We don’t often give much thought to our kidneys until something goes wrong. But when your doctor tells you your blood work shows kidney trouble, you suddenly realize what a significant role these organs play in your everyday life.
We know that red light therapy can help with many skin conditions, such as acne and eczema, but what about deeper issues? Below, we’ll look at some of the current science on red light therapy for kidneys.
What Is Red Light Therapy?
Light therapy is a noninvasive, nonsurgical treatment that isolates wavelengths of light from the light spectrum and shines them onto the body to produce specific effects. Low-level lasers and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are two common methods of delivering light therapy.
Red light therapy isolates light wavelengths from the red and/or near-infrared (NIR) part of the light spectrum. These wavelengths are beneficial in treating many skin conditions, but they also penetrate more deeply into the body than other colors of light.
Because of this, red light therapy may also have applications for treating problems below the skin’s surface, like digestive tract disorders such as Crohn’s disease and celiac disease, along with circulatory disorders and more.
What Are the Kidneys?
The kidneys are a pair of organs that sit under the lower ribs. Most healthy people have two functioning kidneys, one on either side of the spine.
The kidneys are part of the urinary system, filtering the blood, removing excess water, and eliminating waste and toxins through urine. Urine flows from the kidneys through small tubes called ureters into the bladder, then through another narrow tube called the urethra, and then out of the body through urination.
The kidneys also produce hormones that assist in red blood cell production and help with the absorption of calcium.
When the kidneys function less than optimally, toxic materials build up in the body, which is life threatening. Uncontrolled blood pressure, anemia, and even bone damage are just a few of the possible results of the kidneys not functioning properly.
What the Science Says About Red Light Therapy for Kidneys
A variety of diseases and conditions can affect the kidneys, including these common ones:
- Urinary tract infections — Bacteria enters the urethra and climbs its way up the urinary tract. If it remains long enough, the infection can reach the bladder and eventually the kidneys.
- Kidney stones — Minerals in the blood crystalize to form small stone-like solids in the kidneys. These stones can be eliminated in the urine or removed through medical procedures.
- Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) — PKD is a hereditary condition that causes small sacs of fluid (cysts) to develop in the kidneys. These cysts can cause the kidneys to malfunction and eventually fail.
- Chronic kidney disease (CKD) — Chronic kidney disease is an incurable condition in which damaged kidneys can no longer filter the blood properly. As CKD progresses, patients require renal dialysis, during which a machine filters their blood for them. Diabetes and chronic high blood pressure are the most common causes of CKD.
Symptoms of Kidney Disease
Symptoms that indicate a problem with your kidneys vary depending on your medical history and the exact medical issue. Here are a few signs that you may need to see a doctor:
- Less energy than normal.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Frequent urination.
- Blood in the urine.
- Swelling in the feet.
- Frothy urine, full of bubbles.
- Muscle cramps.
How Can Light Therapy Help the Kidneys?
Thus far, most studies on red light therapy for kidneys have been performed in animals. However, they show promise for the healing and inflammation-reducing properties of red light therapy for kidneys.
A number of studies have examined light therapy for chronic kidney disease in rats. For example, one 2012 study found that rats with chronic kidney disease responded well to low-level laser therapy with near-infrared (NIR) light. They experienced reduced inflammation and scarring in the kidneys, both of which contribute to loss of kidney function.
Another 2010 study in rats demonstrated the benefits of red light therapy for kidneys suffering from the effects of diabetic hyperglycemia. Light therapy in this case improved kidney function and antioxidant defense capabilities.
A 2016 study showed the effectiveness of red light therapy for reducing kidney damage caused by blood flow that stops and then starts again (also called ischemia and reperfusion).
A 2020 review of two decades’ worth of research on light therapy for kidney disease concluded that LLLT can effectively reduce inflammation, scarring, and oxidative stress associated with kidney disease.
Some veterinarians also report good success using light therapy to treat chronic kidney disease in small animals like dogs and cats.
Another type of research into red light therapy for kidney disease focuses on arteriovenous fistula (AVF) treatment. In patients with chronic kidney disease, surgeons can create an arteriovenous fistula — a connection between an artery and a vein — in order to facilitate renal dialysis.
In these cases, light therapy isn’t used directly on the kidneys but on the AVF. This therapy still affects kidney health, however, because AVFs are the best access points for dialysis. If they don’t mature properly, they aren’t useful; if they malfunction, they can cause serious complications, including death.
One 2013 study followed 122 patients with advanced chronic kidney disease with newly created AVFs. Patients were randomly assigned to receive either 40 minutes of infrared (IR) light therapy three times per week for a year or no light therapy.
After three months of therapy, the treatment group had better AVF maturation at 90% compared to 76% in the control group. They also experienced AVF malfunction only about 12% of the time, less than half the rate of the control group’s 29%.
Research Is Ongoing
Research into the benefits of light therapy, including red light therapy, for kidney disease is ongoing. More studies will likely become available in the future.
In the meantime, if you suffer from kidney disease and are curious about light therapy, speak with your nephrologist. You should never discontinue any medications or treatments you’re currently undergoing in favor of light therapy. If you’d like to incorporate light therapy into your treatment plan, be sure to discuss this with your physician.