Light therapy has been proven useful in treating nonseasonal depression, according to a study published on November 18 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
Research was carried out between October 2009 and March 2014, having been led by Dr. Raymond Lam, head of the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program at the University of British Columbia, in Canada.
The purpose was to test if light therapy, which is commonly employed against seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is also effective in addressing the symptoms associated with nonseasonal depression as well.
The scientists’ belief was that daily exposure to an active 10 000-flux fluorescent white light box allows the body to re-balance its circadian rhythms.
According to them, this could prove helpful not just to those who experience depressive episodes when seasons change, but even to others who suffer from persistent low moods, since studies have shown that inadequate sleeping patterns can contribute to depression.
During a randomized controlled trial, 122 adults affected by clinical depression unrelated to seasonal patterns were divided into 4 groups.
Some of the participants received light therapy for 30 minutes every morning , and were also administered fluoxetine (a popular antidepressant known under the trade name of Prozac or Sarafem).
Others were assigned to using light therapy, in conjunction with a placebo pill, while a third group was asked to use a placebo device, while also taking fluoxetine on a daily basis. The last category of participants used a placebo pill, as well as a placebo device.
The experiment lasted for a period of 8 weeks, and throughout this period experts surveyed the subjects, aged between 19 and 60, using the Montgomery-Åsberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS), in order to assess the severity of their depressive episodes.
It was discovered that approximately 59% of those who had used a fluorescent light box in addition to Prozac had experienced a significant improvement in their condition, receiving normal scores at their evaluation.
In contrast, the percentage of those who entered remission after being treated exclusively with light monotherapy was of just 44%.
Overall outcome was more discouraging among the two other categories. Around 30% of those who had used placebo pills and fluorescent light devices witnessed an amelioration.
This was still better than the results obtained by those who had only taken antidepressants, in combination with sham light therapy. In this category, just a fifth of the participants obtained normal scores when the MADRS questionnaire was carried out.
Based on these studies, researchers now think that indeed light therapy might be successful in allowing the body to rewire itself, and to adjust its internal clock so that mood disruption can be reduced.
Another speculation is that the positive changes are linked to the fact that light exposure influences serotonin, a neurotransmitter which helps regulate emotional and mental well-being.
The study does have some limitations however, such as the researchers’ failure to take into account the amount of natural light received by each subject throughout the experiment.
Meanwhile, Simon Rego, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center, has declared that the findings are still promising, since they show that light therapy might be beneficial for treating a wider variety of depression forms than it had been previously thought.
Psychotherapy requires sustained effort and its results aren’t always as expected. Similarly, traditional antidepressants aren’t successful on every occasion, and can trigger severe adverse reactions. In contrast, this alternative treatment has a much higher tolerability and effectiveness, while being extremely safe to use.
The devices are also relatively cheap and widely commercialized in pharmacies and specialized stores. They cost somewhere between $100 and $300, and can be covered by some health insurance plans.
Image Source: Eagle Northwest University