This article, authored by Jennifer Waters, L.Ac, was published in the Oriental Medicine Journal® Earth/Late Summer 2018 • Vol. 26, No. 5
AS Oriental Medicine practitioners, we are continually facing the choice between traditional practices and modern technology. What are actual improvements versus the next new marketing wave intended to sell us on the irrelevant? What do we consider to be true advances in our field, especially when TCM comes to us as a complete system intended to treat every aspect of the body, mind, and spirit?
In this article, we take a closer look at qi and the molecule Nitric Oxide (NO); and
we examine the correspondences between the traditional understanding of qi and the scientific discoveries regarding NO that suggest that NO may be the physical manifestation of qi. One area of research that supports this hypothesis is the work on LED Light therapy, which has revealed parallels in the effects of photobiomodulation on NO and on qi in the body. Since LED Light erapy increases the levels of both NO and qi in
the body, photobiomodulation is indeed one advancement to which OM practitioners should be paying attention.
History of Light and LED Light Therapy
The biological and emotional importance of light has been recognized for a long time. From Ayurveda to color therapy to sunbathing, light has continually been an area of interest and study since time began. It is no surprise that we are witnessing an explosion of modern research on the efficacy and applications of light, especially
LED Light erapy.
ere are over 75 terms describing low dose light devices used for therapeutic results on both animals and humans. For the purposes of this article, I refer to LED Light erapy as photobiomodulation (PBM). e North American Association for Photobiomodulation erapy (NAALT) endorses this term and defines it as a form of light therapy that uses non-ionizing light sources, including LED Light in both the visible and infrared spectra. According to their definition, PBM is a non-thermal process involving endogenous chromophores eliciting photophysical (linear and non-linear) and photochemical events at various biological scales. e process
results in beneficial therapeutic outcomes including but not limited to the alleviation of pain or
inflammation, immunomodulation, and the promotion of wound-healing and tissue regeneration.
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What is Nitric Oxide?
Nitric Oxide was named “Molecule of the Year” in 1992 by the journal Science. However, it was another six years before those responsible for the major discoveries surrounding it won the Nobel Prize. ree US scientists – Robert F. Furchgott, PhD, Louis J. Ignarro, PhD, and Ferid Murad, MD, PhD – received the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine on December 10, 1998, in Stockholm, Sweden. Its importance in sustaining life and health has increasingly been recognized since then. (Bryan, 2018)
What the Nobel Prize recognized was the scientists’ concerted efforts to prove that NO, an endogenous gas and also a free radical, has an important biological effect. Research has demonstrated the crucial role the gas plays in such fundamental biological processes as regulating blood pressure, functioning and malfunctioning of the immune system, and activating mechanisms in the central nervous system affecting everything from gastric motility to memory to behavior.
Nitric oxide is produced by virtually every cell of the body, but most of it comes from the cells lining the inner surface of blood vessels (endothelial cells), as well as from red blood cells. NO acts as a biological messenger, and it induces and regulates the various functions of cells throughout the body.
Some of these functions are outlined below:
● Relaxing Blood Vessels: NO dilates blood vessels, thereby increasing blood flow through the vessels to the target organs. is has important physiological effects, including lowering blood pressure and preventing accumulation of plaque in the blood vessel walls. It also has an effect on erectile function, by modulating the blood flow to the penis. We can concurrently consider this a function of Zong Qi.
● Immune Function: NO is produced by immune cells located in body tissues, called macrophages. When NO is released from macrophages, it is toxic and can kill bacteria. is can be considered Wei Qi.
● Healing: NO also helps in the healing process by triggering the formation of new blood vessels (angiogenesis) and collagen, which is a building block of tissues. is can be considered Ying Qi.
● Brain Activity: NO in the brain functions like a signaling molecule. It transmits signals from one nerve cell to another. is can be considered Zhen Qi.
What is Qi?
Alternatively, we can consider what happens to create de qi. When a needle response is felt during acupuncture, we can say that there is a transduction cascade, which is defined as “mechanotransduction along the connective tissue to the sensory neuron as well as to intrinsic sensory afferents directly innervating connective tissue.”
How is NO Influenced by LED Light
When a blood slide is viewed under a microscope before and after an LED Light erapy (PBM) session, it is evident that a blood stasis pattern is immediately improved when light is applied. is is why the FDA has cleared many LED Light devices for improving circulation and, consequently, pain relief. PBM releases NO from the hemoglobin into the target tissues, where it exerts its effects. At a cellular level, NO is also released from mitochondria. Although the effect of NO lasts for a few seconds, it is presumed that the therapeutic impact continues for long after the light is applied. is is because there is uninterrupted blood flow to the target area, which results in a continuous influx of red blood cells and a regular production and release of NO. NO released by this process has several benefits.
It improves blood circulation at the area of LED Light application by dilating the blood vessels. It also stimulates
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of new blood vessels. is stimulates healing of injured tissues and can even reverse the inflammatory response.
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Blood was sampled from the same finger before and after a 20-minute LED Light erapy Session. Viewed as a .mov file, one can see the blood moving dramati- cally better in the second slide compared with the first, in which the cells are barely moving.
How is Qi Influenced by LED Light
Studies conducted in the last decade have shown that meridians are nothing more than channels of light that tend to interact dynamically with sources of light energy (Choi, et al., 2003; Schlebush, et al., 2005). It has been demonstrated that the optical property of the meridian tissue differs significantly from that of surrounding tissues, and that meridians propagate light at higher rates (Yang, et al., 2007) than non-meridian tissue does. If qi is deficient
or blocked in the body, it is reflected in a deficiency or stasis pattern in the meridians, which can cause diseases in the regions or organs through which those meridians pass. When we think of meridians as light channels, then it
is easy to picture energy-deficient meridians as those that lack sufficient light. Thererefore, we can hypothesize that it is possible to restore and move qi energy along the meridians by applying light directly to them, and perhaps this is the most effective treatment.
Acupuncture and PBM both aim to increase overall energy and unblock blockages. Here are some traditional ways that acupuncture is used for which PBM is also effective:
● Pain Relief: Pain is a symptom which is caused either by tissue damage or damage to the nerves themselves (neuropathy). PBM therapy improves blood flow to nerves and accelerates wound healing (Chow, et al., 2009), thereby relieving pain.
● Relief of Swelling or Inflammation: Swelling is the result of accumulation of fluid in lymphatic spaces. PBM therapy widens lymphatic channels and improves flow of fluid through them, allowing for faster drainage of excess fluid. (Li, et al., 2017). is leads to reduced swelling and inflammation.
● Improved Brain Function: Debilitating conditions such as depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease are all caused by the deficiency of certain chemicals in the brain. By improving blood flow, the delivery of these chemicals to the different areas of the brain can be improved. (KAIST, 2015) LED therapy has also proved effective in healing traumatic brain injuries. (Naeser, et al., 2011)
● Skin Diseases and Scars: e skin has a natural ability to regenerate. e rate of regeneration depends on proper blood flow to the area, which can be improved by PBM therapy. Improvement can be achieved for conditions such as herpes, diabetic foot, and acne. By similar mechanisms, PBM therapy plays a role in healing scars and reducing hair loss. (Han, et al., 2018)
Qi and Nitric Oxide
In considering PBM, or LED Light erapy, as the “new needle,” it is worth looking at the link between qi and NO.
When NO is released in the blood, NO levels are measurably increased. (Hamblin, 2013) Scientific studies have demonstrated that when PBM therapy is applied to the body, NO is released from the red blood cells and the endothelial cells. (Amaroli, et al., 2018) It is believed that NO, a gaseous signaling molecule, is closely associated with the most encompassing definition of qi and lies at the root of the ability for the body to heal and repair. (Gifford-Jones, 2016) Based on their commonalities, it is reasonable to suggest that when NO is increased, overall qi is also increased. is can be felt through the pulse and measured with tools such as meridian testing devices. e accompanying graphs show typical Acu-Graph readings of meridian activity in a patient before and after a first PBM treatment. By the end of PBM treatment, all the meridian readings will be in the normal range.
ese AcuGraphs show change in meridian activity before and after a first PBM treatment for a 13-year-old girl.
I used LED Red Light on the following points,
one minute per point. e top graph reflects post-light, the bottom graph was done pre-light.
SI 3 (Shu-stream) TE 3 (Shu-stream) HT 7 (Yuan source;
PC 7 (Yuan source;
How to read the graphs: AcuGraph readings of meridian activity are color-coded. Green meridians are normal, with readings in the normal range, which is considered to be between the blue horizontal line and the red horizontal line, with the mean represented by the green line. Any readings that fall in that range are considered normal, and the bars are colored green. Above the range is excessive, and below the range is deficient; bars are colored accordingly. e purple bars indicate a “split meridian,” meaning a significant imbalance between the readings for the left and right sides of the same channel. (as explained by Dr. Adrian Larsen, founder, Miridia Acupuncture Technology)
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ese AcuGraphs show change in meridian activity before (bottom graph) and after (top graph) placing LED Light erapy pads directly over the Lung and Large Intestine for 10 minutes total for a 48-year-old patient with no major complaints. Measurements were made at the Jing-Well points.
The Inseparability of Qi and Nitric Oxide
Modern research has tried to find evidence that would prove the existence of qi. Relying on research concerning signal transduction in biological systems as well as the etymology of the qi graph, Chen (2018) suggests that qi is a group of small gaseous signaling molecules, including NO, known as gasotransmitters, that can course throughout the body and are major regulators in the nervous, immune, and cardiovascular systems.
Seen in this way, we can say that the miraculous gas molecule NO is inseparable from the definition and functions of qi. e Chinese character for qi means “vapor” or “gas,” which could very well be a reference to the gaseous nature of nitric oxide. Both qi and NO are present throughout the body and can diffuse through it. LED Light stimulates gasotransmitters in the body, including NO.
Acquired qi is believed to be derived from food and air. NO is also derived from nitrate-rich foods and is believed to increase in quantity in the body during nose breathing. One can take supplements to increase NO levels, just as one can take Chinese herbs to increase overall qi. It might be expected that increasing NO levels in the blood, and thereby producing biological effects such as angiogenesis, or the formation of new capillaries, can be detected in
the pulse. In my clinical experience using LED Light, it is evident that qi is both moved and increased after the application and absorption of light through PBM, which releases NO.
Both qi and NO are closely associated with blood and blood vessels, which is the primary way they exert their effects on bodily functions. Qi and NO have several other common characteristics:
● Energy: Qi is generally defined as energy. NO, while not itself “energy,” plays an important role in energy production within the body. It is believed to interact closely with mitochondria (the powerhouses of the cell) and to regulate the production of energy through them. e main effect of PBM erapy is an increase of energy.
● Autoimmune Diseases: ere is often a viral or bacterial agent responsible for attacking the body in an autoimmune diagnosis (William, 2015). When NO is released via blood, it has an antibacterial and antiviral effect that enhances any treatment intended to support the immune system. According to Paul Nogier, the embryological layers of the cells have inherent frequency. When disease is present, the cell is said to have shifted out of the inherent frequency to a lower one. LED Light, by delivering the harmonics of the frequency designated by Dr. Nogier as the embryological layer (e.g., liver is developed from the endodermal layer of the cell which responds to the frequency of 587 Hz [McGee, 2000]), may then return that organ to improved function, or functioning at its original frequency. is is what is meant when it is said that a tissue has a
“low vibration,” i.e., the frequency of tissue that has been compromised by imbalances has been lowered from the inherent frequency. When light is applied, it may return to its resonant frequency. e mechanism by which this occurs is closely linked to the release of NO or qi, which can be considered as re-introducing the tissue’s inherent life force which has been compromised.
● Cardiovascular Disease: At the other end of the spectrum, qi and blood stasis result in disease. Similarly, deficiency of NO is believed to allow blood stasis and promote the development of “plaques” caused by adhesion of platelets and other cells to the walls of the blood vessels. is leads to cardiovascular disease. NO was discovered to be a modern miracle in the understanding of how to prevent and eliminate this. e advantage of using a pad-based light-delivery system is the ability to donate light directly to the organ as well as the meridian. Once the frequency layer of the tissue is determined, settings can be prescribed to
begin the process of vasodilation and movement of qi and blood.
● Lung: Pranayama, or long deep breathing, has long been described as a natural technique that allows qi to flow and build freely throughout the body and brain. It is now known that deep breathing stimulates the release of NO from the cells in the sinuses of the nose and delivers it to the lungs
and the rest of the body (Dweik, et al., 1998). It is interesting to note that making a humming sound during nose breathing (also described as a method to build qi) increases the concentration of NO
by about 15 times the normal. (Dweik, et al.,1998)
us, although we cannot say that NO is exactly qi, we also cannot say that it is not.
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The Bottom Line
Given the probability that meridians are conductors of light (Schlebusch, et al., 2005), we can expect that applying PBM in the form of LED light therapy can both increase the overall meridian qi and strengthen the organs which these meridians supply. In 1992, there was a study done that measured the intensity of light emission of the Du and Ren channels after acupuncture. It was stated in this study, although measuring the light increase was not the point of that study, that there was not a significant increase in the amount of light emitted (Yan, 1992). If this same study were done using light rather than a needle, I personally believe the outcome would be much different. Using technology such as the AcuGraph, we can see that light immediately increases qi in the meridian. is restorative process not only increases qi, but also moves the blood which is how the body heals. We are brilliantly designed to self-heal given the right circumstances. Creating the circumstance for healing is the goal for all modalities. Light may be the perfect modality to create this circumstance for healing. In conclusion, based on the information provided here,
we believe we may have an answer to our original question, “Does LED Light erapy Have a Place in TCM?” Yes, it seems it does!•
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