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Blood irradiation therapy is a procedure in which the blood is exposed to light (often laser light) for therapeutic reasons. Most research on blood irradiation therapy has been conducted in Russia and China and it is rarely used outside of those countries. Its effectiveness and utility as a treatment has been questioned. Blood irradiation therapy can be administered through a catheter in a vein, through the blood vessels inside the nose or applied externally through the skin. It is not related to the practice of gamma irradiation of blood in transfusion medicine.
Intravenous laser blood irradiation was developed experimentally by the Russian researchers, Meshalkin and Sergievskiy, and introduced into clinical practice in 1981. Originally the method was applied in the treatment of cardiovascular abnormalities.
Intravenous or intravascular blood irradiation involves the in-vivo illumination of the blood by feeding low level laser light generated by a 1–3 mW helium–neon laser at a wavelength of 632.8 nm into a vascular channel, usually a vein in the forearm, under the assumption that any therapeutic effect will be circulated through the circulatory system. The feasibility of intravascular laser irradiation for therapy of cardiocirculatory diseases was first presented in the American Heart Journal in 1982. The technique was developed primarily in Asia (including Russia) and is not extensively used in other parts of the world. It is claimed to improve blood flow and its transport activities, but has not been subject to randomized controlled trials and is subject to skepticism. While there have been some calls to increase research on this topic, others have called it "useless".
Ultraviolet blood irradiation may also be applied, though it involves drawing blood out through a vein and irradiating it outside of the body. Though promoted as a treatment for cancer, a 1952 review in the Journal of the American Medical Association and another review by the American Cancer Society in 1970 concluded the treatment was ineffective. Stephen Barrett, writing for Quackwatch, lists ultraviolet blood irradiation therapy as a questionable treatment.
Transcutaneous therapy applies laser light on unbroken skin in areas with large numbers of blood vessels (such as the forearm). Because of the skin acting as a barrier to the blood, the power of the laser is often boosted to compensate.