Treating the Brain

One of the most exciting discoveries in light and laser science has been proof that light can improve healing of the brain. Even though studies began in 2005 on animals and many have been performed more recently on humans, the FDA has not looked at these treatments sufficiently to warrant FDA clearance. However, the compelling data from this research warrants inclusion in any book on light therapy. I will present some basic protocols for treating the brain based on the latest research. If you are interested in learning more, there are many excellent studies coming out of the Wellman Centers for Photomedicine at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, as well as many studies from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Be careful

Please exercise caution, as this information is taken from the research literature and is not an FDA-cleared indication for using LEDs. We legally cannot treat the brain. However, remember that whenever you treat the head for headaches or muscular head pain (like the temporalis muscle), you are also treating the brain! The same thing occurs when you treat over the spine for back pain. You are, in fact, treating the spinal cord as well!

Benefits have been proven

We are not sure exactly how light therapy improves brain function, but we do know that it has many positive effects that can last for weeks or months after treatment. These long-term changes must be due to a significant improvement in brain physiology and function. Some researchers believe it is due to improved ATP synthesis, increased blood flow, or improved oxygenation, even though these probably do not explain all of the long-term improvements that have been noted with traumatic brain injury, stroke, and Alzheimer’s/dementia.


As mentioned in other parts of this book, we do know that there are some wavelengths that are more effective than others. We know that 660 nm and 810 nm are often considered the most effective wavelengths for many types of light and laser therapy because these wavelengths are powerfully
absorbed. In general, 810 nm produces the most effective penetration and is the most thoroughly studied. Studies show that higher wavelengths produce very deep penetration as well. These longer wavelengths above 1,000 nm can be effective, but because they generate more heat, especially with higher power lasers, they tend to be avoided in brain research.

LED vs. Laser

We are now seeing an increase in the use of LEDs rather than lasers in brain research and for other types of light and laser therapy because they are less expensive and quite effective. This may make them more useful than lasers when treating the brain, unless the laser has a low total output power and power density, to ensure that it is cool and safe. For example, a high-powered, collimated 10,000 mW hot laser has risks when treating the brain that does not occur with a lower power laser or an LED.


Dosage is a controversial subject when treating spine and extremity injuries, but it becomes more complex when treating the brain. In summary, it has been shown that, in the human skull, penetration could reach approximately 1–2 inches (40–50 mm).
Whether you are treating animals or humans, it has also been shown that earlier intervention and repeated treatments are the most effective way to produce long-lasting results. From what we see in the literature, one treatment to an area of old brain trauma will be unlikely to produce any significant benefit.

Here is a typical treatment protocol:

Let’s invent a study that uses a 500 mW LED that is applied to each side of the forehead for 4 minutes. If you have a 3,000 mW device, you would reduce the time proportionally:

  1.  So, 4 minutes (240 seconds) divided by 6 equals 40 seconds. Because a 3,000 mW device is 6 times stronger than a 500 mW device, you would reduce the dose to 1/6 of the dose compared to a lower power light device.
  2. Thus, you could gently paint over each side of the prefrontal cortex for 40 seconds.
  3. Note: Since a 3,000 mW device produces 180 joules per minute and you treat both sides of the forehead for 30 seconds, your total dose would be about 180 joules. However, remember that only a small percentage of those joules reach the brain!

Where Do You Treat?

Most of the studies treating emotional and cognitive function treat the prefrontal cortex. However, a study of Parkinson’s disease applied light to the brain stem, as well as the occipital, parietal, temporal, and frontal lobes, and along the sagittal suture. Treating the sagittal suture, because it is just superior to the sagittal sinus, could be an excellent area of treatment to improve blood and CSF flow. Remember that studies show that light has systemic effects, so you can treat almost anywhere in the body, even the feet, and have a mild effect on the brain!

If you are interested in learning how the researchers decided what areas to treat, just do an Internet search on “Brain Function Map” and you will find lots of resources to help guide your studies.