Neuroinflammation vs Neurodegeneration

I’ve been reading an interesting 2016 review article called Cytokine networks in neuroinflammation.*

Click here for the abstract.

Some of the differences between neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration are beautifully explained. Both diagrams come from this article.


Cells in our body and brain produce cytokines, small proteins that are powerful and wilful little beasties. They provide a very effective means of cell communication, and can “orchestrate complex multicellular behaviour”.

Over 300 different cytokines have been identified, but some of them have shown that in one situation they will behave in one way, but in another situation the same cytokine will do the complete opposite.

Cytokines are part of the body and brain’s response to something going wrong. But cytokines themselves can go haywire (called cytokine network dysfunction or dysregulation) and set up and maintain cascades of activity that can ultimately cause harm to the tissue.

Normal brain

In a brain without disease, the immune (white blood) cells stay inside the blood vessel and don’t cross over the blood brain barrier. Meanwhile the brain has its own immune management system, with various cell types actively protecting the brain. These cells include microglia and astrocytes.

In a healthy brain, cytokines are produced by brain cells, they are all best friends and behave themselves with due decorum.


This diagram shows the brain tissue on the right and on the left is the blood vessel with blood cells inside. The comment “limited contribution by blood-borne leukocytes” refers to the white cells keeping out of the brain.

Neurodegenerative diseases include Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS (Stephen Hawking’s disease). In these diseases, the immune (white blood) cells do what they are supposed to do, and stay inside the blood vessels.

However, these diseases have their own mechanisms that act on the brain, and not in a good way (more on that another time).

When these changes start, cytokines produced in the brain start to take notice. They ramp up their numbers, roll up their shirtsleeves and expect to sort out the problem pretty quickly. The problem isn’t so easily sorted, though, and as the cytokines keep battling on, their prolonged activity can itself be a danger to the brain. They go haywire, creating cytokine network dysfunction or dysregulation.

Over time, the cytokine dysfunction seems to knock out the cells and disrupt the normal brain function.


This diagram shows the blood-borne cells, the monocytes and T cells inside the brain tissue.

In Neuroinflammatory diseases, such as Multiple Sclerosis, Meningitis and Encephalitis, the white blood cells from the blood stream break through the blood-brain barrier, and they start spreading their cytokines into the brain. The cytokines produced by these external cells throw the equivalent of petrol onto a brain fire.

The brain is besieged and not happy.

Why does this matter?

Fair question.

1. It reminds us that brain diseases are complicated, and that every time researchers identify some new part of a disease process, new layers of complexities are revealed.

2. It shows us that while different diseases may have different origins, they stimulate similar responses. For example, the initial brain change in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are quite different, but the brain reaction with the fighting cytokines is similar.

3. Research has shown that red and near infrared light has a direct and positive effect on the activities of some cytokines, increasing the calming cytokines and dowsing the cytokines that promote inflammation.

4. Red and near infrared light seems to reduce cytokine dysregulation, and thus protect brain cells and brain cell function.

Thinking about Alzheimer’s, the drugs developed to treat it have not shown much effectiveness. In theory, and in early research evidence, exploring the use of red and near infrared lights might be a better way to spend medical research dollars.

* Becher, Burkhard & Spath, Sabine & Goverman, Joan. (2016). Cytokine networks in neuroinflammation. Nature Reviews Immunology. 17. 10.1038/nri.2016.123.

Public lectures in Melbourne – 1 July 2018

If you live close to Melbourne, you have a rare opportunity to hear two excellent lectures about the effects of red light on the head* for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Who are the speakers:

Prof John Mitrofanis, University of Sydney and Prof Liisa Laakso, Griffith University

What are they talking about:

Prof John is giving an update on case studies of people with Parkinson’s Disease using red light hats on a daily basis.

Prof Liisa is presenting recent research evidence on the effects of red light in Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.


Sunday 1st July, 2018

9.00 – 9.45 am – Prof Liisa

9.45 -10.30 am – Prof John


Workshop 1 & 2,

The Larwill Studio, Art Series Hotels, 48 Flemington Road, Parkville, Vic 3052. Map


These two lectures are free to the public, but you will need to book as numbers are limited.

Book your seat:



These two public presentations have been coordinated by the Australian Medical Laser Association, AMLA, and is part of a two day conference called Photobiomodulation Therapy.

*The official term for red light on the head is PBMt, shorthand for trans-cranial photobiomodulation.

Red lights and sleep

We have had multiple separate reports about sleep improvements (usually from spouses) and there is an exciting consistency in these reports.

We are getting more reports about improvement in sleep for people with Parkinson’s Disease using red lights on a daily basis.

One Eliza-user has given permission for me to quote his wife’s description:

I have noticed a vast improvement in his sleep. Prior to him starting the light therapy, he was having very restless sleep at night. He was suffering insomnia and he often lashed out in very jerky uncontrolled movements during sleep. He now sleeps very soundly and the sudden uncontrolled movements have stopped completely. As a result he has more energy during the day.

We are particularly thrilled about his improved sleep as this not only impacted on him but also on me. His medication has not changed at all.”

REM sleep disorder is a well-known part of the Parkinson’s Disease progression; it is very disruptive and distressing for the individual and partner. It seems that the red lights have an effect on REM sleep, and somehow sooth it.

We have had multiple separate reports about sleep improvements (usually from spouses) and there is an exciting consistency in these reports. A soothing sleep is good for all.


Eliza dosage – when and how long?

A few people have asked how long a light hat should be worn.

A previous post about the Goldilocks Effect is really important to read, as it describes the research on the odd effect of too much red light.

More red light is not better – it can make things worse. Neurones are finicky fellows and we must respect this.

So how long should you wear an Eliza light hat, or any kind of red/near infrared light on the head? As everyone’s light hat is different, it is impossible to give absolutely firm advice. But based on what I’ve observed over the time of making many and varied light hats, I’d suggest the following considerations.

Continue reading “Eliza dosage – when and how long?”

How to help your doctor

I’ve had a number of people tell me that conversations with their GP or specialist about red and near infrared lights haven’t gone well. One chap took his newly-made Eliza to show his neurologist, who roared with laughter and said that it would be very handy at Christmas.

I remember my reaction when patients brought in newspaper clippings about the latest and greatest cure for something – I’d keep a smile on my face and inwardly groan.

If you are getting less than supportive noises from your doctors, don’t get cranky with them, because they are trying to protect you. There are lots of charlatans and snake oil merchants out there, and people with chronic diseases are easy targets. They are worried that you and your family are going to be taken in by costly rubbish. If you read about the beginnings of my learning about red lights, here, you’ll see that I was also very skeptical.

So what can you do?

Continue reading “How to help your doctor”

Another Eliza is born

Congratulations to the maker of this very fine Eliza!

It is heartening to hear of more Eliza light hats being made at home.

For those who are apprehensive, take heart. It can be done. If you aren’t in a position to do the fiddly stuff yourself, then you will almost certainly have a mate who is prepared to help. Just ask.