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diabetes in the news

Seeing the Light: Red Light Therapy Reduces Blood Glucose Levels

by, IDS Intern, Krystal Bosenbark, MPH, MS

In a recent study published in the Journal of Biophotonics in February 2024, researchers found that using red light therapy on healthy adults successfully reduced their blood sugar by nearly 30%.

Mitochondria, known as “the powerhouses of the cell” are components of cells that produce much of the chemical energy, or ATP, needed to power cellular reactions. Red light, specifically light with a wavelength of 670 nanometers, has been shown to increase mitochondrial production of ATP. Because glucose is needed to generate ATP, increased ATP production would in turn require greater glucose consumption. Investigators theorized that this greater demand for glucose would impact blood glucose levels.

red light therapy

To examine this theory, researchers recruited 30 participants from the United Kingdom. Half of the participants were randomized to the red light therapy group, while the other half was assigned to the placebo group. During a 7-day period, both the therapy and placebo groups were given fasting oral glucose tolerance tests (OGTT). These tests help to determine how well the body processes a large amount of glucose and are typically used to help diagnose diabetes. After fasting for at least 10 hours, participants had a baseline finger-stick blood test, and then drank a liquid containing 75g of glucose.

Afterward, their blood glucose levels were tested every 15 minutes for 2 hours. After a period of 7 days, all participants underwent a second OGTT, but 45 minutes before the test, the therapy group had red light applied to the bare skin on their upper backs for 15 minutes, while the placebo group did not have their light turned on.

Analyses compared the control against the therapy results and the therapy group against the placebo group results. After comparing the baseline and glucose tolerance tests, findings showed that the red light therapy group experienced over a 7% drop in total glucose over the 2-hour test period.

This group also had an almost a 30% decrease in blood glucose levels averaged over the testing period when compared to the placebo group.  Additionally, results showed that participants receiving the red light therapy had a 7.5% smaller spike in blood glucose compared to their baseline spike, and about a 12% lower blood glucose spike when compared to the placebo group.

Although this study used red light to examine its effect on blood glucose levels, it is hardly the only application for light on the skin:

  • Blue light therapy can be used to treat skin conditions
  • Ultraviolet light is commonly used to disinfect, sanitize, and kill microorganisms
  • Light therapy using a high-intensity light box can be used for seasonal effectiveness disorder and depression

It is important to note that while this study was conducted on participants who had no metabolic conditions and were otherwise considered healthy, it could have larger implications for the diabetes community. Future studies are certainly needed to expand on this research, and to determine if this type of light therapy could be an effective part of diabetes management.

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