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Photobiomodulation: A new and promising way to enhance brain function


As is increas­ing­ly evi­dent, there are mul­ti­ple meth­ods aimed at enhanc­ing brain func­tion.

Brain train­ing and mind­ful­ness prac­tices are com­mon­ly used. Sub­stance-based meth­ods are pop­u­lar too, includ­ing hal­lu­cino­gens in the form of plant extracts, and drugs. Same as tran­scra­nial direct cur­rent stim­u­la­tion (tDCS) and tran­scra­nial mag­net­ic stim­u­la­tion (TMS): All of these are promis­ing but have been chal­lenged — for exam­ple, the repro­ducibil­i­ty of elec­tri­cal-based stim­u­la­tion results is increas­ing­ly ques­tioned.

– Fig. 1: Vielight Neu­ro Alpha/Gamma in use

With­in this con­text, pho­to­bio­mod­u­la­tion (PBM)–low lev­el light ther­a­py (LLLT)– is attract­ing much atten­tion these days as a promis­ing new way to enhance brain func­tion­ing. PBM involves deliv­er­ing light to the cells (includ­ing neu­rons) that mod­u­late tis­sue func­tions.

Fig. 1 (to the right) offers an illus­tra­tion of a pop­u­lar method of tran­scra­nial PBM, with Vielight Neu­ro Alpha/Gamma in use.

The Scientific Case for Photobiomodulation (PBM)

There are sev­er­al fac­tors sup­port­ing PBM for brain enhance­ment:

  • Its fun­da­men­tal mech­a­nisms of action, based on pho­tons mod­i­fy­ing mito­chon­dr­i­al func­tions, are well-researched. Mito­chon­dria health is increas­ing­ly rec­og­nized as fun­da­men­tal in med­i­cine.
  • The pho­ton is non-chem­i­cal, non-syn­thet­ic and non-mechan­i­cal. When acti­vat­ing the mito­chon­dria in small dos­es, it mod­u­lates tis­sues with­out major side effects. Its life-har­ness­ing activ­i­ty appears to be a lega­cy from ear­ly life on earth that start­ed with pho­to­syn­the­sis.
  • The effects of tran­scra­nial PBM have been found to be sys­temic and gen­er­al­ly agnos­tic in treat­ing the dif­fer­ent types of brain insults.
  • Emerg­ing evi­dence are pre­sent­ing the effect of PBM on the elec­tro­phys­i­ol­o­gy poten­tial of the brain as well as enhanced blood per­fu­sion, fill­ing some of the ear­li­er gaps in the under­stand­ing and val­i­da­tion of brain PBM mech­a­nisms.

Mul­ti­ple sci­en­tif­ic reviews, ref­er­enced below, have iden­ti­fied a num­ber of neu­ro­log­i­cal, psy­chi­atric and neu­rode­vel­op­ment con­di­tions that may in prin­ci­ple be addressed by tran­scra­nial PBM, from “chemo-brain” to depres­sion and Parkinson’s Dis­ease. With PBM deliv­ered to the fore­head in a con­trolled study, for exam­ple, sub­jects demon­strat­ed improved mem­o­ry and mood. When the right fore­head was treat­ed, it improved atten­tion biased mod­i­fi­ca­tion (ABM) in peo­ple with depres­sion. Direct­ing near infrared (NIR) light to the brain also improves reac­tion time. Func­tion­al near infrared spec­troscopy (fNIRS) has mea­sured increased cere­bral oxy­gena­tion in the brain after a sin­gle tran­scra­nial PBM, which pro­vides an expla­na­tion for the increased per­for­mance observed. Quan­ti­ta­tive elec­troen­cephalog­ra­phy (qEEG) maps have also shown increased elec­tro­phys­i­ol­o­gy pow­er.

In sum­ma­ry, PBM appears to have pos­i­tive effect on both healthy and dis­eased brains.

The Potential in Selective Modulation

PBM can help mod­u­late the brain in sev­er­al ways:

  1. Blood per­fu­sion– more so in the areas sur­round­ing the source of light
  2. Acti­va­tion of neu­ronal repair, restora­tion, growth and reduc­tion of inflam­ma­tion
  3. Increase in neu­ro­trans­mit­ter activ­i­ty
  4. Ben­e­fi­cial mod­i­fi­ca­tion of microglia activ­i­ty
  5. Entrain­ment of selec­tive brain oscil­la­tions
  6. Poten­tial for mod­u­lat­ing focal synchrony/coherency

Fig. 2 above iden­ti­fies tis­sue process­es and ben­e­fits. For items 5 and 6 on the list above, Vielight and our col­lab­o­ra­tors are find­ing that by invok­ing a spe­cif­ic pulse rate at 810 nm wave­length, we can sig­nif­i­cant­ly influ­ence brain oscil­la­tions. In a pub­li­ca­tion-pend­ing study, gam­ma pulse rate at 40 Hz can con­sis­tent­ly and sig­nif­i­cant­ly upreg­u­late the high­er oscil­la­tions of gam­ma, beta and alpha; and down­reg­u­late theta and delta. This is pre­sent­ed in Fig. 3 below. Spe­cif­ic loca­tions can also be entrained to have more or reduced coher­ence

Fig. 3: Invok­ing 40 Hz with 810 nM wave­length upreg­u­lates gam­ma, beta and alpha brain waves, and down­reg­u­lates theta and delta waves (the find­ings are pend­ing pub­li­ca­tion)

As dis­cussed, deliv­ery of NIR can improve reac­tion time and per­for­mance. High fre­quen­cy in the beta and gam­ma ranges have been asso­ci­at­ed with mem­o­ry and men­tal per­for­mance, although tem­po­rary. High lev­el med­i­ta­tors also present per­sis­tent gam­ma with high pow­er. It is there­fore rea­son­able to assume that entrain­ment with gam­ma fre­quen­cy puls­es can mod­u­late the brain for high per­form­ing men­tal states in mind­ful­ness.

Expectation for the Future

Grow­ing evi­dence seems to sup­port the case that PBM can enhance brain func­tion, whether the brain is in per­fect­ly healthy shape or has suf­fered insults. How­ev­er, there is much to be explored. Specif­i­cal­ly, because brains seem to respond to PBM in very spe­cif­ic ways, we should be able to per­son­al­ize treat­ments and selec­tive­ly alter men­tal states in the future.

In sum­ma­ry, these are the rea­sons why I view pho­to­bio­mod­u­la­tion as a new and very promis­ing way to enhance brain func­tion.

–Dr. Lew Lim is the CEO & Founder of VieLight. As an engi­neer with a pas­sion for help­ing peo­ple, Dr. Lim is the co-inven­tor of sev­er­al wear­able pho­to­bio­mod­u­la­tion (PBM)/ low lev­el light ther­a­py devices, and has been rec­og­nized for the devel­op­ment of the intranasal light ther­a­py sys­tems, par­tic­u­lar­ly to address neu­ro­log­i­cal issues. He will make a pre­sen­ta­tion at the 2017 Sharp­Brains Vir­tu­al Sum­mit: Brain Health & Enhance­ment in the Dig­i­tal Age this Thurs­day, Decem­ber 7th, dur­ing Expo Day.


Come learn more about brain health inno­va­tion and neu­rotech HERE

(10%-off pro­mo code for Sharp­Brains read­ers: sharp2017)



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