Light at the End of the Tunnel

Depression is one of the fastest-growing plagues in human history. There are lots of numbers thrown around about how many people are significantly depressed a significant amount of time, but the sales of antidepressant drugs — by far the biggest moneymakers in the drug business — should alarm you. Depression is an epidemic worldwide.

How many people do you know that you worry about because you know they’re depressed? Or to put it another way — how few people do you know who you think are happy most of the time?

Antidepressants rewire a human’s brain. There are permanent changes. I have a friend who was placed on antidepressants a decade ago. As he seemed to slip further and further into a serious depression, I became worried that the drug he was on wasn’t working. So he got his doctor to change prescriptions — several times. This is not an overnight process. It takes time to get off an antidepressant and time to see effectiveness with a new one.

Finally, I suggested he quit altogether to see what happened. It was like he came out of a fog. He still gets depressed on some days, but he feels he can deal with it. And he feels far better not being on the drugs.

So far, humans have done a really lousy job of treating depression. Talk therapy works some, and drugs can help the suicidal (unless the drugs make them more suicidal), but the vast majority of people with depression are leading unhappy lives.

So I was both skeptical and hopeful when I read a new study published in the American Medical Association’s journal JAMA Psychiatry.

To cut to the chase, the study says that when a depressed person is exposed to a strong, bright light for 30 minutes every morning after waking up, much of their depression is lifted.

A bright used for seasonal affective disorder

A bright light used for seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may prove effective treating anyone with depression. This 30-kilohertz light puts out a staggering 10,000 lux at 10 inches, about 300 times more than a 75-watt bulb.

Bright light therapy has long been known to help people who succumb to depression in winter months, when days become short on sunshine. The condition is called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. But until now, no one has studied the effects of bright light on people who are depressed year-round. And no one has previously studied light in combination with other therapies. This also appears to be the first study with bright light therapy that is placebo controlled.

There were four treatment groups of about 30 patients. One group got the bright light alone. Another group got a clever placebo device that was simply a negative ion generator that hummed as if it was doing something. Another group got fluoxetine (Prozac) and light. A fourth group got light and a placebo pill to sub for the fluoxetine.

At the end of the trial after eight weeks, the group that got the light as well as the fluoxetine did far better than any other group. Those who received light alone also did well, followed by the placebo group.

Bright light therapy is known to restore circadian rhythms in humans. The researchers speculated that it may also restore certain neurotransmitter functions.

Amazon sells different bright light therapy boxes at prices from $59–274.

To your health and wealth,

Stephen Petranek
for The Daily Reckoning

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Stephen Petranek

Stephen Petranek’s career of over 40 years in the publishing world is marked by numerous prizes and awards for excellent writing on science, nature, technology, politics, economics and more. He has been editor-in-chief of the Miami Herald’s prestigious Sunday magazine, Tropic, and has covered a wide range of topics for Time Inc.’s Life magazine. His...

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