Let There Be Light

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Originally published on www.orthomolecular.org by Dr. Damien Downing, MBBS, MRSB


Late last year colleagues in the Orthomolecular News Service published a brilliant paper called Quantum Orthomolecular Medicine: The Bio-Orthophotonic Concept of Healing Energy [1]. This brought together a number of insights that have now become possible into how we can think about using light energy for healing. There is no doubt that this is the medicine of the future, but you don't have to wait for the future to use it; I am here to tell you what you can do. That was the theory, here's the practice.


Let's start with the basics; all life on Earth owes its existence to energy from the Sun. That all comes down to this simple image; light hitting an electron can shift it to a new orbit around the nucleus of its atom.

That is the basis of all chemical reactions and therefore of life itself. But it has to be light of a specific wavelength to effect the shift, because the wavelength determines the energy. That is what the quantum means in quantum physics or quantum mechanics. You can think of it as resonance; the right amount of energy will make the electron move, just as the right note can shatter a wine glass or make a loudspeaker vibrate; too much or too little and it doesn't work.

We are dealing here, with the most basic elements of the universe, the point where Einstein's famous equation E = Mc2 happens - where light can be either a wave or a particle, a photon. E = mc2 means Energy equals Mass times the speed of light, squared. The speed of light is, we think, the fastest thing possible in the universe, so in a small amount of mass, there is an awful lot of energy. That's why nuclear reactors and nuclear bombs work, after all.

But we can use this energy for life and health - in fact, we are doing it all the time. When you see something, that's because light is hitting the receptors in your retina, shifting an electron and setting off a chain reaction, the signal along your optic nerve to the brain. When a cell in your body produces energy in its mitochondria, that's all about shifting electrons too, and it turns out that we can use photons to do that even better. And that can heal.

I wrote a book about this way back - Daylight Robbery [2] was published in 1988, and yes, there is a sequel coming soon. Because there is so much more to tell now. A big reason for that is the development of lasers, which were just starting to be practical in the 1980s, and have come a long way now. For a long time, we thought they were the only way to do "light therapy", but then it turned out that you can do much of the same with LED lights. So what used to be called LLLT (low level laser therapy) is now called PBM (photo bio modulation). Every year there are several hundred scientific papers published about this.

Now you may have heard about red light therapy, in particular, and there are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that the first laser ever manufactured was called a Ruby laser after the colour light that it produced [3]. Of course, since then any number of different light wavelength lasers have become available, and they do have different uses.

The second reason is that light at the red end of the spectrum penetrates deepest of all visible light, so in a lot of cases that makes it easier to deliver to the treatment target - the organ or tissue that needs it. In fact, though, you get even better delivery when you go off the visual scale and into the infrared. This makes sense in real life, because around 50% of the energy hitting the earth's surface from the sun is in the infrared wave-band - clearly that is how we were designed. There are a lot of creatures that are much more dependent on the Sun than we are; exothermic animals, such as reptiles (snakes, lizards, crocodiles) don't produce their own body heat, they have to get it from the Sun, which is why the first thing they do in the morning if they can is sit on a rock and warm up in the Sun. But don't imagine that we humans are somehow independent of the universe, of the whole energy system that built us. What's the purpose of a dungeon? To keep you away from the light, away from life itself.

Other wavelengths, or colours of light have different beneficial properties; ultraviolet is necessary for manufacturing vitamin D in the skin, different colours have different affects on mood, mental functioning, the immune system, healing, and so on. The other thing that lasers made easier was to isolate specific wavelengths of light and compare their effects to other wavelengths.

We can get real energy from light; if everything is working well we won't really notice it, but if something is wrong and light can fix it, you really will notice. We went for dinner to a friend's house, she's known for her excellent cooking, but she was suffering from a bad back, and the cooking made it so much worse that she said she might have to go lie down and let us eat without her. I happened to have with me what we used to call the laser watch - it's neither a laser nor a watch, but what it does is shine light into the veins in the wrist, where the blood can carry the energy round the whole body. I put it on her wrist, without explaining, or telling her what to expect, and within a minute her back pain was significantly better. She kept it on for 30 minutes, then we all had dinner together, and the improvement lasted about 24 hours

When you put light energy into cells, you get a free boost to cell energy, and that simply enables the cell to do whatever it does that bit better. Before we get into the practicalities, here is a list of problems that can be benefited by light therapy of one kind or another.

Evidence alert

Please bear in mind that only in some cases is the evidence rock-solid; in others, there may just be one or a few cases reported, and in a few, it's just my personal experience, the medical records for which have long been destroyed. But it's early days yet - it's only in this century that the publication rate started to climb. In 1999 there were 42 published papers, in 2019 536.

Here's a list which is already out of date:


Here is a list of the sources of potentially therapeutic light energy, and how you can take advantage of them.

Source: Sunlight

The real thing

Make the most of what you have

During the first Covid lockdown here in the UK, it was beautiful sunny weather. Tragically, the police actively stopped people from sunbathing in the park, almost certainly the best thing they could be doing. Nearly everyone in the UK is vitamin D deficient nearly all the time, and although that is not the only important thing you get from sunlight, it's a useful marker.

But on a cold February day like today, if it's sunny the sunshine will hit our balcony from about 11 am onwards. Stand outside in the shade and you'll be cold; take one step into the direct sunshine and you can feel the warmth on your skin. That's the infrared component of sunlight. It's going to be another couple of months until there's enough UV in sunshine to generate vitamin D, but you can still get enough infrared to boost your cell energy production. Nude winter sunbathing is not compulsory, but the amount of benefit you get from the sun is proportional to length of exposure x skin area exposed.

Just getting outdoors in the daytime is good for you in so many ways, especially if you exercise outdoors. Florence Nightingale figured out during the Crimean war that wounded soldiers treated outdoors as much as possible just got better quicker. We still don't really know what all the factors are that make that up, but light is certainly one.

A brilliant neurologist in Texas, Dr. Stasha Gominak, worked out that a good level of vitamin D is necessary for healthy, healing sleep - and then demonstrated that supplementing vitamin D works, provided you track the blood level till it is right [38]. She makes the point, which many have made before, that the invention of indoor lighting has made us less dependent on sunlight, and therefore vitamin D deficient. But we didn't realise just how badly deficient in vitamin D we (nearly all) are until she figured it out in real life. That means we are deficient in all the other beneficial effects of light energy too.

Go where there is more

If you have a bolt-hole in the Caribbean, or a superyacht moored off the Costa Smeralda, make the most of it. Failing that, you might want to act like the hoteliers do and take a beach holiday in January/February.

Years ago, I used to see a lot of couples who were struggling to conceive. If the female partner had a problem of menstrual irregularity I would recommend a beach holiday with daily sun exposure as the first treatment. Often, they would return with a better menstrual cycle, and succeeded in getting pregnant soon after. Of course, there will be other factors in play there, both physical and psychological, but if it works, who cares? It's a nicer option than going onto heavy duty fertility boosting drugs.

Look up

Architects will tell you that most natural light comes downwards, from the sky, so you get more light through a high window than one on your eye level. On YouTube, you can easily find biohacker and neuroscientist Andrew Huberman describing his morning routine. What he recommends is that you get outdoors or look out an open window and generally look up for a few minutes - five minutes on a bright, clear day, longer if the weather is bad. Obviously, you don't look directly at the sun, but you don't need to do that to get daylight hitting non-visual receptors in the eye and sending a wake up message to the brain. Huberman says that you can also do this throughout the day to get a little boost to alertness, if you've been spending too long at the computer, for instance.

You can also get wearable lights, in a cap or a visor, or a thing that rests on top of your glasses, and shines into your eyes, but is not particularly visible because it doesn't need to be. These have been recommended for problems such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and they do work. We used to think that it needed to be something near to full spectrum daylight, but it turns out that it's the infrared again having the beneficial effect. These days, there are versions that connect to an app on your smart phone, and I can attest that these are good for preventing jetlag and long haul flights.

Have lunch outdoors

Half an hour in the park with a salad or sandwich in the middle of the day will get you enough light energy to boost your alertness, energy and mood. If you can expose some skin too, there may be enough to boost your vitamin D a bit.

Get a diurnal cycle

Ever since moving indoors and inventing electricity we spend a lot of time in light of very low intensity, but our eyes are so good at adapting to different levels of light that we don't notice that the light in the living room is 1,000 times weaker than the bright sunlight outside. But our brain, our hormones and our whole body does notice - miss the light and we lose our rhythm.

Bright light in the morning, and especially light at the blue, more energetic end of the spectrum, energises us for daytime activity. Sympathetic, fight or flight nerves switch on, and a burst of the steroid hormone cortisol turns off the healing process. Sleep specialists tell me that when you lose your normal diurnal, wake/sleep cycle, the important thing is to get the waking-up time established, not the going-to-sleep time.

Computer manufacturers now acknowledge that blue light in the evening can disrupt that cycle and interfere with sleep. But gentler, warmer light at the red end of the spectrum encourages rest and relaxation - can you or your cat not look, fascinated, at a blazing log fire? Eventually the darkness triggers release of melatonin which enables sleep. The parasympathetic rest-and-digest system takes over and your brain's glymphatic system goes into detox and repair mode. Until the next morning's cortisol burst - and now you're in sync with the rhythm of the universe.

Down side?

We have been programmed into thinking that sunlight is dangerous, but it only is if you are dumb about handling it. Little and often is the rule - stay out in the sun too long and you will get burnt, which serves no purpose at all. How long is enough and too much depends on your skin tone, and you can get meters to tell you when you have had enough and should get out of the sun. Good nutrition certainly helps your body to respond well to the sun - to tan and not to burn for instance. That's a story for another day.

Source: Your own body

If you have ever looked through a night-vision scope or an infrared camera, you know that we emit infrared all the time.The display was probably in what is called False Colour, so the different colours tell you about how much infrared the person is emitting, not what colour or wavelength of anything.

Use an emergency blanket

Some sports clothing contains reflective materials that bounce the infrared rays that your body produces back at you. But you can do that with a $5 metallic emergency blanket (aka space blanket) like you get at the end of a marathon. Another smart researcher called Peter Veto (he describes himself as a psychophysicist) figured this one out by experimenting on himself. His verdict is; "It helps with recovery and increases comfort in a strange way" and that seems to be about right, I have found [39]. If the metal is in contact with your skin though, it will conduct the heat away from you which rather cancels out the infrared it is reflecting back to you - so wear light clothing or a light blanket next to the skin, and the space blanket outside that.

You can buy infrared patches that do the same thing.

Veto makes the insightful point (I said he was smart) that if all this reflecting of infrared did was to preserve heat, then any warm clothing would be as good, but it isn't. So what's going on? Are the biophotons that we send out, and that a space blanket reflects back at us, just energy or are they information? See Biophotons below, or most of the previous OMNS release, for more on this.

Snuggle up for biophotons

Veto also makes the point that we will get infrared warmth from being close to others, but again is it just energy or is it information? Probably it's both. We have known for a century that all living cells produce ultra-weak photon emissions - tiny doses of light that can be picked up by neighbouring cells. We call them biophotons. They can affect growth and development, but who knows what else? The first problem is that it still needs big hefty equipment to detect and measure biophotons, and the second is that we don't speak the language - at the moment we can only guess what they are saying. But we still can, and should, enjoy human contact.

Source: Full Spectrum lights

Use FSL for work and living indoors

Full-spectrum light (FSL) is light that contains all the wavelengths that you will get from natural sunlight. It is reasonable to assume that this is our natural daytime environment, or as close to it as we can get without living in a tent.

FSL was invented (the version that is driven by electricity, that is - the real thing was always there) by John Ott, who was a banker with a fascination with photography, and made some time-lapse films of plants ripening for Walt Disney. He found out that pumpkins, apples and all sorts of plants need FSL to develop properly. So do most animals, from fish to mammals. Laboratory rabbits reared under artificial light are notoriously aggressive (I am told - how would I know?), especially the males, who are capable of eating their babies. Reared under daylight they lose the aggression, Dr Ott found, and even help to care for their litter of offspring [40,41].

Years ago I had a share of a business making full-spectrum lighting, and I installed it in my clinic and office, and tried using it for sick people. It never became a successful business (ahead of our time again!) but we had success of a different kind. One thing we found was a very low sickness rate among the staff - nobody seemed to go off with colds and coughs. (A couple of offices that had it installed complained that the room became too warm; back then we saw this as a problem, but now I'm not so sure. Like Veto says about the space blanket, perhaps it just lowered their temperature threshold for feeling cold.

We had a treatment unit with a couch completely surrounded by full-spectrum lights. We treated one gentleman with bad intermittent claudication - furring up of the arteries to muscles particularly in the legs in which the pain of lack of oxygen makes you stop after a short distance; next time you see an older gentleman just stood on the sidewalk for no apparent reason, that's what he's got. He'll be off again shortly to do another 20 yards. But after 30 minutes under the lights our gentleman got up and walked briskly round the block!

There's still a company called OttLite after John Ott, producing full spectrum lights, for health (sorry, wellness) and to reduce eyestrain and improve clarity of vision. A quick search will tell you there are lots more businesses in the market, and lots of dispute about who has the best lights. I'm not in a position to judge that, but as someone with 30 years of experience using FSL I can tell you that it's worth looking at (sorry, lousy joke).

Source: Photobiomodulation with Lasers and LEDs

Now we are getting onto the clinical, don't-try-this-at-home stuff. Photo- (light) bio- (life) modulation (modifying) is a long word but an accurate description of the process. Shine a light on cells and alter how they behave. PBM is a medical intervention that has sort of been available for 40 years, but only really useful and getting researched for the last 20. There is still a lot to learn.

How do we administer it?

These are the routes that I am aware of (but there's no reason for treatment to be limited to just one of these):

  • Intravenous, straight into the vein, like a drip/infusion
  • Transdermal, directing light at blood in the wrist veins
  • Transdermal, directing light at a muscle, ligament, nerve, gland or organ
  • Transdermal, into blood in the capillaries of your front or back (you can do this at home)
  • Transcranial, using near infrared light which can penetrate the skull bones into the brain
  • Interstitial, by a needle into the soft tissues
  • Intranasal and intra-auricular, shining light on the capillary vessels in the mucus membranes
  • Intra-articular (but with care, skill and sterility)
  • Oral, antimicrobial PhotoDynamic Therapy shown to be effective against, so far, Covid and malaria

Now that we are getting the research in, it's mind-boggling what PBM can do. There is scientific evidence that it can help almost every symptom or complaint you could think of, and some you never would. It's true that nobody has shown it to help schizophrenia, for instance, but that may just be because nobody has tried yet (and as OMNS will attest, niacin does a pretty good job of that already).

Some medical things that we could do already it does better, and with less adverse effects:

There is a procedure called stellate ganglion block, in which a local anaesthetic is injected into a bunch of nerves in the neck, to stop symptoms caused by too much adrenaline - persistent racing heart rate is one. We can now achieve the same effect by shining a laser through the skin onto the ganglion - by healing the nerves rather than blocking them.

A 2023 study showed that Hashimoto's thyroiditis, in which an autoimmune disease makes the thyroid underactive, can be treated by shining a laser through the skin onto the thyroid gland. After a few weeks of this, the patients stopped all their thyroid hormone supplements, and about one third of them never restarted. The auto antibodies, a measure of the autoimmune inflammation, went down considerably and these benefits lasted for at least nine months.

Safety alert

There isn't one. The only way to do real harm is by giving way too much, and the only way that is relevant to clinical use is that black skin absorbs more of the light and reflects less, so when using PBM onto/through the skin it can make a burn mark on black skin, but not, in my experience so far, a lasting one. It fades in a few days.


We have all become deracinated, torn from our natural roots as creatures of light and energy. But it's still there, and there are many ways of taking advantage of it, some of them free. None of them are dangerous unless you behave stupidly. But phobia of sunlight, for instance, sells lots of products. We can and must free ourselves of that.


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