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Key Mechanisms of Red and NIR Light for better Cellular Energy and Health

Red & NIR Light interacting with Mitochondria

Article at a Glance: 

  • Red and Near Infrared (NIR) are considered “bioactive” wavelengths of light.
  • The human body is biologically designed to need these types of light, as they have profound effects on cellular and hormonal health.
  • Researchers have found that red and NIR can affect numerous different physiological and biochemical mechanisms; cellular energy production and hormesis are arguably the most important to call out.
  • By getting appropriate doses of red and NIR light, you can help your body recover and rejuvenate more effectively.

Why are Red and NIR Light So Essential?

Red and NIR wavelengths of light are “bioactive”, meaning that they affect how our cells function. Just as our bodies need nutrients from food in order to survive, natural sunlight is an essential nutrient that enables our cells to function well.  Red and NIR are especially unique because they have a deeper penetration level than other wavelengths of light. They can reach deep into your muscle tissue and even all the way down to your bones. This can help stimulate a long list of positive health benefits, including but not limited to better blood circulation, faster muscle recovery, hormone regulation, and radiant skin. In other words, targeting your cells with red and NIR light can help you improve your health from the inside out.

Note that when you don’t get enough of the right light “nutrients”, you experience mal-illumination (like malnutrition when your diet is lacking key nutrients). Mal-illumination directly impacts circadian rhythms that control your appetite, energy, mood, sleep, libido, and other body-mind functions. (1) Circadian rhythm disruption can subsequently lead to other adverse health conditions too:

  • fatigue
  • weight gain
  • depression and anxiety
  • sleep disorders
  • mood disorders
  • diabetes
  • (and more)

What are the Key Mechanisms that Red and NIR Light Affect?

There are now over 3,000 peer-reviewed scientific studies that illustrate the powerful health and antiaging benefits of red and NIR light. (2) Science shows that these wavelengths alter numerous biological pathways — a series of actions among molecules that interact with chemical signals and trigger changes in a cell. (3) With that said, there are two key mechanisms that are arguably the most important to highlight: cellular energy production and hormesis.

Cellular energy production diagram

Stimulating Cellular Energy Production 

When red and NIR wavelengths penetrate your cells, the light activates a special photoreceptor in your mitochondria called Cytochrome c oxidase. This photoreceptor is part of the respiratory chain that is responsible for producing ATP (cellular energy). When red and near-infrared light photons hit the photo acceptor cytochrome c oxidase, it helps the mitochondria use oxygen more efficiently to produce ATP. This is important because mitochondria are critical players in health, disease prevention, and longevity. Helping your mitochondria create more energy can help keep your cells, organs, and body healthy and performing better.

Cellular Hormesis Diagram


The second key mechanism for how red and NIR light alters biological pathways is hormesis. This refers to creating temporary metabolic stress (and increasing reactive oxygen species, a.k.a. free radicals). During hormesis, your mitochondria get shocked in a way that causes them to send signals back to the nucleus of the cell (which contains your DNA). The nucleus in your cells then uses these signals to determine what genes should be expressed. This “retrograde signaling” prompts the body to adapt with things like improved cardiovascular efficiency, better blood delivery to the muscles, and more efficient mitochondria.



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