Ever heard of light therapy? Well, get ready to hear a lot more about it as there seems to be some exciting research revealing that it may help ailments from depression to Alzheimer’s.
Light therapy is mostly associated with the seasonal affective disorder (SAD) which is a type of depression that affects some people during darker winter days.
In 2015 a study completed by the University of British Columbia in Vancouver gave Prozac, a placebo, light therapy or Prozac and light therapy to people suffering with depression. The people who were given the light therapy or Prozac improved more than the placebo group, however the group who were given the combination of light therapy and Prozac saw the most improvement.
“The light works by stimulating the retina” says Norman E. Rosenthal, clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical School in Washington, DC. “The retina signals the brain’s hypothalamus which then funnels the info in many directions, one of which is involved in boosting serotonin.”
In a small clinical trial researchers applied LED lights to Alzheimer’s patients with two devices, one worn like a headset and another that clipped to the nose for 20 to 25 minutes twice a week. “Over 12 weeks the subjects reported a dramatic improvement in their cognitive abilities” says one of the study’s coauthors, Michael Hamblin, principal investigator at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “Then they removed the device, and they all got worse but when they were given their own device to use at home, they all improved a second time.” Scientists say the treatment seems to work because a small amount of the light is able to reach the brain which is extremely sensitive to light. The light stimulates new cell growth and connections between neurons. Known as photobiomodulation, this approach is still in its infant stages of testing. Scientists are also keen to learn its potential to treat Parkinson’s disease.
Obviously trying to self treat with light therapy would be ill advised as it may exacerbate some eye conditions but worth discussing with your doctor to see if it might be something that could be of benefit to you.