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Dr. Marvin Berman is healing the MIND with Red Light

Updated: Jul 4, 2021

The team get lightheaded with Dr. Marvin Berman

Marvin Berman PhD is founder and President of Quietmind Fdn. a not for profit organization that conducts applied clinical research and provides individual and organizational consultation on noninvasive and non-drug treatment options for neuropsychiatric, neurodegenerative and neurodevelopmental conditions. Dr. Berman is a thought leader in digital neurotherapeutics and photobiomodulation. Most of his current work has been on the integration of infrared photobiomodulation (light therapy) and neuromodulation. He offers private clinical consultation both in person and remote connection.

Sarah and Russ invited Dr. Berman to come and speak because Dr. Marvin Berman is a special character and he’s actually been doing the research and actively using red light therapy in this field. He is the person who has the most direct experience, beyond just the theory he's using it in actual practice.. Talking about the light and the brain in particular here

How are you using these theories in your actual practice?

Dr. Berman: Neurofeedback is simply a form of biofeedback, which is the use of some form of measurement technology to quantitatively measure a physiological function and then provide feedback to the person about that function. So with heart rate, or blood pressure or skin temperature, you would be getting very direct measurements, and you could then modify your own physiological functioning in some way by getting this feedback. And the learning process then allows you to gain what would be considered instrumental control over what ordinarily is thought to be autonomic functioning, but then becomes clear that it’s not and that we really can gain control over physiological functions, using some form of technology to give us some guidance. So what happened originally with biofeedback was that people were using peripheral measures and then in the late 50s or early 60s, they started to recognize that you could also gain some measure of control over central functioning or brain activity by monitoring, electroencephalograph or e.g. activity of the brain’s electrical firing, by measuring it with electrodes that are placed on the scalp. And I was barely aware of any of that in my clinical practice, until I met someone who was doing this brainwave biofeedback training. And it became very helpful to me in my practice as a psychotherapist. So the idea was to monitor the brain activity, and then compare that activity to norms that had been established in a normative database by age and gender. And we could then use operant conditioning or reward conditioning to give people feedback about how their brain activity was going and move it more toward what was considered normal. So that’s the general back of the napkin idea.

How did you get involved in this kind of fairly out there concept of shining light into people’s brains?

Dr. Berman: Well, it turned out that when we started doing research on the neurofeedback, we looked at neurology data and saw that they had become very clear on what happens to people when they develop dementia, and that the slow wave amplitudes, the slower brainwaves, the voltage of those went up, and the faster brainwave voltages went down as people became more demented. And we started doing research along those lines. And in the middle of that research, I got an email from one of the subjects’ husbands and the subject line was, “What the hell is this?” And I looked and opened it up. And it was a cover photograph from the Daily Mail in London, in 2008. And I was like, “Well, this guy is like a research scientist. What the hell is he doing reading the Daily Mail?”. The headline was, “UK researchers reverse dementia using infrared light.” And I went, Oh, my God, he’s really desperate. And then I looked and saw that, in fact, it wasn’t an article by the Daily Mail, it was an article about a journal paper that was published in the British Journal of Neuroscience. And I went, “Oh, wait a minute!” And then I read the paper, and then I read the references and then I realized that they weren’t kidding. And I went back to the guy, the husband and I said, “So, do you want me to go to England and get one of these gizmos for your wife?” And he being a guy with a lot of zeros after his name, said, “Oh, well see, if they’ll come here.” So we did a study, I wrote a note and I called the guy up, and he came, and he brought with him a helmet, with arrays filled with LEDs that were all matched to 1070 nanometers. And the lights were set to pulse at 10 Hertz. And we put the helmet on this guy’s wife’s head. And we did it every day for six minutes in the morning and six minutes in the afternoon. And we did neuro psych testing before we started, so we wanted to see what would happen.

"And about three weeks into the process, my research assistant, Ashley came back in tears. And we kept going, and we’re kind of like, “Okay, this is really happening.

But what it said to me, because when I started looking at what photobiomodulation was and what the light was actually doing? It was a tissue level intervention into the pathology that was taking place. It wasn’t biofeedback, because one of the things we found with the biofeedback research was that yes, you could retrain people’s EEG activity, you could train people to decrease slow wave amplitudes and increased fast wave amplitudes. And yes, in fact, they did improve on their neuro psychological measures. And that was great. But what we were actually doing was modifying the slope of decline. We weren’t stopping anything. That was like, “Okay, so this is kind of a half a solution.” But when we saw what was happening with this woman, and we could see that it was, and we saw that

"...What photobiomodulation was doing was increasing ATP, decreasing phosphorylated tau, a beta 42, these other neurotoxic chemicals, and that we were actually improving the capacity for micro-capillary perfusion. So more oxygen was actually getting to the furthest reaches of the cortex.

So how much more light are you giving somebody then going outside and being in the sun?

Dr. Berman: If you were standing at the equator at noon, you would have to stand there for about 300 hours at noon to get what you’re getting in six minutes. So, for the listeners, let me do it this way. You go to the beach, you lay on the beach for the day, you do have an umbrella. But basically you’re out there in the sun in your bathing suit for the whole day. And then you get up and you get back in your car, or whatever. And you’re sitting there and all of a sudden you have this, that sense of kind of fullness, that buzzy kind of fullness inside your body. Like there’s just this expansive, energized feeling. That’s what you get in six minutes of putting the helmet on your head.

What is the actual process you are using?

Dr. Berman: The term entrainment is the experience of the brain mimicking or mirroring incoming stimulation. So if we take a light source, and we place it on the scalp surface, and we pulse that light source at 10 times a second, and we then hook somebody up with an EEG, so we can measure their brain electrical activity, we’ll see that the 10 hertz activity starts to propagate across the entire cortex in response to that pulsation of light. Now, there’s no mechanical pulsation, it’s not like something’s going tap, tap, tap on your head, it’s just light turning on and off. And that is enough to cause this entraining, or mimicking of EEG activity in the brain. So again, if you know what normal looks like, or you have some working hypothesis about how to define normal or optimal functioning of the brain electrical activity, you can then use the light as a nudge or a drag type of intervention, to try and improve the overall functioning of the brain electrical activity. And what we know from basic neuroscience is that every neuron in the brain is in fact, an electro chemical system. So that if you change the chemistry of the brain, the neuron, then you’re going to affect the electrical activity. That’s what pharmacology is all about. Well, in fact, you can go the other way, you can influence the electrical activity. And that’s going to have a very direct impact on the neuro chemistry. Now, which way you can make more money and rule the world? Well, that’s a whole other deal.

Is there a preciseness in this?

Dr. Berman: Yes, extraordinarily. And I think for me, that was really very attractive, because instead of having to flood the brain, with certain kinds of chemicals, you could very much target and now we’re seeing the intersection of these two fields with optogenetics. Where you’re now able to put chemicals, drugs into nanoparticles that are then injected into the body. And when they reach the site, the cells that you want to affect, you can then turn on an infrared light and activate the nanoparticle to release the drug at exactly where you want it.

Sarah: Well, but one of the main benefits of this therapy at the moment is that you don’t need to have the drugs, it is is a toxin free non-invasive treatment, which I think is why it’s so incredible for brain diseases because there isn’t a drug treatment for a lot of these things anyway.

Dr. Berman: In scientific work, and in the kind of academic medicine, you really can’t use the P word until you’ve been able to demonstrate the T word. So you can’t really talk about prevent, until you can talk about treat. So, we took that up seriously and said,

“Okay, so now let’s show that you can in fact, treat neurodegenerative processes by using a combination of non-invasive, non-pharmacologic interventions

Let’s see if we can actually stop the process of neuro degeneration, and maybe even reverse it, and maybe even stabilize whatever level of recovery we can, with a combination of photobiomodulation neurofeedback and functional medicine. Once we can demonstrate that, then we can start to say, “Hey, you know what, if you took a picture of your retina with an OCT-which is a typical optical coherence tomography kind of image that you can get at any ophthalmologists office- if you took that picture, and you analyzed it a particular way, you could then measure the beta amyloid load in the retinal tissue. And that would allow you to predict the onset of dementia 10 to 15 years ahead of symptoms.” Well, now, Russ, your question starts to have some grounding. Because now, we’re 10 to 15 years ahead of you starting to forget where you put your keys. Let alone forgetting what keys do. Now, sure. Now, put the helmet on your head. Now do the neurofeedback. Now start realizing that nicotine isn’t good for you. And alcohol in large amounts probably isn’t such a great idea. And like that.

Let's talk about certain brain traumas

Dr. Berman: I saw that you could work with people who were in minimal states of consciousness using the EEG neurofeedback and something as simple as Kool Aid. I mean, just dropping Kool Aid into somebody’s mouth when their alpha activity started to increase. Margaret Ayres, who was one of the people who did that back in the 90s, she was able to bring a number of people out of long term coma, just by operantly conditioning, and improving their level of peak alpha activity. So yeah, that is a real possibility. If she had the photo bio modulation tools, I think, could have gotten even further with that. And it’s something we certainly want to look into. As far as Parkinson’s go, we just finished a trial and with our research partners at Baylor Research Institute, which is part of Baylor Scott and White Hospital in temple, Texas within the Department of Neurosurgery, we were working with the chair there, Jason Huang, and he and I divided up 100 subjects between us and he did 60 and I did 40, where we gave people this infrared helmet thing, and we sent them home with the device. And we had them using it at home on their own twice a day for six minutes. And we then had quantitative EEG and other measures, beginning, middle and end. And what we saw, interestingly enough, is that the population that they used in Texas was drawn from a regional movement disorder center. So everybody had a dual diagnosis of Parkinson’s and dementia. I didn’t do that. I have just dementia folks. But the point is that when the caregivers gave their reports at the beginning, middle and end, what they were reporting was an improvement yes in memory and cognitive functioning, but also mood, facial expression, gait, balance, and engagement with other people. So we were seeing motor changes and I’ve seen motor changes in bradykinesia or muscle stiffness and also gait walking up and down, we did a video measurement of walking up and down the hall for 10 meters, Sarah was around for that. I think that you know, it really is simple in its on its face, but

"I think people really benefit from getting some kind of professional consultation about how best to use these devices.

Because where you place it how long you use it. I mean, it’s really easy to overload yourself. There is a sweet spot. Yeah, about six to eight minutes. And you don’t want to underdo it and you really don’t want to overdo it. If you want to get the benefit.


This week’s challenge is to get some red-light therapy to the brain. This hack is a little more complicated that some of the challenges we will go through on Rebel Scientist – and we advise doing your research and getting professional advice before you start. Sarah is an expert in this field and so knows what she is doing – if you would like to check out her brain red light coaching click the link:

Sarah uses the Niraxx headband on the focus setting during the day – the ProNeuro nasal LED’s in the evening, and the Lumiceuticals light pads also in the evening as a whole body therapy – see the links below for details.

Russ: We’ve talked about this many times about the benefits of red light. Have you gone through a period in your life where you took a pause, you didn’t use the red light and did you see a difference in your day?

Sarah: Well, I actually don’t use them every day- you don’t want to overdo it, you need to give the body a bit of a break. So I do kind of do five days out of seven, usually.

Russ: That’s right. Marvin talked about some serious ailments like dementia has Parkinson’s and have there been more advances and you’ve noticed that red light is now being used for some of these, for therapy, for some of these really terrible ailments?

Sarah: Yeah, I hear a lot of cases of people using red light for neurodegenration. And I think with red light, the more you need it, the more benefit you get. So, someone like you, who thankfully, we’re not in that position yet that we’ve got any brain damage, when we use it, it might make you feel a bit better. But for people who really are suffering you’ve got further to catch up, you’ve got further to go. And so those people see a bigger benefit.

To sum up Dr. Marvin Berman was cool. It’s a little bit technical, but it was really fascinating to see what he’s doing with neurodegenerative diseases. This is a frontier science-and offers real hope to people suffering with brain issues.

Dr. Berman's Links


Twitter: @drmhberman

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