol. 2005 Nov;43(11):939-62.

34 thoughts on “Light therapy improves hypothyroidism

    • John says:

      Hi Janet.
      Interesting question which I haven’t seen any studies on specifically.

      Unfortunately, with the total absense of a thyroid gland because of surgery, I can’t see any way in which light therapy could stimulate production of thyroid hormones.
      With a partial thyroidectomy only, there is hope. The red light would in theory make the remaining thyroid tissue more effective, though it’s still unlikely to ‘cure’ hypothyroidism alone.

      In either case, my best guess would be that it probably reduces the medication required.

    • John says:

      It’s hard to find technical information on those red light therapy ‘tanning beds’ and their bulbs. Without information on wavelength and light output, you can’t calculate the time required for a good dose.
      The way they’re marketed (‘boost collagen production!’) just isn’t true, and there may be a negative effect of EMF exposure from being inside a 2000w+ machine.
      Having said that though, they obviously do emit red light of some sort, so I believe they are beneficial. I’m not sure that they’re suitable for thyroid treatment specifically (the strength of red light used may or may not penetrate the skin), but they should provide an anti-inflammatory effect which may indirectly help hypothyroidism or general health.

  1. Phil says:

    With regard to chronic dry skin therapy, the Red light device product page says:

    “Do not position the light directly in front of the eyes for extended periods, even with eyelids shut.”

    What if the affected area is basically all of the skin surrounding the eyes? What to do then?

    • John says:

      Hi Phil, yeah good question. You can use some tanning goggles to fully cover the eye balls but without covering much skin in that area. Just search on amazon or google for ‘sunbed goggles’ or ‘tanning goggles’.

  2. Maureen says:

    Hi!
    Very interesting article and product! I will be saving my pennies in hopes of purchasing one soon.
    Thanks for the info!

  3. misery guts says:

    Glad to see this site up. And extra points for being in the UK! About the only Peat approved health supplement I won’t need to pay a bazilion pounds extra on shipping for :s

    • Joe says:

      I don’t think red light interacts with collagen directly in any way. Collagen is a hard protein deposit that is mostly void of metabolically active cells.
      Red light has been shown to affect cells that produce collagen (such as osteoblasts in bones, and fibroblasts in skin and joints), normalising collagen production there and potentially reducing the formation of scars during healing, and perhaps preventing wrinkles over time.

    • liz says:

      Red light therapy at 660 nm is suppose to build the collagen so it has anti-ageing effects. justluxe.com/community/21-proven-benefits-of-red-led-light-treatment_a_1769088.php

      • Joe says:

        That’s the way most marketers explain red light and collagen, but I think it’s a lot more complicated. Simply ‘building collagen’ is actually associated with scars, wrinkles, fibroids and even some tumours.
        It’s better to say that red light normalises collagen production, helping cells to find the balance between new collagen production and old collagen breakdown – keeping skin soft and flexible.
        There is more info here – https://redlightman.com/health/collagen-light-therapy/

  4. Javin says:

    Have people used red light devices with success in warming their extremities? I often have cold hands and feet which I believe is connected to thyroid/metabolism issues.

  5. Manoko says:

    Thanks for the article.
    I look forward to experimenting with red light to improve my thyroid function.

  6. Lindsay says:

    Fantastic Information. I really need to try one of these lights out. Do you suggest a combo light for the thyroid treatment (like the red/infrared combo)? Or just infrared? Thank you!

    • Joe says:

      Hi Lindsay,
      I think either is fine if the light is strong enough. Infrared is perhaps more efficient for reaching the gland but a decent red or the red/infrared combo will still do the job.

  7. Suzie says:

    I notice that some of your lights aere out of stock. When do you anticipate their availability? Also can your units be used in the US?

  8. Amanda says:

    This is somewhat off topic, but I am wondering if infrared light is safe to use over a mole? I can’t seem to find info elsewhere. I’ve been using infrared light on my face for anti-aging and it seems to be working already. My skin is softer and my lips look fuller. But, I have a mole just above my lip and I’m wondering if the light will enlarge the mole- I definitely don’t want that.

    • Joe says:

      Hi Amanda,
      I’m really not sure about that. I haven’t seen any data regarding moles and red or infrared light.
      All I can say is that I have a couple of moles on my face and after years of using light I have not noticed any interaction. It’s not something I’ve ever had a reason to worry about.

  9. Marcus says:

    Hi,

    Can I use the cheap ones like Infrared Light Device Mini for boosting metabolism? I can’t afford the ~200 eur one right now.

    Would it be a matter of applying it more time?

    Thanks

    • Joe says:

      Hi Marcus,
      Yes of course. You can get all of the same benefits in theory. The beam on our smaller lights (vs bigger lights) just covers a smaller surface area. Applying them in key positions around the body is an efficient way to use.

  10. Marcus says:

    Thanks Joe! That’s great news 🙂

    By the way… Are you aware of any specific benefits of applying it to the liver area? Scientific studies or testimonies.

    Thanks!

    • Joe says:

      I haven’t seen anything studying that specifically in humans. It should have the same effect in liver cells as elsewhere in the body though. All cells need energy. You would need a large dose to get any direct effects in a deep organ like the liver though.

  11. Ellen says:

    Hey John
    Thanks for your post! It looks like you are suggesting to use LED lights (as per post/research above) but what about a near infared bulb? I don’t think LED gets warm — but I know the near infared does. I want to use it to reduce/eliminate/heal thyroid nodules. Have you come upon any research about that? And which bulb? Thanks!

    • Joe says:

      Hey Ellen,
      If you’re talking about the 250w heat lamp type bulbs, I’ve done some tests on them with solar power meters to estimate power density of 600-900nm light (by factoring in the overall spectrum). You have to use them from about 10-15cm to get a good power density (100-200mw/cm2) of the 600-900nm wavelengths.
      Unfortunately at this distance, they heat my skin pretty quickly and it is painful. After doing those tests, I think they’re pretty useless for the purpose of light therapy. I don’t think it’s possible to build up high doses or get the high power densities that you need hitting the skin (at least without burning your skin) for deeper penetration.
      They are mainly useful just for heat, if you are cold in winter for example, and keeping warm has its own benefits, but due to the broad spectrum, prolonged use will contribute to skin photoaging quite significantly. It’s not a light therapy product in my opinion.

      • Ellen says:

        Hey Joe
        Thanks for your reply. If you look on amazon for nir-a near infrared bulbs by rubylux you’ll see that people dealing with cancer and other aches and pains and inflamation use the near infrared bulb for spot treatment to heal and detox. I think I’m going to try it out, was just looking for some studies or testimonials for thyroid node reduction/elimination by using this. Btw, if it’s too hot, I would just sit further. It’s supposed to make you sweat out toxins.

        • Joe says:

          Good luck with that Ellen. It looks like a standard heat lamp bulb. It should be ok as far as heat therapy goes. I wouldn’t expect any effects on the thyroid directly though as the light won’t be able to penetrate that deep in sufficient doses.

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