Can PBM prolong your life?

By Jan Tunér

There is a giant industry behind the “anti-age” concept. But does “anti-age” mean that you can live a longer life? Fillers, botox, implants, skin rejuvenation. Who wants to look old? Most persons obviously do not like wrinkles to indicate wisdom. Fair enough. But “anti-age” more or less means camouflaging the progression of ageing. If you really want to live longer, there are better options such as stop smoking, reduce consumption of alcohol, exercise moderately, reduce stress, read books. Quite inexpensive but more effective.

But what about PBM – can the use of PBM prolong life? Some observations support this supposition moderately.

In 2016 Antunes (1) published a study proving that LLLT is not only effective for treating oral mucositis in chemoradiation patients but also very cost effective. The latter conclusion is unusual in the LLLT literature and is a powerful argument for national health care officials. Professor Antunes was awarded the LaserAnnals diploma for “The best LLLT study of the year” (www.laserannals.com/2016/02/06/photobiomodulation-for-oral-mucositis-a-breakthrough).

This year  (2017) a long term follow-up study by Antunes (2) also showed that patients receiving LLLT to prevent oral mucositis increased their survival length in comparison to patients not receiving LLLT. The results are summarized as follows: The impact of low-level laser therapy (LLLT) to prevent oral mucositis in patients treated with exclusive chemoradiation therapy remains unknown. This study evaluated the overall, disease-free and progression-free survival of these patients. Overall, disease-free and progression-free survival of 94 patients diagnosed with oropharynx, nasopharynx, and hypopharynx cancer, who participated on a phase III study, was evaluated from 2007 to 2015. The patients were subjected to conventional radiotherapy plus cisplatin every 3weeks. LLLT was applied with an InGaAlP diode (660nm-100mW-1J-4J/cm²). With a median follow-up of 41.3months (range 0.7-101.9), patients receiving LLLT had a statistically significant better complete response to treatment than those in the placebo group (LG=89.1%; PG=67.4%; p=0.013). Patients subjected to LLLT also displayed increase in progression-free survival than those in the placebo group (61.7% vs. 40.4%; p=0.030; HR:1:93; CI 95%: 1.07-3.5) and had a tendency for better overall survival (57.4% vs. 40.4%; p=0.90; HR:1.64; CI 95%: 0.92-2.91).This is the first study to suggest that LLLT may improve survival of head and neck cancer patients treated with chemoradiotherapy.

It is obvious that LLLT added months and sometimes years to those receiving LLLT. It can be assumed that the low incidence of mucositis in the laser group alleviated the pressure on the immune system caused by the chemoradiation treatment and left the patient in a better position after leaving the hospital. A couple of questions pop up after reading this report:

Does PBM increase life length of an individual?

Answer: No direct evidence

Does PBM increase individual cell life?

Answer: Some evidence

So what is that scant evidence? There is some evidence about the effect on telomeres. Then, what are telomeres? Let us see what Wikipedia writes:

A telomere is a region of repetitive nucleotide sequences at each end of a chromosome, which protects the end of the chromosome from deterioration or from fusion with neighboring chromosomes. Its name is derived from the Greek nouns telos (τέλος) “end” and merοs (μέρος, root: μερ-) “part”. For vertebrates, the sequence of nucleotides in telomeres is TTAGGG, with the complementary DNA strand being AATCCC, with a single-stranded TTAGGG overhang. This sequence of TTAGGG is repeated approximately 2,500 times in humans. In humans, average telomere length declines from about 11 kilobases at birth to less than 4 kilobases in old age, with average rate of decline being greater in men than in women. During chromosome replication, the enzymes that duplicate DNA cannot continue their duplication all the way to the end of a chromosome, so in each duplication the end of the chromosome is shortened (this is because the synthesis of Okazaki fragments requires RNA primers attaching ahead on the lagging strand). The telomeres are disposable buffers at the ends of chromosomes which are truncated during cell division; their presence protects the genes before them on the chromosome from being truncated instead. The telomeres themselves are protected by a complex of shelterin proteins, as well as by the RNA that telomeric DNA encodes (TERRA).

Telomerase, also called terminal transferase, is a ribonucleoprotein that adds a species-dependent telomere repeat sequence to the 3′ end of telomeres. A telomere is a region of repetitive sequences at each end of eukaryotic chromosomes in most eukaryotes. Telomeres protect the end of the chromosome from DNA damage or from fusion with neighbouring chromosomes. The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster lacks telomerase, but instead uses retrotransposons to maintain telomeres. Telomerase is a reverse transcriptase enzyme that carries its own RNA molecule (e.g., with the sequence “CCCAAUCCC” in vertebrates) which is used as a template when it elongates telomeres. Telomerase, active in normal stem cells and most cancer cells, is normally absent from, or at very low levels in, most somatic cells.

Time to look at the literature!

da Silva Neto Trajano (3) writes:“Low-level infrared laser increases mRNA expression from genes related to muscle repair and telomere stabilization in myoblasts in standard or normal and stressful conditions.”

Huang (4) reports: “To investigate the effect of low power helium neon laser (He-Ne laser) on the telomere length of human fetal lung diploid fibroblast (2BS) cell, we used the laser (gamma = 632. 8 nm, P = 2 mW) to treat the young 2BS cells. Cell growth and proliferation was observed through MTT method after treating with low power laser. The relative telomere length of 2BS cells was detected by fluorescence real-time quantitative PCR (q-PCR). The results showed that the cells of the treated groups grew better than the untreated groups. The telomere DNA length of the old 2BS cells, treated by low power He-Ne laser when they were young, was longer than that of untreated group. The results of the present study indicated that the low power He-Ne laser might decrease shortening rate of telomere and delay the aging of cells. Therefore, this study provides the experimental basis for us to further investigate the effect of low power laser on cell aging at the gene level.”

Korraa (5) writes: “Results showed that laser induced telomerase activity in blood mononuclear cells throughout the five consecutive days post laser irradiation, reaching its highest level at 72 hours post laser irradiation and was significantly higher in PHA stimulated cells compared to laser irradiated cells, where 5 J/cm² displayed the highest activity.”

Shammas (6) writes: Telomere length shortens with age. Progressive shortening of telomeres leads to senescence, apoptosis, or oncogenic transformation of somatic cells, affecting the health and lifespan of an individual. Shorter telomeres have been associated with increased incidence of diseases and poor survival. The rate of telomere shortening can be either increased or decreased by specific lifestyle factors. Better choice of diet and activities has great potential to reduce the rate of telomere shortening or at least prevent excessive telomere attrition, leading to delayed onset of age-associated diseases and increased lifespan. This review highlights the role of telomeres in aging and describes the lifestyle factors which may affect telomeres, human health, and aging.

There are many ways to prolong the life of an individual, such as a healthy lifestyle, but the life lottery also includes genes and environmental elements. Genes as well as environment can cause cancer and cancer shortens lives. There has been concern that PBM can stimulate cancer cells but old and new research rather point in the other direction. PBM seems to be able to stimulate the immune system – the best doctor there is. PBM could then develop to be an anti-cancer method, prolonging life.

McGuff (7) reported a cancer-reducing effect of LLLT already in 1964. Ottaviani (8) noted: Laser therapy, recently renamed as photobiomodulation, stands as a promising supportive treatment for oral mucositis induced by oncological therapies. However, its mechanisms of action and, more importantly, its safety in cancer patients, are still unclear. Here we explored the anti-cancer effect of 3 laser protocols, set at the most commonly used wavelengths, in B16F10 melanoma and oral carcinogenesis mouse models. While laser light increased cell metabolism in cultured cells, the in vivo outcome was reduced tumor progression. This striking, unexpected result, was paralleled by the recruitment of immune cells, in particular T lymphocytes and dendritic cells, which secreted type I interferons. Laser light also reduced the number of highly angiogenic macrophages within the tumor mass and promoted vessel normalization, an emerging strategy to control tumor progression. Collectively, these results set photobiomodulation as a safety procedure in oncological patients and open the way to its innovative use for cancer therapy.

PBM may be able to prolong lives by its direct effects (telomeres, improved immune system) but more likely as a support in situations where negative factors can effect life span negatively. Cancer is one such condition, but other conditions such as dementia (9), Alzheimer, stroke, ALS and Parkinson can also reduce life quality and life span (10). The use of PBM for these conditions is still preliminary but promising. And without side effects. HSV-1 is reported to be a contributing factor to the progression of Alzheimer (11). It is well known that PBM, if used at each outbreak, can reduce the incidence or end the eruptions (12).

Are we coming closer to understanding some of the mechanisms behind those truly “anti-ageing” effects?


  1. Antunes HS, Schluckebier LF, Herchenhorn D, Small IA, Araújo CM, Viégas CM, Rampini MP, Ferreira EM, Dias FL, Teich V, Teich N, Ferreira CG. Cost-effectiveness of low-level laser therapy (LLLT) in head and neck cancer patients receiving concurrent chemoradiation. Oral Oncol. 2016 Jan;52:85-90.
  2. Antunes HS, Herchenhorn D, Small IA, Araújo CMM, Viégas CMP, de Assis Ramos G, Dias FL, Ferreira CG. Long-term survival of a randomized phase III trial of head and neck cancer patients receiving concurrent chemoradiation therapy with or without low-level laser therapy (LLLT) to prevent oral mucositis. Oral Oncol. 2017 Aug;71:11-15.
  3. da Silva Neto Trajano LA, Stumbo AC, da Silva CL, Mencalha AL, Fonseca AS. Low-level infrared laser modulates muscle repair and chromosome stabilization genes in myoblasts. Lasers Med Sci. 2016 Aug;31(6):1161-1167.
  4. Huang L, Wu Z, Mo H. [Experimental study of effect of low power laser on telomere length of cells]. Sheng Wu Yi Xue Gong Cheng Xue Za Zhi. 2013Jun;30(3):592-596. Chinese. PubMed PMID: 23865325
  5. Korraa SS. He:Ne laser irradiation induced survival and cell cycle progression effects on human circulating mononuclear cells in vitro. Arab J Biotech J, 2008;11(2):229-240.
  6. Shammas MA. Telomeres, lifestyle, cancer, and aging. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2011 Jan;14(1):28-34.
  7. McGuff P E. Tumoricidal effect of laser radiation on malignant tumors. Int Ophthalmol Clin. 1966; 6 (2): 379-386.
  8. Ottaviani G, Martinelli V, Rupel K, Caronni N, Naseem A, Zandonà L, Perinetti G, Gobbo M, Di Lenarda R, Bussani R, Benvenuti F, Giacca M, Biasotto M, ZacchignaS. Laser Therapy Inhibits Tumor Growth in Mice by Promoting Immune Surveillancand Vessel Normalization. EBioMedicine. 2016 Sep;11:165-172.
  9. Saltmarche AE, Naeser MA, Ho KF, Hamblin MR, Lim L. Significant Improvement in Cognition in Mild to Moderately Severe Dementia Cases Treated with Transcranial Plus Intranasal Photobiomodulation: Case Series Report. Photomed Laser Surg. 2017 Feb 10.
  10. Hamblin MR. Shining light on the head: Photobiomodulation for brain disorders. BBA Clin. 2016 Oct 1;6:113-124. eCollection 2016 Dec. Review.
  11. 11. Steel AJ, Eslick GD. Herpes Viruses Increase the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease: A Meta-Analysis. J Alzheimers Dis. 2015;47(2):351-64.
  12. 12. Muñoz Sanchez PJ, Capote Femenías JL, Díaz Tejeda A, Tunér J. The effect of 670-nm low laser therapy on herpes simplex type 1. Photomed Laser Surg. 2012 Jan;30(1):37-40.