Light therapy for treating depression as good as Prozac

Prozac, move over. There's a new treatment option in town, this time in the form of bright light therapy.

Prozac, move over. There's a new treatment option in town.  This time, no pills are involved. Scientists are using bright light therapy to treat depression.

In fact, light therapy is commonly used to treat seasonal affective disorder during the dark winter months. One of my friends just admitted that he bought a light-therapy box, hoping it would help him deal with the winter blues.

Using the same 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. In it, the light was used to treat clinical depression in a group of 89 elderly patients. Half of the group received light therapy for three weeks. The improvements were measured using the Hamilton Scale for Depression.

Every day for three weeks, the researchers 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 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 can affect the same part of the brain antidepressants target - which are 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.

So...hang on to those Prozac pills. Before you rush out to the store to buy a light-box, the doctor warned that depression shouldn't be taken lightly, adding that you should not try to treat yourself.

I can definitely relate to the winter blues. I'm just glad to be out of the brutal snow storm in New York.

Photo: kevindooley/ flickr

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