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Near Infrared Light Therapy and Sauna for Lyme

Lately, several people have asked me what kind of light therapy and sauna treatments are best for Lyme disease and the co-infections that often go along with it. While I love getting any questions or comments, this one is close to home for me, since I have dealt with Lyme and the co-infections WA1 babesia, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and more for years. So here I’m happy to explain my opinions about what kind of light therapy is best for Lyme*.

(Note: If you'd like to read about LLLT, red light therapy and near infrared saunas and how they can be used for various Lyme symptoms, see Part 1 and Part 2 of my LLLT Suggestions for Lyme Disease posts.)

 

First, you should know that I am not a doctor. What I say here should not be taken as medical advice.

What follows is my own personal opinion based on my journey with Lyme. If you have any experience with Lyme, you know that the disease varies so much from one person to another that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. I do not advise anyone to try any medical intervention or treatment without the supervision of a qualified physician- even if those treatments worked really well for me.

Got Lyme? Can’t Think? Read This First.

 

When I was at my worst with Lyme, I needed everything to be super easy. The neurological problems it caused made it hard to think. If you are not feeling well, can’t think straight or are too tired to read a bunch of stuff, here are the basics you need to know.  

  1. Use a sauna. Bonus if it’s a near infrared sauna.

  2. The best light therapy for Lyme is near infrared light therapy. Bonus if it comes with heat.

  3. The second-best is red light therapy.

  4. You should consider ultraviolet (UV) light therapy from the sun or tanning lamps/beds for vitamin D production. Don’t overdo it. And don’t use these if you take minocycline, doxycycline or any other medications that make you light-sensitive.

  5. To treat bacterial and fungal infections on the skin’s surface, try blue light therapy.

  6. Read the rest of this article when you feel better. It has more ideas that can help.

 

Saunas: Near Infrared Is Best

When I was first diagnosed, my doctor strongly recommended I use a sauna. I blew it off. What could be worse than roasting in extreme heat? No way was I getting into one of those ovens I’d seen at the gym. Besides, Doc had just given me a huge list of suggested therapies and she may as well have forked over her prescription pad because I’m pretty sure I walked out of there with every script in the place. With all that on my plate, the last thing I had on my mind was some expensive, hard-to-find, sweaty/hot/miserable sauna.

A couple years later, still sick and feeling desperate, I finally gave the sauna at the gym a try. Then I kicked myself for refusing to use it sooner. After only two weeks, my symptoms were easing up. For me the effects after a few weeks of 10-20 minute sessions every other day were:

  • More energy

  • Feeling sick less often

  • Less skin pain from acrodermatitis chronica atrophicans (ACA)

  • Healing of skin problems such as Lyme lesions, seborrheic dermatitis and rosacea

  • My hair started growing back

  • Circulation improved, so I didn’t feel freezing cold all the time.

 

I was ecstatic. To top it off, using the sauna wasn’t unbearable like the 110-degree Oklahoma summers of my youth like I thought it would be. It was actually quite pleasant and relaxing.

I investigated saunas and found there is ample evidence of their health-promoting benefits. To give you an idea, here are some of the ways a sauna can help with Lyme:

  1. Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, is sensitive to heat. Depending on the strain, increasing temperatures make it reproduce more slowly, cease reproducing or die.

  2. One study showed that exposure to heat increased the effectiveness of antibiotics against Lyme bacteria 16-fold

  3. Sauna use increases blood and lymph circulation, which is usually poor in Lyme patients. Poor circulation means immune cells and nutrients can’t reach all the areas they need to and waste products and toxins aren’t removed. Medications don’t reach the sites of infection, either. Since exercise is not always an option for people with Lyme, saunas are a good way to increase circulation without exertion.

  4. Sweating from sauna use can help you excrete toxins through your skin. This includes the toxins borrelia produces, heavy metals and more. The vast surface area of the skin means a good sweat can do some of the work it normally would’ve taken your liver and kidneys 8-24 hours to accomplish.  

  5. If you have (ACA) or lesions from borrelia infecting the skin, sauna use quickly makes the skin’s surface hot enough to become inhospitable to the bacteria. It also brings blood to the skin’s surface to help it heal.

  6. The heat eases joint pain and stiffness.  

  7. Sauna use warms up body temperature, which is sometimes low in those with Lyme disease. I don’t just mean it increases your temperature when you’re in the sauna. For me, my temperature became more regular (in my case, increased) more often.

  8. It causes a mental relaxation effect. This is a plus for anyone, but if you are having anxiety as a result of Lyme, it is especially helpful.  

 

You do not need to use a near infrared sauna to get all these benefits of sauna use. However, using a near infrared sauna can help you get all the benefits of sauna use plus the benefits of near infrared light therapy.

Benefits of Near Infrared Light Therapy

I could go on forever about the benefits of near infrared light therapy. Here are just a few of the benefits that might be helpful to someone suffering from a tick-borne disease:

  1. Increased energy available to the cell, which makes you have more physical and mental energy, heal faster, boosts immunity.

  2. Relieves mild to moderate pain temporarily (usually for several hours).

  3. Repeated use speeds up healing.

  4. Increased collagen production, which is very helpful since Lyme can destroy collagen.

  5. When used on the head in the proper locations, near infrared light can calm anxiety, improve focus and ease depression.

  6. Improves thyroid function if used on the thyroid area.

 

Near infrared light therapy and near infrared saunas don’t have to be expensive. This is important, because even if you are well-off, Lyme is such an expensive condition to treat, you can quickly run out of cash. Not to mention the fact that a lot of the treatments you try don’t end up working for you, but you still had to pay to try them. You can buy good quality near infrared bulbs and a few clamp lamps and instantly have a near infrared sauna that’s just as effective as a high-end model. Just take care to choose the right near infrared bulbs.

 

Red Light Therapy for Lyme

Red light therapy and near infrared are usually found to be about equal in effectiveness if they’re both from LED sources. Near infrared does seem to be slightly more effective in some studies, but it’s a close call.

So when should you choose red light therapy over near infrared? Well, if you are comparing an LED-type red light therapy bulb to an incandescent near infrared option that also puts off heat, the red LED would be better if you do not want the extra warmth. There are also some who don’t like the idea that near infrared light is invisible and prefer red light because it’s visible.

However, many with Lyme could also benefit from a light source that produces heat in addition to light. This is the reason I think heat-producing near infrared bulbs are the best choice.  

 

Light Therapy for Vitamin D Production

I personally believe that a small amount of ultraviolet (UV) light is beneficial to humans. If the UV light is the right type (UV-B), it makes the skin produce vitamin D.

Adequate vitamin D is critical for anyone with an infection. Lyme sufferers lacking in vitamin D are missing one of the body’s most important tools for proper immune functioning. Many Lymies have done genetic tests and found that they have mutations in genes related to vitamin D production and processing. For those with VDR or other vitamin D-related mutations, addressing these issues is an important step in healing the infection.

Natural sunlight is best, but there are circumstances when one might wish to use artificial light instead. For example, in the fall and winter, the further north a person lives, the more likely no amount of sun exposure is going to provide enough UV light for optimal vitamin D production. In these situations, UV-B lamps or tanning beds might be a good solution (depending on the person).

Warning: UV light exposure is not an option for those on doxycycline, minocycline or any other medication that causes sensitivity to light. Doxycycline and minocycline are popular antibiotic prescriptions for tick-borne diseases, so Lymies have to be especially careful.  

Obviously, too much UV light exposure is not good for anyone. We are all aware by now that excess UV light over time can increase your risk of skin cancer. It’s important to be careful with UV light and use it sparingly.

 

Surface Infections, ACA, Morgellons and Blue Light Therapy

For infections on the skin’s surface, blue light therapy can be a great tool.  

Tick-borne disease is associated with increased infections of every sort, and when those infections occur on the surface of the skin, blue light can be used to denature the proteins in the bacteria, which kills it. Blue light is also effective for killing various types of fungal infections, including candida and nail fungus. With the right blue light therapy bulb, this can be done quickly (in as little as a couple minutes) and easily.

And as many of you know, Lyme itself can infect the skin, producing nightmarish, painful lesions, such as:

  • The initial bullseye rash (Erythema-Migrans)  

  • Remnants of the bullseye rash that just don’t ever seem to go away

  • ACA

  • Morgellons lesions.

While blue light therapy alone is not likely to eradicate these problems, it does help reduce the amount of bacteria the body has to fight.

Blue light doesn’t penetrate as deeply as red or infrared light and it doesn’t have same healing and pain relief benefits, so many people use both types. One thing to keep in mind is that you should not overdo it by stacking your different light therapy sessions back-to-back. (Don’t forget that near infrared sauna bathing counts as a light therapy session!) Doing so isn’t going to hurt you, but it may reverse some the benefits you’ve received in that session. If you want to get the maximum effects of both light types, wait a few hours in between using each type. Or just get a light therapy bulb that has both types of light.

Although blue light therapy has fantastic anti-microbial power, it does require some extra caution. Excessive blue light is believed to be harmful to the eyes. You should use eye protection that blocks the majority of blue light from your eyes when using blue light therapy.

And blue light in general is well known to signal the body to wake up. This means using it at night before bed would be a bad idea. I have found that maintaining a normal, regular circadian rhythm and getting sound sleep have been key in my fight against Lyme. Whenever I’ve used blue light therapy, I’ve been sure to do it earlier in the day to make sure it doesn’t keep me awake or disrupt my sleep.

Next up, keep your eyes peeled for more useful info related to the best light therapy for Lyme disease:

*Here I am just going to refer to the whole gaggle of tick-borne diseases as “Lyme” for simplicity’s sake.