We examined the use of near-infrared and red radiation (photobiomodulation, PBM) for treating major depressive disorder (MDD). While still experimental, preliminary data on the use of PBM for brain disorders are promising. PBM is low-cost with potential for wide dissemination; further research on PBM is sorely needed. We found clinical and preclinical studies via PubMed search (2015), using the following keywords: "near-infrared radiation," "NIR," "low-level light therapy," "low-level laser therapy," or "LLLT" plus "depression." We chose clinically focused studies and excluded studies involving near-infrared spectroscopy. In addition, we used PubMed to find articles that examine the link between PBM and relevant biological processes including metabolism, inflammation, oxidative stress, and neurogenesis. Studies suggest the processes aforementioned are potentially effective targets for PBM to treat depression. There is also clinical preliminary evidence suggesting the efficacy of PBM in treating MDD, and comorbid anxiety disorders, suicidal ideation, and traumatic brain injury. Based on the data collected to date, PBM appears to be a promising treatment for depression that is safe and well-tolerated. However, large randomized controlled trials are still needed to establish the safety and effectiveness of this new treatment for MDD.
Keywords: NILT; inflammation; low-level laser therapy; low-level light therapy; major depressive disorder; metabolism; near-infrared; near-infrared radiation; neurogenesis; oxidative stress; photobiomodulation.