Monday, October 31, 2011

Are You a Victim of Seasonal Affective Disorder? Part 3

I apologize to my readers that due to circumstances, the final post of the SAD series is going up later than planned. For those who missed the first two segments, please refer to September 21 and September 28 in the index of posts.

      What treatment is available for SAD sufferers? Antidepressants have been used with some success, along with exercise. However, medication has the potential for side effects. Researchers are pointing to light therapy as another possible solution. It appears that replacing natural, full-spectrum light, which is in short supply in the winter, can provide relief for some SAD sufferers. According to an article in Maclean's titled, Surviving the Winter, dozens of clinical studies have shown that light therapy, simply exposing a patient to bright light for a period of time each day, can be highly effective in treating two-thirds of SAD patients. The belief is that this is probably due to the restoration of proper melatonin synthesis and secretion by the pineal gland. This leads to reestablishment of the proper circadian rhythm, which is the natural 24-hour rhythmic release of hormones.
     Is there a way to tell who will benefit from light therapy? According to a report on early response to light therapy carried in The Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience, a small clinical study using light therapy showed that patients suffering from hypersomnia and carbohydrate cravings tend to have a favorable response. According to the article, a number of studies have demonstrated that artificial bright-light therapy effectively treats the symptoms of depression in most, but not all, patients with SAD.
     Those suffering with certain types of depression other than SAD also may be helped with light therapy. There is evidence that exposing PMS sufferers to full-spectrum light for a period of time each day during the dark winter months could serve as a non-drug therapy to reduce their symptoms.  In a preliminary study of PMS sufferers dealing with depression, two hours of natural light was administered the week before menstruation each month for three months. All patients experienced vastly decreased feelings of depression. An article in Prevention offered the theory that, similar to patients affected by SAD, the release of the hormone, melatonin, during light therapy restores the rhythms that have been interrupted by the reproductive hormones.
     The available data seems to draw a clear relationship between the availability of full-spectrum light and our physical, emotional, and mental health. Light therapy appears to be a relatively simple, non-invasive way for some people to experience relief. Formerly, the equipment used to administer full-spectrum light was bulky and heavy. A light-producing device called Litebook is the size of a portable CD player and uses light-emitting diodes (LED's) to create an intense beam, while consuming just one-tenth the power of an incandescent bulb. This device could make a significant difference to those suffering from conditions that respond to light therapy. This includes people with jet lag. Larry Pederson, the inventor of Litebook, points out that travelers and business people generally don't have the luxury of several days to recover after a long flight. The use of light therapy could be a welcome benefit to those with heavy travel schedules between time zones.
      There is a  less expensive solution. Visit a pet store and purchase a full-spectrum florescent light designed for an aquarium. It may be necessary to sit near the aquarium light for up to two hours at a time rather than the 20 minute estimate for the costlier version, but the time can be well-spent reading or doing office work.
         After learning about the benefits of light therapy, I bought a standard full-spectrum light bulb at a health and nutrition store and installed it in a lamp. I sat near the lamp for 30 minutes to one hour each morning. After two to three months on this regimen, there was a marked reduction in my depression and my energy and motivation increased significantly. After implementing light therapy, I was able to anticpate the beauty of fall without the accompanying dread of winter. Of course, even better is the blessing of a winter vacation in Florida!
          Note:  As with any treatment of physical, mental or emotional symptoms, a medical professional should be consulted before using light therapy.  
                                                                                             © Laura Allen Nonemaker

1 comment:

  1. Good, informative post, Laura. Now when is someone going to invent a chair with that light inside since it is supposed to be more effective when shined on the backs of the knees than anywhere else. (Which is odd since the pineal gland is behind the eyes.)