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Harnessing Light for Brain Health: A Guide to Transcranial Photobiomodulation

As an integrative psychiatrist, I continually explore the convergence of traditional psychiatric methodologies and innovative therapies. Transcranial photobiomodulation (t-PBM), which employs near-infrared light, represents a compelling field of study that could potentially augment mental health outcomes. We are closely following this emerging research and are glad to offer this non-invasive treatment option at our clinic.

Transcranial Photobiomodulation: Brightening Prospects for Major Depressive Disorder

A study titled "Review of transcranial photobiomodulation for major depressive disorder: targeting brain metabolism, inflammation, oxidative stress, and neurogenesis," published in Neurophotonics, illuminates the potential benefits of t-PBM for Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). The study underscores how t-PBM can regulate brain metabolism, alleviate inflammation, mitigate oxidative stress, and stimulate neurogenesis, potentially providing relief for MDD symptoms.

Neurogenesis, the process by which new neurons are formed in the brain, plays a crucial role in learning, memory, and mood regulation. Conditions such as stress and depression have been linked with reduced neurogenesis, particularly in the hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with mood and memory. Therefore, therapies like t-PBM that stimulate neurogenesis may offer potential benefits for mental health conditions like depression, as they can promote the growth of new neurons and enhance mood and cognitive function.

Oxidative stress refers to a state where an imbalance occurs between the production of potentially harmful free radicals and the body's ability to neutralize their harmful effects using antioxidants. This imbalance can result in cellular damage. Particularly in mental health, oxidative stress can cause significant harm to the brain, which is very susceptible to oxidative damage. This can impede neuronal function and is associated with several mental health disorders, including depression.

As such, reducing oxidative stress is a desirable strategy for improving mental health. By decreasing oxidative stress, t-PBM could potentially prevent or reverse damage to neurons, thereby enhancing their function. This could result in an improvement in symptoms associated with mental health disorders, including depression.

Expanding Horizons: t-PBM for Anxiety Disorders

While the Neurophotonics review focuses primarily on MDD, preliminary evidence suggests that t-PBM may also be effective for anxiety disorders. A pilot study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders investigated the impacts of t-PBM on anxiety and depression symptoms in a small cohort of ten individuals. The study demonstrated a decrease in symptom severity for both conditions, suggesting broader applicability of t-PBM in mental health therapy.

Device Considerations: The Right Light

To achieve therapeutic effects, t-PBM devices emit near-infrared light within the range of 600-1100 nm. Different wavelengths can be used, although values around 800 nanometers seem to be most beneficial. These wearable devices, utilizing either LED or laser light sources, offer non-invasive delivery of light to the brain, potentially providing therapeutic benefits. The choice of device is dependent on the specifications and the therapeutic objectives.

Recommended Frequency: Tailoring the Light Regime

Determining the optimal frequency of t-PBM treatment is an ongoing investigation, with no universally agreed-upon protocol yet. The frequency may depend on factors such as device specifications, therapeutic objectives, and individual patient conditions. Some studies have found benefits from 16 sessions of t-PBM over eight weeks, equating to two 20-minute sessions per week. Treatment schedules need to be personalized and based on patient needs and contemporary research findings.

Conclusion: A Bright Future Beckons

As Dr. Michael R. Hamblin, PhD, of the Laser Research Centre at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, puts it: "One of the main takeaways from this collection of articles is that transcranial PBM can not only help dementia and Alzheimer's disease but can also be used to treat Parkinson's disease, and psychiatric disorders."

The potential therapeutic applications of t-PBM for mental health are promising. By addressing oxidative stress and enhancing mitochondrial function, t-PBM provides a novel, promising strategy for alleviating symptoms of mental health disorders and neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's disease and traumatic brain injuries. The field of integrative psychiatry is evolving, and therapies like t-PBM are paving new paths in mental health care.

Currently, we are still uncovering who might best benefit from light therapy in the form of near-infrared light. Potential biomarkers or genetic variations that may predict responsiveness to this treatment are areas of active exploration. It also remains uncertain if this type of light therapy interacts with medications or supplements. However, it's crucial to note the almost complete absence of adverse effects in published studies, highlighting its safety profile.

Photomodulation and Near Infrared Light Therapy at Driftless Integrative Psychiatry

Current patients at Driftless Integrative Psychiatry may use a near-infrared light photomodulation headband before or after their in-person appointments, along with the Huso Sound Frequency Therapy for a restorative, healing experience, free of charge, if recommended by Dr. Burger. If available, ketamine retreat participants may utilize the headband and Huso device during ketamine sessions or after, if they are staying on site.

Disclaimer: The content provided in this blog is intended for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be construed as providing medical advice or as a substitute for professional healthcare advice, diagnosis, or treatment. While every effort has been made to ensure that the information shared in this blog is accurate and up-to-date, medical information and knowledge are continually evolving. Therefore, this information should not be used to make any health-related decisions. Readers are strongly advised to consult with a qualified healthcare professional before making any changes to their health regimen or trying new treatments. The author and publisher expressly disclaim responsibility for any adverse effects arising from the use or application of the information contained in this blog


Barrett, D. W., & Gonzalez-Lima, F. (2013). Transcranial infrared laser stimulation produces beneficial cognitive and emotional effects in humans. Neuroscience, 230, 13–23.

Blanco, N. J., Maddox, W. T., & Gonzalez-Lima, F. (2015). Improving executive function using transcranial infrared laser stimulation. Journal of Neuropsychology, 11(1), 14-25.

Cassano P, Petrie SR, Hamblin MR, Henderson TA, Iosifescu DV. Review of transcranial photobiomodulation for major depressive disorder: targeting brain metabolism, inflammation, oxidative stress, and neurogenesis. Neurophotonics. 2023;10(1):010901.

Disner, S. G., Beevers, C. G., & Gonzalez-Lima, F. (2016). Transcranial laser stimulation as neuroenhancement for attention bias modification in adults with elevated depression symptoms. Brain Stimulation, 9(5), 780–787.

Salehpour, F., Mahmoudi, J., Kamari, F., Sadigh-Eteghad, S., Rasta, S. H., & Hamblin, M. R. (2017). Brain Photobiomodulation Therapy: a Narrative Review. Molecular Neurobiology, 55(8), 6601–6636.


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