The en‘light’ened way to enhance your brain power

Date Posted:27 May 2019 

Ever heard the saying: ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’? It was once thought that our brain capacity is ‘fixed’ and whatever we learn (or don’t learn) in our youth is ‘hard-wired’ for the rest of our lives. Because our brain controls much of our body’s functions – thought processing, language, memories and motor skills – we imagine our brains to be like computers, with permanently connected circuits, each designed to perform a specific, unchangeable function. This misconception has been debunked thanks to one of the most revolutionary and exciting discoveries of recent times – Neuroplasticity.

We now understand that our brains are not permanently hard-wired. In fact, scientists now understand our brains are ‘plastic’ (changeable), rather than ‘static’ (unchangeable) and this plasticity occurs at every stage of life. Our neural pathways can, and are, constantly being re-wired and new pathways being formed. New tricks can be learned every day, regardless of your age and intelligence.

Another long-held misconception is that we ‘lose’ brain cells, especially as we age. Although we do experience declining memory and cognitive function as we age, it doesn’t have to be inevitable. Rather than a machine that will eventually break down, our brains are more like muscles; the more you use it, the more you improve it, and ensure you don’t lose it.

The discovery that our brains are plastic, means we can influence positive plasticity and enhance our brains to perform better, process information more effectively and reduce the symptoms of cognitive decline and impairment.

Enhancing the brain with near-infrared light

Brain-training mental exercises – things like solving complex problems, playing games or learning a new language – are all the rage, but this is just one method to improve cognition.

One of the latest and most promising brain enhancement techniques is that of photobiomodulation (PBM) also called Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT).

PBM involves delivering light, often near-infrared (NIR) light to the cells (including neurons) to modulate tissue functions. The Vielight devices are a pioneer in brain PBM, using intranasal light therapy and transcranial photobiomodulation.

Vielight has combined their patented technology of intranasal light therapy and transcranial photobiomodulation for efficient and effective whole-brain stimulation that targets the brain's default mode network (DMN).    

Studies are beginning to reveal this application of brain photobiomodulation may be the ‘new way’ to enhance brain function. 

Research conducted at Boston University (Naeser 2016) has shown possible benefits of photobiomodulation being used to repair damaged neurons, as a result of brain disease or injury.

It’s just as promising for people with healthy brains seeking better memory, improved executive function, reaction times and mood. A recent research project investigated the effect of NIR light on the enhancement of healthy adult human brains. With NIR light delivered to the forehead, the subjects in one controlled study demonstrated improved memory and mood.  The treatment method also showed the subjects improving in executive functions. Directing NIR light to the brain also improves reaction time.  When the right forehead was treated, the results showed improved attention biased modification (ABM) in people with depression. (Lim 2018; "Enhancing Brain Functions with Near Infrared Light").

Vielight and its research partners are finding a specific pulse rate at 810 nm NIR wavelength can significantly influence brain oscillations. High frequency in the beta and gamma ranges have been associated with memory and mental performance.

For more complex cognitive impairment, such as stroke patients or those at risk of degenerative illnesses such as dementia, the idea that brain activity can be enhanced and even recover lost function by stimulating cells and neurons with light energy has profound implications.

Understanding the restorative power of the plastic brain is a new and exciting discovery, and only the very tip of the iceberg has been examined. More research into the role of near-infrared light therapy will, in time, allow scientists to pinpoint precise applications, personalised for the individual and condition.

Regardless of how smart we are, or how old we are – it’s possible to continually enhance our brain power and cognitive function over our lifetimes. Discoveries like low-level laser therapy and technologies like Vielight could prove our best defence to help delay or even halt the natural decline in our ageing brains.