In fact, light therapy is commonly used to treat seasonal affective disorder during the dark winter months. Using the type of light-therapy box, scientists wanted to see if the treatment could help treat depression – and it did. “The improvements were comparable to antidepressants,” the researchers said.
The study was published in “The Archives of General Psychiatry” and the light therapy was used to treat clinical depression in a group of 89 elderly patients. Half of the group received light therapy for three weeks and the improvements were measured using the Hamilton Scale for Depression. Every day for three weeks, the scientists exposed patients to bright light treatment (BLT) for an hour, and the patients reported an improvement in mood, sleep and hormonal rhythms. The people who had the light therapy showed more improvement than those who were in the placebo group and continued to improve for weeks even when the light therapy stopped.
Ritsaert Lieverse, a psychiatrist at the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, thinks the small trial worked because light therapy can affect the same part of the brain antidepressants target – which is the neurotransmitter systems that regulate serotonin and dopamine. Also, the light was shown to affect some chemicals in the brain: the sleep-promoting hormone, melatonin, and cortisol, the stress hormone.
This study remains in the phase of experiment so don’t rush to the store to buy a light-box because doctors warned that depression shouldn’t be taken lightly and you shouldn’t treat yourself. So…hang on to those Prozac pills but under medical guidance.