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What the Experts Say About Light Therapy

Below you will find a selection of comments and excerpts from respected professionals in the fields of Light Therapy and Natural Healthcare

Ani Kowal, BSc, MSc Nutritional Medicine, RNutr
Consultant Nutritional Therapist for bodykind Ltd

"Light boxes, sunrise alarm clocks and daylight lamps can be really useful, in addition to dietary and lifestyle factors, for helping to keep us vitalised in the autumn and winter months. In particular light therapy is often incredibly helpful to those individuals suffering with Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.

Symptoms of SAD include: depression or low mood, sleep problems, lethargy, over-eating and cravings (particularly for carbohydrates), difficulty with concentration and memory, irritability, anxiety and loss of libido. Some of these symptoms may arise due to a disturbance in the circadian rhythm, our natural body clock, which is impacted due to the lack of light in the autumn and winter. Studies suggest that the use of light therapies might improve these symptoms by having an effect via the ‘feel-good’ brain chemical serotonin and the pathways involved in its production.

Even those individuals without an official diagnosis of SAD may gain significant benefit from light therapy. Studies have shown that bright light therapy may improve vitality, energy levels and mood in all individuals, particularly those of us who work indoors during the autumn and winter. In winter many of us will get up and go to work whilst it is still dark, then sit in an office lit with false lighting and then leave when it is dark outside, so we never see natural daylight. Using a light-box or waking up to a dawn simulator could help to boost mood and energy levels and help to prevent lethargy and daytime sleepiness."

Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal
Renowned psychiatrist and the researcher who first formally described & named Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in 1984. Author of "Winter Blues: SAD and how to overcome it".

Dr. Rosenthal describes SAD as “an energy crisis.” Patients are not depressed in the usual emotional sense, but rather feel as if their batteries have run down. The symptoms of SAD tend to mimic those of serious depression. Patients say they have to drag themselves out of bed in the morning, even after 10 hours of sleep, and force themselves to perform necessary chores.

Dr Rosenthal and his colleagues treated patients with symptoms with bright lights which helped to successfully manage the winter depression. He then went on to pioneer light therapy as an effective treatment method for SAD. (Reference: Rosenthal, NE (2005). Winter Blues: Third Edition)

Dr Rosenthal says "Sixty to 80 percent of SAD sufferers benefit from light therapy. The amount of light varies from person to person... Mornings seem the best time for light therapy to work, although the treatments can be divided during the day. Most people respond to light therapy within 2 to 4 days of initiating treatment. Although the amount of time needed varies, most people need between 30 and 90 minutes (10,000lux) of light therapy per day." (Reference: Rosenthal NE, Genhart M, Jacobsen FM, et al. Disturbances of appetite and weight regulation in seasonal affective disorder Ann N Y Acad Sci 1987. 499216–30)

Dr John Briffa BSc (Hons), MB BS (Lond)
A prize-winning graduate of University College London School of Medicine, where he also gained a BSc degree in Biomedical Sciences

“….In short, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend that individuals who get SAD or something similar in the winter apply some light therapy from about now and right through to well into the spring. I, myself, will be taking my own advice, for what it’s worth….” (Reference: Dr Briffa Blog post 12th October 2010)

The Met Office
The UK's National Weather Service.

The Met Office launched a pilot scheme with 3 local NHS PCT's called "Brighter Outlook" which combined gloomy weather alerts with light therapy to help people with SAD. The people who enrolled on the scheme received alerts via text, email or automated phone call to alert them of imminent gloomy weather.

This was intended to prompt them into using their light boxes plus any other healthy living activities, such as exercise, with the aim of reducing their SAD symptoms. The results showed a "significant improvement in depressive symptoms" in those individuals combining light therapy with other methods to combat SAD and the winter blues. (Reference: The Met Office)

The SAD light boxes used in this clinical study were the Lightpod and the Diamond 4 from the SAD Lightbox Company