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December 10, 2015
As we continue through the holiday season, this week marks Hannukah, the 7-day 8-night Jewish “festival of lights”. Interestingly enough, the power of light was recognized broadly in the news this week. A major study published in JAMA Psychiatry indicates for the first time that light therapy might be helpful for depression in general – and not just seasonal affective disorder, a condition that many face this time of year. Light therapy is a procedure in which one is exposed to specialized lighting to help improve their mood. It is believed to correct disturbed circadian rhythm, among other benefits.
In the JAMA study, participants were exposed to either fluorescent light, 20 milligrams of the antidepressant Prozac daily, or both while the control group received a placebo pill and exposure to an electric air purifier for eight weeks. The results not only proved that light treatment was effective on its own, but even moreso tandem with the Prozac. Both variations of light therapy methods were proven more effective when compared to participants using a placebo.
As we know, not all people react the same way to medication and this holds true for mental health. 38% of people don’t respond to SSRI anti-depressants, indicating the significance of biological makeup when considering how an individual may react to a drug. This study showed that in addition to circadian rhythm, the light therapy also affected neurotransmitters in the brain – the same ones anti-depressants are meant to target – which could be a huge breakthrough for people who don’t respond as well – or at all – to Prozac alone.
Researchers openly admit that the sample size for the study was small (122 total participants) and there is more to be done. But nonetheless, this study suggests a method of treatment worth considering.
For more information on the study and mental health, please visit the following resources: