Quantumwave laser quackery
Posted by apgaylard on May 23, 2011
I’ve wanted to revisit the world of low level laser therapy (LLLT) for a while.*. Back in early 2009 I gave this therapy a look, after I came across the story of a woman in New Zealand who died from breast cancer after being ‘treated’ with a decidedly quackish variant of LLLT, called “Bioptron’.
I’ve been wondering if I missed anything when I was focusing on Bioptron and whether any more evidence has come to light since.
The Quantumwave Laser website** has given me the push I needed. The website was fantasy physics meets fantasy medicine; though it looks like some excellent ‘FishBarreling’ has taken care of most of the medical claims.
Still, there’s plenty of made up physics left to enjoy, along with the excuse to look at low level laser therapy again.
First, what is low level laser therapy?
Low level laser therapy refers to the therapeutic use of lasers, generally applied externally to the skin, delivering low doses of energy in an attempt to treat various conditions.
There are various hypotheses for how LLLT might work, but any mechanism of action remains unclear.
Typically, lasers are chosen that operate in the red to near infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum, though there are exceptions as we shall see. Because the lasers are low-powered the therapy is sometimes called “soft” or “cold” lasers.
What’s it good for?
A wide range of claims have been made for this therapy, but the evidence base is weak. Back in 2009 I came to the conclusion that there was some limited evidence to support the idea that LLLT might have something to offer for a few conditions.
There had been some initial enthusiasm around wound healing (Wheelan et al, 2001) but Posten et al (2005) observed that, “superficial wound healing found in small case series have not been replicated in larger studies” and stated that, “The fundamental question is whether there is sufficient evidence to support the use of LLLT.”
There were small positive trials, not necessarily including a control group, that appeared to favour Bioptron therapy for instance; however, the larger trials tended to be negative (Stasinopoulos and Stasinopoulos, 2006; Kymplová et al., 2003). Though, as I’m discussing LLLT generally, I should point out that in Kymplová et al (2003) Bioptron lost out to a 670 nm laser, which was said to have been effective in the treatment of episiotomies.
Overall, the evidence was not convincing for treatments using polarized light, like Bioptron; neither did it look too good for LLLT in general. However, three years have passed, so I thought I’d have a look for recent Cochrane reviews, and see if I missed anything or if any new evidence has been published.
A quick look at the Cochrane database
It looks like missed a review by Brosseau et al (2007) for treating osteoarthritis, but this had been withdrawn anyway. Another oversight was the inconclusive examination of venous leg ulcer healing by Flemming and Cullum (2008). Their plain language summary states:
“We examined trials that compared treatment of leg ulcers with low level laser or a control. We have found no evidence of any benefit associated with low level laser therapy on venous leg ulcer healing. One small study suggests that a combination of laser and infrared light may promote the healing of venous ulcers, however more research is needed.”
Similarly, the inconclusive review for non-specific back-pain by Yousefi-Nooraie et al (2008) passed me by. The plain language summary observes:
“Based on these small trials, with different populations, LLLT doses and comparison groups, there are insufficient data to either support or refute the effectiveness of LLLT for the treatment of LBP. We were unable to determine optimal dose, application techniques or length of treatment with the available evidence. Larger trials that look specifically at these questions are required.”
Any positive evidence? Brosseau et al. (2005) reported on the use of LLLT for treating Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Their view was that:
“There is ‘silver’ level evidence that low level laser therapy in people with rheumatoid arthritis for up to four weeks does decrease pain and morning stiffness. It does not appear, however, to have long-lasting effects. Most of the studies tested laser therapy on the hand, so it is not clear whether laser therapy would affect other joints of the body the same way.”
So, LLLT seems to provide temporary relief of hand pain and morning stiffness in RA. This looks like the most positive assessment to date. It’s certainly stronger than the evidence for wound healing (Posten et al, 2005). It’s definitely more impressive than the evidence for inflammation generally and paraesthesia.
At any rate, the evidence base for LLLT seems to have strengthened a little; but it suggests that it can only offer temporary pain relief. This is light–years away from the claims made by enthusiastic therapists and device suppliers.
Before its evident ‘fishbarreling’ Quantumwave Lasers made all sorts of wild claims. These conflated some physics language, wild health claims, and demonstrable nonsense.
For instance the site claimed that the dramatically named ‘Viopulsar’ was designed to ‘work with’
“DNA, RNA, emotional issues, cell memory and the aura, also for skin rejuvenation and scars.” (changes logged here)”
This claim mixes the speculative (skin rejuvenation and scars) with the wild (emotional issues) and the fictitious (cell memory and the aura): quite a tangled web.
Also, I’d really hope that any interaction with my DNA or RNA was minimal! Though, given that the wavelength of this laser is in the visible part of the spectrum (405nm) and its low-powered, I wouldn’t be too worried.
A red laser unit had these claims made for it:
“… this 650nm wavelength probe has a faster wave than the infrared probe and is designed for the soft tissue in the body as well as muscle, gums, skin tissue, blood, bacterial parasites, most pathogens, pain relief, meridians and more.” (changes logged here)
I’m not sure what is meant by ‘faster wave’, perhaps the author meant higher frequency? Anyway, another tangled web of claims makes its entrance. The most plausible claim, “pain relief” isn’t really supported by the evidence, save for some temporary relief in RA of the hand.
It’s hard to make sense of the rest. What does, “…designed for … blood” actually mean? When I read that something is “designed for” bacterial parasites and pathogens, I assume that whatever it is, it will do them in. There’s just no way a low-powered 650 nm laser is going to do that.
Claiming a laser can be designed for “meridians” defeats all reason, as they don’t exist, except perhaps as some sort of metaphor. Can a laser work on a metaphor?
The original list of claims for the benefits of Quantumwave Lasers followed the same pattern:
Laser facelift. “(changes logged here)
It’s a mix of claims for real conditions that goes beyond the evidence (like the general claim for pain relief); and includes effects on things that don’t exist, like: cell memory, aura, meridians and chakras.
It’s really good to see that most of these claims have been removed. However, whilst the fantasy medicine has abated somewhat, the fantasy physics is still going strong.
Under the banner of “Health” the Quantumwave lasers website claims that:
“Western physics has finally caught up with what traditional Chinese medicine and most native traditions have been telling us for the last 5,000 years. Every living thing on the planet, including our bodies, is made up of energy, light energy.”
This is just laying a dubious foundation for a very simplistic justification of the health-giving properties of lasers. Setting aside the false implication that physics belongs to the west, not the world, there’s a kernel of truth in here, but it just doesn’t matter. Yes, at the level of fundamental particles, matter is essentially condensed energy. However, it doesn’t follow that adding energy will improve the functioning of large-scale biological organisms, like us.
The energy in these lasers is very small and cannot generate any new particles (thankfully). For example, generating an electron-positron pair (a small amount of matter) requires the interaction of a gamma ray with an atomic nucleus. Gamma rays are an ionizing radiation and, as such, a risk to health. Also, the particles that make up the atoms that make up the molecules that make us are very stable (thankfully) and don’t require an energy ‘top up’.
Then again, “light” is just the part of the electromagnetic spectrum that the human eye is sensitive to. It doesn’t pack the punch needed to generate matter. So living things are definitely not “made up of … light energy”.
Finally, in the relationship between matter and energy there is no distinction between living and non-living things. An electron in you doesn’t differ fundamentally from an electron in your PC.
So, this is just a vain attempt to prepare the ground for speculative health claims for lasers operating in the visible range. It’s a simplistic proposal: life is made of light, therefore add light to fix life. It’s plainly wrong.
The page for the Quantumwave Laser Main Unit claims that it:
“… combines the most advanced cold laser technology with state of the art quantum scalar wave technology.”
While lasers work via quantum mechanical effects, light waves are NOT SCALAR WAVES (see here for a discussion of similar scalar confusion). Scalar waves are things like sound waves: the transport of energy expressed as a scalar, as opposed to vector, quantity. It’s an annoying bit of made-up marketing nonsense.
At the end of the day this, and the other products use very ordinary laser diodes (8 infrared 780nm 5mW and 8 red 660nm 5mW) along with “20 Violet LEDs.” You can buy them on ebay. This doesn’t appear to be very ‘advanced’ or ‘state of the art’.
The Infrared Pulsar Probe is described as having “a 780nm wavelength” and, “has violet crystal technology and is scalar wave enhanced.” I do wonder what “violet crystal technology” is; particularly as “violet” implies light from the short-wavelength end of the visible spectrum rather than the infrared output of this probe.
How is a laser “scalar wave enhanced?” maybe it has a built-in radio?
Then there’s the Violet Pulsar Probe and the site says:
“Violet light is non-polarized which is why it creates a greater quantum shift than all the others.”
In reality “violet light” is not immune from being polarised. Transverse waves, like light, oscillate perpendicular to their direction of propagation. Polarisation is the process of aligning the oscillations of the waves in a beam. If they are constrained within a particular plane, then the wave can be said to be (linearly) polarized. Violet light can be polarized, just like any other colour of light. To claim otherwise is nonsense.
The term “quantum shift” has no formal meaning. In this context, it is just made up marketing screed.
“Because the scalar wave effect is created by the hand unit with all the probes, you are still getting the quantum effect with any piece you use.”
As I’ve mentioned already, light waves are not scalar waves. The only quantum effect you get from these devices is the production of the laser light. As the evidence shows, that’s not going to do anyone a great deal of good.
I try to make sure that what I write is both accurate and fair. If you think that I have got anything wrong please let me know. If you are right I will happily change what I have written.
This is not medical advice. If you need that see a properly qualified and registered doctor.
*QuackWatch has an excellent review of LLLT, which concludes, “At this writing, the bottom line appears to be that LLLT devices may bring about temporary relief of some types of pain, but there’s no reason to believe that they will influence the course of any ailment or are more effective than other forms of heat delivery.”
Thanks to the participants on the Bad Science Forum thread “Cold laser therapy”, particularly frozenwarnings and the OP Jake William.
Brosseau L, Welch V, Wells GA, de Bie R, Gam A, Harman K, et al. Low level laser therapy (Classes III) for treating osteoarthritis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2007;CD002046(1). Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD002046.pub3.
Brosseau L, Welch V, Wells GA, de Bie R, Gam A, Harman K, et al.. Low level laser therapy (Classes I, II and III) for treating rheumatoid arthritis. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd; 2010. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD002049.pub2.
Flemming K, Cullum NA. Laser therapy for venous leg ulcers. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd; 1999. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD001182.
Kymplová J, Navrátil L, Knízek J. Contribution of phototherapy to the treatment of episiotomies. Journal of clinical laser medicine & surgery. 2003 Feb;21(1):35–39. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1089/10445470360516725.
Posten W, Wrone DA, Dover JS, Arndt KA, Silapunt S, Alam M. Low-level laser therapy for wound healing: mechanism and efficacy. Dermatologic surgery : official publication for American Society for Dermatologic Surgery [et al]. 2005 Mar;31(3):334–340. Available from: http://view.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15841638.
Stasinopoulos D, Stasinopoulos I. Comparison of effects of Cyriax physiotherapy, a supervised exercise programme and polarized polychromatic non-coherent light (Bioptron light) for the treatment of lateral epicondylitis. Clinical rehabilitation. 2006 Jan;20(1):12–23. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1191/0269215506cr921oa.
Whelan HT, Smits RL, Buchman EV, WhelanNT, Turner SG, Margolis DA, et al. Effect of NASA light-emitting diode irradiation on wound healing. Journal of Clinical Laser Medicine & Surgery. 2001 Dec;19(6):305–314. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1089/104454701753342758.
Yousefi-Nooraie R, Schonstein E, Heidari K, Rashidian A, Pennick V, Akbari-Kamrani M, et al.. Low level laser therapy for nonspecific low-back pain. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd; 2008. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD005107.pub4.
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