January 2021

Brightening up Seasonal Depression with Light Therapy

Now that the holidays are over and people are back to quarantining in their homes, the dark days of winter are likely to start taking their toll. Changes in sunlight exposure, the timing of melatonin, and deficiencies in serotonin might all contribute to some patients developing seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It’s important to help patients cope and address questions about available therapies, like light therapy. What should you tell them?

There’s evidence that it works. Using bright light therapy for 30 minutes to 3 hours daily at a brightness of 3000 or 10,000 lux might help reduce SAD symptoms. It’s believed that light therapy may increase serotonin levels – some research shows that it might be as effective as fluoxetine 20 mg daily for reducing symptoms.

If patients want to give it a try, tell them to look for 3000 or 10,000 lux lights – there are a ton of options available online. Some experts have raised concerns about an increased risk for cancer when using lights that emit ultraviolet A (UVA) or ultraviolet B (UVB). But a new review suggests that isn’t a concern. Even so, there are a lot of UV-free LED lights available. Tell patients to place the lamp 1-1.5 feet away from their face, and suggest they use it in the morning rather than the evening to best mimic natural sunlight. Side effects are generally mild and might include headache, fatigue, and eye strain. Also, make sure patients understand that they shouldn’t look directly into the light source, and advise patients with health conditions such as diabetes or retinopathy to consult with their healthcare provider before starting light therapy.

For more details on Light therapy, check out our recently updated monograph.

The information in this brief report is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions. Copyright © 2024 NatMed. Commercial distribution or reproduction prohibited. NatMed is the leading provider of high-quality, evidence-based, clinically-relevant information on natural medicine, dietary supplements, herbs, vitamins, minerals, functional foods, diets, complementary practices, CAM modalities, exercises and medical conditions. Monograph sections include interactions with herbs, drugs, foods and labs, contraindications, depletions, dosing, toxicology, adverse effects, pregnancy and lactation data, synonyms, safety and effectiveness.