Putting the Brakes on Heart Disease

A new study suggests light therapy could be effective in prolonging heart health and longevity.

xray of cardiovascular system.

Heart disease is a killer. It affects almost 20% of Americans older than 65 and is the leading cause of death in the United States. But there is hope: Results of a new study indicate that a form of light therapy called photobiomodulation (PBM) could potentially stop heart disease in its tracks.

Impressive results

The experiment exposed middle-aged mice to a low dose of near-infrared light from an overhead LED light source five days a week, two minutes a day, for eight months. According to co-investigator Praveen Arany, associate professor of oral biology at the University at Buffalo and an expert in PBM, “The idea was to see if intervention in middle age could enable people to avoid further age-related heart deterioration.”

The results were significant: improved heart function, a reduction in the thickness of the cardiac wall, and better gait symmetry, suggesting an improvement in neuromuscular coordination. Most remarkably, in a group of test subjects with severe heart disease, the therapy stopped progression of the disease. Their survival rate was 100%, compared to the usual survival rate of 43%.

examining dental mold under light.

How it works

The study showed a correlation between PBM and the production of a substance called transforming growth factor beta (TGF-b), suggesting that PBM triggers its activation. The substance plays an important role in human health and disease, especially in age-related diseases. According to Arany, who first got interested in PBM as a means to promote healing in wounds after tooth extraction, low-power laser treatments are able to activate latent TGF-beta 1 (one of three different proteins included in the TGF-b family), driving tissue resilience, stem cell regeneration and immunomodulation.

Arany noted that PBM must be administered within appropriate parameters to be effective and safe. It is critical to use specific light wavelengths, intensity and length of exposure. Certain kinds of light, such as ultraviolet light and light produced by lasers, can be harmful. Other lights, while harmless, may not be effective.

This study showed that brief, daily long-term exposure to a low-dose, near-infrared light in a non-thermal manner, with a carefully adjusted dose, could benefit heart health and longevity. The next step, Arany said, is controlled human clinical trials.

light emanting from heart illustration.