An interview with Michael Payne, MS, CRC, CNS
Michael Payne is perhaps the world’s leading specialist in the field of photobiomodulation therapy (PBMT) and NAD supplementation.
PBMT utilizes non-ionizing forms of light (including LASERS, LEDs, and broadband light) in the visible and near infrared spectrum. Without involving heat, it activates endogenous chromophores to begin photophysical and photochemical processes.
There are numerous examples of light-induced photochemical reactions in biological systems. Vision, for example, results when light interacts with photosensitive cells in our retinas, which convert light energy into electrical signals that are transmitted to the visual processing centers of the brain. Similarly, our skin produces vitamin D as a result of sunlight activating a form of cholesterol, 7-dehydrocholesterol, converting it to vitamin D3. The negative effects of the absence of light on the human body are also well known. Two examples include seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and lack of vitamin D production leading to rickets.
Although PBMT devices have been cleared for marketing by FDA as adjunctive devices for the temporary relief of pain, Payne utilizes light therapy in conjunction with NAD for far more than pain management.
Following his own failed surgery for a spinal injury, Payne graduated from the Medical College of Virginia with a master’s degree in rehabilitation, hoping to heal himself. In addition to that successful undertaking, he has been helping families deal with autism, Lyme disease, and brain restoration for more than 20 years.
As the founder of Living Well International, Payne is known as an innovator in autoimmune and neurological rehabilitation, particularly for patients for whom other treatments have failed. As a result, he has delivered over 10,000 consultations worldwide and has developed the most advanced library of biofeedback-surveys available. He is currently engaged in developing innovative techniques with PBMT and other energy medicine modalities.
NAD Research: How did you become interested in combining NAD treatments with photobiomodulation?
Payne: As you know, I am not a traditionally trained doctor. I began because of my own needs and the needs of people around me. During the early part of this century, I treated over 5,000 children with autism, or spectrum disorders, who are now called neurodivergent. It quickly became evident to me that a mitochondria disorder was part of that condition, and when researching mitochondria, the word NAD frequently comes up. It was very fascinating, in that NAD supplementation worked for some and not for others, and I had no idea why. So that’s how I became interested in it, let alone the fact that I got into this business late in life, at age 48, as a result of my own progressive neurological issues. So, I trained as a functional medicine doctor and began to investigate how this particular molecule could help me rehabilitate myself, along with people with autism, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and migraine headaches.
NAD Research: What did you discover?
Payne: What I discovered is that people are in fact complicated. When you’ve seen one child with autism, you’ve seen one child with autism. That being the case, I had to go deeper and deeper with every patient to see what co-factors were involved in how people responded to treatment. But I made some really interesting discoveries along the way. One was that the brain and the neuro-immune system are much bigger than we typically imagine. That means that when we’re treating people with progressive brain issues, we need to take a broader approach because, if we’re frank about it, we still don’t know that much about the brain. We know how to lose weight. We know how to change hormones. Maybe even support the thyroid. But we don’t know very much about the brain. So, I had to consider a larger concept of how the brain works, which we now call cellular communication. We also talk a lot about something called the default mode network (DMN) of the brain, which was a brand-new idea 10 years ago. In fact, my work has come to focus on how to activate and then manage the connectivity of the default mode network. Because that is what breaks down in an autistic or a Parkinsonian or a multiple sclerosis type of a brain.
NAD Research: Please tell us more about the Default Mode Network.
Payne: The default mode network was discovered by a man named Marcus Raichle, who is Alan and Edith Wolff Distinguished Professor in Medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The DMN refers to baseline brain activity that is ongoing constantly, even when the brain is “at rest,” or not focused on a specific task.
Traditionally we have believed that the brain operates like an electrical system, transferring information through electrochemical signals sent along neural pathways and jumping the synapses.
But the default mode network is so much bigger, encompassing this beautiful thing called glia, which looks like a cauliflower around your brain. We used to think it was just wrapping paper, but it turns out that it is a pulsed electronic communication system that doesn’t only communicate to the cells next to it but to cells throughout the body.
For instance, we used to stub our toe and think that the pain signal came to the brain through afferent neurons and the muscular response to that stimulus came through efferent neurons. But in the default mode network, it is actually glia that receive and pulse electronically through an “ethernet” of fibers running through out your body. The idea is that the body actually emails, texts, and tweets for rapid-fire communication at distance through the extracellular matrix and the collagen fibers that make it up. These communications don’t require the cells to be next to each other; they can actually transmit and receive information across the body in multiple forms. The currency for this communication is color frequency, and heat.
We now also know that the brain has its own lymphatic system for drainage and detoxification of the glia, which is known as the glymphatic system. If the brain does not detox nightly there is an accumulation of damaged proteins from inflammatory cytokines. When toxins are dep0sited in the extracellular matrix, the information flow slows. When the extracellular matrix becomes polluted, the body adapts to a nonresponse and that is the first step in disease.
Recent studies indicate that the brain and the DMN operate better when switched from glycolysis to oxidative phosphorylation. This switch increases ATP and nitric oxide, recruits stem cells, and shifts the metabolic phenotype from M1 to M2, which is less inflammatory. That is a really good thing.
NAD Research: So how does photobiomodulation enter the picture? And how do you combine it with NAD?
Payne: Quite simply, NAD+ and multiple red and blue light frequencies activate each of these major pathways I just mentioned. For this reason, nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide and light therapy may be key players in regenerative medicine. The mechanism is the mitochondria, which are the main chromophore for red light. Inside the mitochondria there is a molecule called cytochrome-c oxidase, a complex protein that absorbs the light, releasing nitric oxide, reactive oxygen species, and ATP for cellular regeneration. The balance of NAD is essential for switching, connectivity and signaling.
The answer to your question goes back to mitochondria. Some of my friends actually call me Michaelchondria because of the amount of time I’ve spent studying it. So, as Michaelchondria, I will attempt to explain that children with autism have cellular issues. These issues usually have to do with sodium, calcium, and potassium channels, and specifically, how these channels are regulated.
As it turns out, most ion channels are gated, which allows them to open and close in response to a specific stimulus, rather than allowing the constant, unregulated flow of ions. Sodium, calcium, and potassium channels are basically pH-gated, which means that the channels open and close in response to pH, which can be activated by light, or as I say, they are light-gated. (Others might say they are “voltage gated.”) Mitochondria, too, are activated by light—and specifically by light in the 660-nm range, which is basically red light. So exposing mitochondria to red light activates them, which aids in the proper opening and closing of ion channels, which can resolve some of the problems children with autism experience.
As Richard Mestayer says, we have a clock gene, which makes sure that everything happens on time. It’s like your computer clock. If it’s broken, you’re not going to get the scheduled updates. If your metabolic clocks don’t run on time, one of the consequences is a build-up of toxins in the cells. I believe, and I don’t have any reference other than observation over the past 20 years, that the biggest issue in progressive neurological disease is a G-alpha protein-regulated calcium channel that is dysregulated, which is a fancy way of saying that there’s too much calcium going in and out of the cells. A little bit is okay. Too much kills the cell.
Another problem that comes from channel dysregulation is that we can get an accumulation of proteins in the brain: amyloid plaque. You can also see amyloidosis associated with other organs too—heart, kidneys, spleen, and the entire nervous system. The cause seems to be that the calcium channels don’t open and close well as a result of this long complicated process from light all the way to the G-alpha protein gatekeeper. But what we figured out is that NAD is a key ingredient to help clear the calcium channel and get the doors opening and closing on time to bring it back to proper functioning.
NAD Research: Can you say more about NAD’s role in this process?
Payne: On the front end of the calcium channel, there are two G-alpha protein-linked guards that let tightly regulated calcium into the cell. Outside the gradient of a cell, there’s lots of calcium, and that’s okay, but there’s only a certain amount of calcium that can be let in for kids with autism, who have impaired detoxification issues. Also, the calcium is often covalently attached with mercury. So you can only imagine what mercury and calcium do to the mitochondria inside a cell: you get early apoptosis, which is especially damaging if it’s in mid-brain area. (We also see this same issue in Lyme disease, MS, and Parkinson’s, although not necessarily in Alzheimer’s. The histories of children with autism often include MS, Parkinson’s, Crohn’s, and migraine headaches in the aunts, uncles, grandmothers, and mothers, many times with a thyroid issue as well. So there’s a history of slow metabolic processes and slow detoxification in their medical history.)
There was a 2005 Vargas study at John Hopkins that examined 11 postmortem autistic brains and found that inflammation was key, whether or not the inflammation is actually in the brain. They found chemokine receptors being expressed in mid-brain areas as a result of some type of underlying inflammatory condition. However, photobiomodulation and NAD begin to shift the metabolics of the cell, taking it from an M-one phenotype to an M-two phenotype, meaning we shift from glycolysis to oxidative phosphorylate. That’s the first thing.
In other words, the cell goes from a glucose processing system to an oxidative phosphorylation processing system, which, even in Alzheimer’s, would release nitric oxide, which delivers a burst of a lot of different types of growth factors. Nitric oxide even liberates stem cells to actually help repair cell damage. All of this begins to shift the brain from being in an inflammatory state to an anti-inflammatory state. Instead of being self-destructive, it becomes protective. So the idea is that by releasing the nitric oxide, by switching from glycolysis to oxidative phosphorylation, we actually get stem cell release.
I’ve done a lot of work with stem cells exosomes and peptides with children with autism. And again, without NAD, without setting up cofactors that affect the causal chain, we basically don’t get the results that we would like to see.
So, by front-end loading NAD, we front-end load the possibility of releasing nitric oxide and increasing, strangely enough, ROS for a short period of time. But by doing this we also provoke a change in the brain from an M1 phenotype, which is inflammatory, to an M2 phenotype, which is anti-inflammatory.
To summarize and recap, quite simply, NAD+ and multiple red and blue light frequencies activate each of these major pathways. The mechanism action takes place in the mitochondria, which are the main chromophore for red light through a molecule called cytochrome-c oxidase. This is a complex protein activation absorbs the light, releasing NO, ROS and improving NAD/NADH balance that increases cellular energy and regeneration.
NAD Research: How do you administer the NAD?
Payne: Our medical team attended the training at Springfield Medical Center with Dr. Richard Mestayer. The procedures were excellent, but as we expanded our cohorts, we realized that we could modify the protocols, particularly with children, because differences in phenotype, mitochondria health, and single nucleotide polymorphisms changed the outcomes.
We started with drips of 250 to 500 mg lasting several hours. This was challenging because kids moved around, and the dose could become uneven. Most of you know how a bolus of NAD can make you feel like you are having a heart attack. That is something you cannot ignore if you are a child or sensitive adult. Then we added a pump so we could regulate flow and that solved many issues. Less Zofran and more smiles.
The next big advance happened when we added photobiomodulation. My organization, Living Well Today, had a long-standing relationship with VieLight and Advanced Light Systems, leaders in light therapy. We applied high-powered pulsed therapy pre- and post- intravenous NAD+ and there was an immediate positive response, especially in Lyme, Parkinson, and MS groups.
Then we began flooding the body with photons during the session and the results were significant. Symptoms of depression, anxiety, range of motion pain and cognitive coherence improved. Time between treatments without symptoms increased, as well.
In advanced autoimmune cases, such as chronic fatigue and post Lyme syndrome, we used polychromatic radiation of the blood after intravenous NAD+ to reduce viral and bacterial loads and increase detoxification of infectious agents such as cytomegalovirus (CMV) and Babesia. Polychromatic radiation is a minimally invasive photoluminescence blood treatment for auto-immune, viral, bacterial, and fungal diseases, which works by stopping replication.
In the neurological autoimmune cohort more than 60% of individuals received moderate to significant benefit, when they had no hope of improvement coming in. However, the major problem with progressive neurological disease is that, once the treatment is removed, the symptoms reoccur over time.
So, out of necessity we developed a solution for patient self-care. Our protocol uses topical, sublingual and iontophoresis patches, which are a voltage-gated drug delivery system through the skin. But my favorite delivery system, actually, is topical. I apply a small amount of NAD cream from Archway Apothecary to the inside of the wrist and then strap a wrist LED over it. Now, why would I do something so silly? Because of the discovery in the last few years of something called free-circulating mitochondria, or extracellular mitochondria. Until now, mitochondria have always been considered inside of a cell. But guess what? There are free-floating mitochondria throughout the blood system. These free-floating mitochondria can be activated through your skin, through your blood system, with 660 wavelength light. In other cases, we’ve used blue light to stimulate those calcium channels, as well.
German homeopathy studies have shown that NAD is effective when applied to thin-skinned areas and then wrapped in red light. I have various techniques for doing this. I have what I call biophoton pads that can be applied to the legs, wrists, the head, the biceps, the neck—and I also have specialized devices for applying light inside the nasal cavity and to the ear. The idea is that because of the extracellular matrix, the light activity applied at one part of the body can travel throughout your body. I can treat your wrist or ankle sprain and increase nitric oxide, stem cells, transcription factors throughout your body.
The brain is the body’s central processing unit. For so many diseases, including autism, MS, Parkinson’s, migraines, Lyme and other autoimmune diseases, the underlying condition is neuroimmune dysfunction where the brain, through the default mode network, no longer talks to the immune system and vice-versa. Neither knows what the other is doing. Almost any disease can start with this breakdown in communication. Indeed, in almost all of the diseases that I’ve had experience with, the brain, the immune system, and the metabolic system have stopped talking.
The underlying coding for that is called the default mode network. The DMN is the base regulating system for the brain. So, foundational molecules like NAD, peptides, exosomes, and stem cells have a very big role in the new medicine. They can treat many diseases, which often begin as inflammation, which almost always begins in the gut. Inflammation in the gut is sensed by the enteric nervous system, the 40,000 brain cells wrapped around the digestive system, which communicate with the rest of the body. So reducing inflammation, by reducing stress, reducing toxic load, reducing parasitic infection, is probably one of the most effective ways to treat many illnesses.
NAD Research: What is the dosage of NAD you use?
Payne: I personally like about 100 milligrams of NAD twice a day, topically. That dose is about the size of a pea. Or, I give four of the 150 milligrams sublingual melts, which means about 600 mg. This weekend, I am giving an intravenous NAD, plus exosomes and peptides, to a 16-year-old autistic.
At the same time that we’re addressing inflammation, we need to be feeding the brain and making sure this neuroimmune dysfunction syndrome does not have dominance over how we protect ourselves.
NAD Research: How do we feed the brain?
Payne: I think it’s a little bit different for everybody, but in addition to NAD, I think choline is probably the number-one brain food. Dr. Krishna Doniparthi, in Atlanta, administers intravenous phosphatidylcholine, but you have to do a lot of sessions over time.
Strangely enough, cod liver oil, beetroot, and certain mushrooms are good for the brain because they release nitric oxide and increase fatty metabolism. Again, because everybody’s metabolic or mitochondrial state is different, we sometimes don’t know how they will react. But choline, phosphatidylcholine, that whole complex is important to brain health, as are good fats—like cod liver oil, if you can find a clean source. Cod liver oil has a vitamin A that actually works on those trans and cis receptors in the brain. You could combine it with DHA. You can combine it with astaxanthin, a keto-carotenoid.
NAD Research: What kind of results have you seen?
Payne: Let me first qualify my response by saying that the patients who come to me are the hardest cases. They’re the patients for whom nothing else has worked, so they’re willing to try anything—as am I. So, for these “hopeless” autism cases, I get about a 30% success rate. By success, I mean we improve their quality of life—sometimes spectacularly. We’ve had different success rates with long-term Lyme disease and long-haul COVID. But if we combined all of these diseases into a category we called neuroimmune dysfunction, in which there’s an inflammatory condition in the brain that needs to be addressed, I’d say we’ve got a 60% significantly improved life. Could I say that 1,000 autistic kids have completely recovered? No, but I could say that they’ve been able to go to school and college, they’ve joined the military, they’ve been able to live their lives.
One of the big cases that I’ve had this year was with a 37-year-old man who fell out of a third-story window and had a severe spinal cord injury. He couldn’t walk. We got him on intravenous NAD, poly MVA, phosphatidylcholine, and red light therapy, and he can now walk again. Right now, I’m working on two cases of glioblastoma, or melanoma that has attacked the brain. These are the kind of cases I get called in on. I look at the inflammatory cascade, and try to turn it off with light, NAD, and other micronutrients.
NAD Research: Is there something special about the red light?
Payne: Yes. Compromised mitochondria can be remodeled, recycled, and rearranged with red light and NAD+. Its time has come.