How PBM Light Therapy Heals Your Cells – The Science Behind the Magic

Photobiomodulation (PBM) is the application of Low Level Laser or LED light to the body at specific wavelengths and frequencies. The light is absorbed at the cellular level to help restore normal cell function, increase cellular energy and enhance the body’s healing processes. The process is similar to photosynthesis in plants.

PBM (also known as red light therapy or LLLT) can relieve pain and inflammation, increase circulation and heal tissue. PBM is successfully being used to treat many conditions including:

  • Sports injuries
  • Arthritis / muscle and joint pain
  • Neurological conditions
  • Oral / dental conditions
  • Skin conditions / wounds and burns.


Mitochondria and ATP    

Our bodies run on energy called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) produced by the mitochondria of each of our cells. ATP is an energy-carrying molecule found in the cells of all living things.

Mitochondria are known as the powerhouses of the cell. They are organelles that take in nutrients from the food we eat, break them down, then combine oxygen to create energy (ATP) for each cell. Along with producing ATP, the mitochondria are also involved in creating calcium homeostasis and promoting cell growth and multiplication.

Mitochondria and the energy they produce (ATP) is essential to life. 

How does PBM Light React with Mitochondria?

Light photons from PBM in the visible red and near infrared range, penetrate tissue and act on a photoreceptor in the mitochondria of your cell called “cytochrome c oxidase”. This is an enzyme that catalyzes the final step in ATP production.

In a healthy cell, cytochrome c oxidase combines oxygen with NADH (a crucial coenzyme in the making of ATP) to make the hydrogen ions that drive ATP production.

When cells are damaged due to illness, stress, injury or aging, the mitochondria start making Nitric Oxide. This competes with oxygen and binds with cytochrome c oxidase stopping the production of ATP. Damaged cells also produce oxidative stress which leads to inflammation and cell death.
(See Blog “Oxidative Stress Explained” for more details)

What Does PBM Light Do?

This is where the magic happens! PBM light from LED and Low Level Lasers break the bond between nitric oxide and cytochrome c oxidase.


  • Nitric oxide (NO) is released into the bloodstream which increases circulation
  • Oxygen is able to combine with NADH so that ATP can be produced
  • Oxidative stress (ROS build up) is displaced
  • ATP is produced at optimal levels again
  • Cells can work to regenerate tissue, fight infection, or perform whatever function they are programmed to do.
Light hitting Mitochondria and reacting with cytochrome c oxidase

Light hitting Mitochondria and reacting with cytochrome c oxidase

Please see the following video from THOR Photomedicine on how PBM (LLLT) works to heal your cells.

The light is absorbed at the cellular level to help restore normal cell function. That is how PBM can relieve inflammation and pain, increase circulation, and heal tissue.

Since it works to heal cells of all types, PBM can be used to treat almost any health condition.



What is ATP?

Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is an energy-carrying molecule found in the cells of all living things. ATP captures chemical energy obtained from the breakdown of food molecules and releases it to fuel other cellular processes. IT IS ESSENTIAL TO LIFE!

What is Cytochrome C Oxidase?

Cytochrome c oxidase is an enzyme functionally involved in the final phase of the electron transport chain of mitochondria. That electron transport is part of the pathway for ATP synthesis. The role of cytochrome c oxidase is to carry electrons from one complex of integral membrane proteins of the inner mitochondrial membrane to another.

What is NADH?

NADH is a crucial coenzyme in making ATP. The molecule acts as a shuttle for electrons during cellular respiration. At various chemical reactions, the NAD+ picks up an electron from glucose, at which point it becomes NADH.

What is Nitric Oxide (NO)?

NO is a gaseous signaling molecule and a key biological messenger playing a role in a variety of biological processes.

It was recognized in 1998 when a Nobel Prize was awarded to three scientists who discovered that it’s a key molecule in the cardiovascular system and helps keep blood vessels healthy and regulate blood pressure. Since then, nitric oxide has also been found to be essential in many other bodily systems (such as the immune system and the nervous system, including the brain) and in many chronic conditions and diseases.  Like many key compounds in the body, nitric oxide is essential but if it is produced in other areas (such as in the mitochondria), it can be harmful and damage cells. This is why Photobiomodulation is so important to break the bond between nitric oxide and cytochrome c oxidase in order for the nitric oxide to be released into the bloodstream where it functions to keep us healthy.

What is ROS (Reactive Oxygen Species) and Oxidative Stress?

Oxidative Stress is an imbalance between free radicals (also known as Reactive Oxygen Species or ROS) and antioxidants in your body.

ROS are formed as a natural byproduct of the normal metabolism of oxygen and have important roles in cell signaling and homeostasis. However, during times of environmental stress, ROS levels can increase dramatically. Cumulatively, this is known as oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress can damage cells, proteins, and DNA, which contributes to aging and plays a major role in development of a range of health conditions, including diabetes, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. The body naturally produces antioxidants to balance these free radicals. However, aging, injury, illness, toxins, poor diet and other environmental and emotional factors (such as prolonged stress) contribute to excess free radicals (ROS) and your body’s inability to counteract them.  In such cases, external sources of antioxidants are essential.
(See our BLOG “Oxidative Stress Explained” for more details)