Red Light Therapy for Lupus: Reducing Inflammation and Managing Symptoms
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Red Light Therapy for Lupus: Reducing Inflammation and Managing Symptoms
Create on 2023-12-19
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What is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus?

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), often called lupus, is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes swelling (inflammation) and pain throughout the body. It's an autoimmune disease in which your body's immune system starts fighting itself. The immune system is supposed to fight a possible threat to the body – such as infection – but in this case, it attacks healthy tissue.

Patients with lupus may experience joint pain, rashes, skin irritations, and problems with the internal organs (brain, lungs, kidneys, and heart). Many of the symptoms may come and go in waves (flare-ups). Sometimes, lupus symptoms may be mild or subtle (meaning they are in remission). Other times, patients may experience severe symptoms that severely affect their daily lives.

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus disease

Symptoms of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Common symptoms include chest pain when taking deep breaths, fatigue, fever with no other cause, general malaise, restlessness, or malaise, hair loss, weight loss, mouth sores, sensitivity to the sun, and rash - about half of people with symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus develop a "butterfly" rash. The rash appears mainly on the cheeks and bridge of the nose and can be widespread. Other signs and symptoms depend on the damaged organs of the body.

    • Brain and CNS – headaches, weakness, numbness, tingling, epilepsy, vision problems, memory and personality disorders.
    • Digestive tract – stubborn nausea, vomiting, or abdominal pain.
    • Heart – valve problems, inflammation of the heart muscle or lining of the heart (pericardium).
    • Lungs – pleural effusion, dyspnea, coughing up blood
    • Skin – canker sores, ulcers, discoid lupus
    • Kidneys – renal insufficiency, unexplained proteinuria, hematuria
    • Circulation – clots in veins or arteries, constriction of blood vessels due to cold (Raynaud's phenomenon)
    • Blood abnormalities – including anemia, low white blood cells, or platelet counts

What Causes Lupus?

The cause of lupus is unknown. Researchers are still trying to learn more about why lupus occurs. Although the exact cause is unknown, some factors may influence the situation. Possible factors that can cause lupus include:

  1. Hormonal changes: Women are more likely to suffer from lupus than men, and part of the reason may be due to hormones such as estrogen. Women often develop lupus when estrogen levels are high during their reproductive years (15 to 44 years).
  2. Environmental factors: Different aspects of the environment can also increase the risk of lupus. Factors such as the amount of sunlight you're exposed to, the medications you take, the virus contact, and even stress can all contribute to lupus. A history of smoking may also be a possible cause of lupus.
  3. Family history: Lupus may have genetic factors. If you have a family member with lupus, you are at increased risk of developing the disease.

Red Light Therapy for SLE Management

There is currently no cure for lupus. The drugs commonly used in clinical treatment for systemic lupus erythematosus mainly include glucocorticoids, immunosuppressants, antimalarial drugs, and biological agents. However, these drugs are often accompanied by adverse reactions, such as accelerating cardiovascular and cerebrovascular lesions and leading to infection. Red light therapy focuses on managing lupus symptoms and limiting the damage the disease can do to your body. Ongoing research has shown red light therapy has promising results in different medical and dermatological conditions.

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Red light therapy comprises visible light, concentrated red, and near-infrared rays with a 660–850 nm wavelength. It is a cold light source and accounts for 42% of natural sunlight.

Red light baths use natural light to allow cells to produce more energy. Our cells need natural light to power their functions, just as they need nutrients from water and food. When healthy, natural red light irradiates the body, it stimulates mitochondria (the power source of cells), which can increase cell metabolism and increase glycogen content, protein synthesis, and adenosine triphosphate (ATP). As a result, it boosts cell synthesis, helps the body fuel itself, regenerates and heals faster, and supports organ function.

In addition to improving overall body health, red light therapy can help combat multiple SLE symptoms, from joint pains to skin rashes, in several ways.

Boosts Autoimmunity

Autoimmunity is a fundamental aspect of SLE. Deposing immune complexes (antigen-antibody complexes) in tissues can lead to a decline in autoimmunity and increase inflammation and organ damage. Therefore, timely clearance of immune complexes is one of the important mechanisms to avoid SLE. Related studies have found that red light can enhance the phagocytic ability of phagocytes (mainly neutrophils, monocytes, and a small number of macrophages). Red light irradiation can significantly increase the activity of immune cells, reduce SLE-associated inflammatory markers, limit flares, and support organ function.

Reduces SLE Induced Skin Damage

Skin damages in SLE papules, acne discoid butterfly rashes, etc., are common. Propionibacterium acnes is suspected to be an important cause of acne. During the growth of PA, porphyrins (mainly coproporphyrin III and protoporphyrin IX) are secreted. These substances can significantly absorb red light. Therefore, irradiating red light can act on targeted porphyrin by triggering a strong photochemical reaction to form reactive oxygen species (ROS), directly killing Propionibacterium Acnes. A study conducted on a resistant discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE) patient has shown that "red and near-infrared light irradiation reduced inflammatory lesions, itching, and erythema."

Pain Reliever

Since pain is often caused by chronic inflammatory conditions, red light therapy can reduce inflammation and improve body healing speed. The anti-inflammatory properties of red light therapy promote cellular energy and increase collagen production, which can help minimize systemic pain and aid in the recovery of diseases. Studies have shown that a few sessions of red light therapy increase the range of motion in joints affected by rheumatoid arthritis and lower pain significantly.


With the progress of research, the clinical effect of red light therapy for systemic lupus erythematosus has begun to be gradually significant, and it has also emerged in the treatment of other autoimmune diseases. Hopefully, shortly, more lupus erythematosus patients will be able to benefit from red light therapy to enhance their quality of life. Red light's supportive role in lupus deserves further clinical investigation.

References and Citations:

[1] Moura Filho JP, Peixoto RL, Martins LG, Melo SD, Carvalho LL, Pereira AK, Freire EA. Lupus erythematosus: considerations about clinical, cutaneous and therapeutic aspects. A Bras Dermatol. 2014 Jan-Feb;89(1):118-25. doi: 10.1590/abd1806-4841.20142146. PMID: 24626656; PMCID: PMC3938362.

[2] Hossein-Khanazer N, Kazem Arki M, Keramatnia L, Rezaei Tavirani M. Low-Level Laser Therapy in the Treatment of Autoimmune Thyroiditis. J Lasers Med Sci. 2022 Aug 24;13:e34. doi: 10.34172/jlms.2022.34. PMID: 36743139; PMCID: PMC9841386.

[3] Kazemikhoo, Nooshafarin, and Parvin Mansouri. "Successful Treatment of Resistant Discoid Lupus Erythematous (DLE) with Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT): A Case Report." Journal of Skin and Stem Cell, vol. 3, no. 1, 29 Dec. 2015, Accessed 2 Dec. 2019.

[4] Benli M, Huck O, Özcan M. Effect of low-level gallium aluminum arsenide laser therapy on the chewing performance and pain perception of patients with SLE:. Cranio. 2021 Aug 29:1-10. doi: 10.1080/08869634.2021.1971888. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34455912.

[5] Wickenheisser VA, Zywot EM, Rabjohns EM, Lee HH, Lawrence DS, Tarrant TK. Laser Light Therapy in Inflammatory, Musculoskeletal, and Autoimmune Disease. Curr Allergy Asthma Rep. 2019 Jul 2;19(8):37. doi: 10.1007/s11882-019-0869-z. PMID: 31267251; PMCID: PMC7357616.

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