Study Shows Light Therapy to Effectively Treat Mood Disorders, Including SAD
UNC School of Medicine, By LESLIE H. LANG
A study commissioned by the American Psychiatric Association and led by a psychiatrist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine has found that light therapy effectively treats mood disorders, including seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and other depressive disorders.
A report of the study, which appeared April 1 in the American Journal of Psychiatry, also finds that the effects of light therapy, also known as phototherapy, are comparable to those found in many clinical studies of antidepressant drug therapy for these disorders.
The findings were based on a meta-analysis, a systematic statistical review of 20 randomized, controlled studies previously reported in the scientific literature. These represented only 12 percent of 173 published studies that the authors had originally considered for review.
“We found that many reports on the efficacy of light therapy are not based on rigorous study designs. This has fueled the controversy in the field as to whether or not light therapy is effective for SAD or for non-seasonal forms of mood disorders,” said lead author Dr. Robert Golden, professor and chairman of psychiatry at UNC and vice dean of the medical school.
“But when you throw out all the studies that are methodologically flawed and then conduct a meta-analysis of those that are well-designed, you find that light therapy is an effective treatment not only for SAD but also for depression.”
The use of bright artificial light for people with SAD, a recurring depression that develops in the fall or winter and spontaneously disappears during spring or summer, was first described in the Archives of General Psychiatry in 1984. Since then, the treatment has been tried in clinical and research programs for non-seasonal mood disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, jet lag, insomnia, eating disorders and other behavioral problems.
A more recent light therapy approach is “dawn simulation,” which attempts to simulate an earlier dawn through exposure to artificial light. This follows the theory that SAD is triggered by the reduced period of bright daylight during winter.
The method attempts to recreate the increased intensity of sunlight that occurs in nature in the summer when the sun rises earlier in the day. “The logic here is that it might put people with seasonal affective disorder into remission,” Golden said.
Still, the exact mechanisms by which light therapy works remain unclear, the researchers said.
The studies selected by the authors for inclusion in their meta-analysis were grouped into four categories: bright light for SAD, bright light for non-seasonal depression, dawn simulation for SAD and bright light as an adjunct therapy combined with conventional antidepressants for non-seasonal affective disorder.
These study groups were limited to adults ages 18 to 65 years who met a criterion-based mood disorder diagnosis.
The meta-analysis demonstrated statistically significant treatment effects for SAD, dawn simulation for SAD and bright light treatment of non-seasonal depression, the report said.
“The effect size of the light therapy intervention in our meta-analysis was comparable to what has been described in the clinical literature for conventional medications to treat depression,” Golden said. “The findings are as strong or as striking.”
More research is needed on the safety of light therapy, particularly among children and the elderly, Golden said. The study did not look at safety or adverse effects, as very few reports contain controlled, or comparison, data on side effects or toxicity, the authors reported.
In addition, they added, the responses of children, adolescents and the elderly to light therapy may differ, compared to non-geriatric adults. For example, at each end of the age spectrum, the requirements for light therapy dosing might differ. Also, children and adolescents may need lower doses than the elderly. “And if eye problems such as cataracts are more prevalent among the elderly, might light therapy aggravate the problem, even slightly?”, Golden added.
As to efficacy of light therapy for SAD and other non-seasonal depressive mood disorders, Golden said this study largely answers the question: The treatment is effective.
“The study also points to the importance of conducting systematic literature reviews in areas of controversy using well-defined standards of what constitutes good study design, and to follow this up with meta-analyses so that the data can speak for themselves. “And when you can separate the wheat from the chaff, the findings are much more valid.”
Study co-authors with Golden are Dr. Bradley N. Gaynes, associate professor of psychiatry at UNC; R. David Ekstrom, adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry at UNC; Dr. Robert Hamer, professor of psychiatry at UNC; Dr. Frederick M. Jacobsen, clinical professor of psychiatry at George Washington University; Dr. Trisha Suppes, associate professor and director of the Bipolar Disorder Clinic and Research Program at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center; Dr. Katherine L. Wisner, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; and Dr. Charles B. Nemeroff, professor and chairman of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University.
Color in History
Since the earliest known civilizations, color has been used to communicate aesthetic ideas. The use of colour in the monumental works of Egypt and then Greece was extended into the Christian iconography of early oil painting where colour was used as a rich symbolism in its own right. Medieval stained glass made a huge impact on worshippers of that time because vivid colour speaks to our intuitive and feeling capacities. Colored light as a treatment was introduced in America in the nineteenth century, but it has remained obscure until the present day revival. It is now seen to fit into the expanding field of vibrational medicine which works on the whole energetic level of living beings.
What can light do for our health?
In northern climates, winter often brings the blues. A simple and proven remedy is the use of powerful light. Seasonal Affective Disorder is readily cured by sitting in front of bright light (10,000lux) for about half an hour morning and evening. The effect is brought about by regulation of the pineal gland in the brain which modulates the production of melatonin and serotonin - the molecules responsible for sleeping and waking. Darkness results in the production of melatonin which is a healthy state of affairs during the night time sleep cycle as it is conducive to healing and longevity, but, if melatonin production is not turned down in the morning by the effect of light on the pineal gland, lethargy and depression can arise in the presence of unusually high levels of melatonin during the day time activity cycle. The opposite condition of reduced melatonin caused by the modern use of prolonged artificial light is likely to have the knock-on effect of reducing the sexually inhibitive effect of melatonin and lead to the earlier onset of puberty. The power and importance of natural rhythms is not to be taken lightly!
Until the 1960s babies born prematurely suffered a life-threatening condition of jaundice, which may have necessitated a blood transfusion. Now, thanks initially to an article by R.J. Cremer in 1958, all that is required is exposure to light. This cure results from the chemical breakdown of bilirubin by full spectrum or blue light.
Dyslexia sufferers are now enabled to read comfortably with tinted glasses or overlays; black and white is often too harsh for them to see clearly. Specialist optometrists use the Intuitive Colorimeter, invented by Dr Arnold Wilkins, to evaluate the individual colors of the tinted glasses which improve reading and help to prevent migraines.
Another recent use of light therapy, developed for the military, involves shining light onto a non-visual part of the retina to prevent sleepiness over a period of forty-eight hours. Curiously, the use of strobed light in a sleeper's eyes has been found to stop snoring. These, and other distortions of the use of light are hardly to be applauded as they will lead to other imbalances in the body. There are very many impressive medical uses of light, but we shall focus on its application in the complementary field.
Is ultraviolet dangerous?
It is important to note that there are three divisions of UV light: A,B and C. It is UVC which is the most dangerous radiation. It is almost entirely filtered out by the ozone layer of the atmosphere, when that is intact. UVB is useful for vitamin D production but it is not good to get too much exposure. UVA results in skin tanning but fair-skinned people need to protect their skin from over-exposure. The healthful benefits of sunlight are usually thought, in temperate regions, to outweigh any danger of skin cancer. Advice varies as to how much sunlight is healthy, but an hour's exposure to sunlight early and late in the day cannot do anything but good.
How can color assist health?
The psychological effects of colors in our built environments are quite marked. Color needs to be understood to be applied in a way which supports activity or rest, agitation or calm. The psychological color language is universal as it would appear to be rooted in our biology. Red stimulates the sympathetic nervous system which raises our readiness for action. Blue stimulates the complementary system, the parasympathetic, which lowers blood pressure and induces calm. Other colours partake to various degrees of these extremes of action. Color is understood by the unconscious mind whether the stimulus is applied directly to the skin or through the eyes. In this way, bodily response patterns can be shifted, and harmony can be restored by the judicious use of colored light in therapy.
What color therapy systems are there?
Theo Gimbel (England) re-awakened interest in colored light therapy in the 1970s and remains a powerful international lecturer and teacher. Theo Gimbel founded the International Association of Colour in 1984. In Gimbel's Hygeia Colour Therapy Method, colour is always accompanied by a lesser amount of its complementary in a harmoniously timed sequence; and appropriate shapes are built into the masks of the stained glass filters which are used. Gimbel's approach is based on spiritual principles concerning the effects of
Angels and Elementals. He adds, 'Healing is Love in action.'
Hygeia College of Colour Therapy,
Theo Gimbel, Brook House, Avening, Tetbury GL8 8NS
Tel: 01453 832150 Fax: 01453 835757
Colored light may also be applied by the use of theatrical lighting gels, colored silks, solarized water and crystals, or applied mentally through healing hands and visualizations. Lily Cornford founded the Maitreya School in 1982 (London 0207 272 2981) largely on the principle of visualizing the colors of specific flowers and channeling that energy through the hands to a patient lying on a treatment couch.
There is now a treatment lamp available from Freespirit which uses monochromatic, dichroic filters and can be programmed to shine light onto any parts of the body which the therapist deems necessary. This approach opens the way for future research into the effects of specific colors and systems of application.
Freespirit Colour Studio,
Paul Stewart, 40 Easton Street, Easton, Isle of Portland, Dorset DT5 1BT
Tel/Fax: 01305 822296 or 079800 73885
Lilian Verner-Bonds is a top practitioner of psychic color readings and therapy, and this type of intuitive work is an important side of the practice of color for several healers. In New Zealand, the Color for Health Guild Inc., has developed a unique approach to color therapy utilizing a proximity wand for color diagnosis and a 'simply safe coil' for color transmission.
Aura-Soma® is a very popular method of gaining self insight and using color in a gentle way: through looking at a large and strikingly-lit display of bottles containing twin-colored liquids. The chosen colors reveal a lot about a person's soul and purpose; and they can be used by applying the shaken mixture to the skin, and by dispersing perfumed essences into the aura. Vicky Wall was the originator of the Aura Soma approach, launched in 1984, and this form of color therapy has a wide international following. Other therapists have developed variants of the colors in the bottles.
A.S. International Academy of Colour Therapeutics/Aura-Soma Products Ltd,
Dev Aura, Little London, Tetford, Horncastle, Lincolnshire LN9 6QB
Tel: 01507 533218 Fax: 01507 534025
An increasing number of complementary therapies are incorporating color. The classic example is color and acupuncture (acucolor or colorpuncture). This work has been developed over several years, notably by Dr Peter Mandel of Germany.
Peter Mandel Colourpuncture,
Angelika Hochadel, Dilmun, How Green Lane, Hever, Kent TN8 7PS
Tel/Fax: 01732 700263
Many companies now make low-level lasers for the purpose. Other companies produce torches or light pens, often featuring a light emitting diode (LED) at 660 nanometers which can be used by acupuncturists or anyone else for a range of skin conditions. Another company, the Swiss Bioptron, makes a lamp for localized application of halogen-derived broad bandwidth light or glass filtered colors, which also has researched evidence of its effectiveness.
Bioptron AG, Esslingerstrasse 32, 8617 Moenchaltdorf, Switzerland.
Some of these systems use newly created systems for color application, some are for topical application, and others use the very ancient Chinese acupuncture meridians which have been plotted on the body for ten thousand years.
Reflexologists use the Native American healing tradition which maps all parts of the body, including the subtle anatomy, onto the hands and feet. Treatment is applied with finger pressure as a rule, but a color torch on the parts of the foot relating to the spinal chakras has been found to work equally as well, and has been developed by Pauline Wills.
Pauline Wills, 9 Wyndale Avenue, Kingsbury, London NW9 9PT
In America, several prominent healers and doctors are presently involved in the use of color and light in healing. Certainly the most famous healer and teacher is Barbara Brennan. She is a clairvoyant who can see the guides attending a healing and witness the colors of the healing rays they employ via the healer. An excellent up-to-date and extensive survey of the potentials of energy and color in healing is Dr Richard Gerber's Vibrational Medicine for the 21st Century available from IAC.
It is common practice to apply the rainbow colors to the eastern concept of energy centers or chakras. This is then utilized in healing with color. Color can also be visualized while performing yoga postures which work on specific centers. Red is considered to be the foundation color concerned with the physical status of the person and related to the first or base chakra. Orange in the sacral chakra provides joy and recovery from trauma in the emotional area. Yellow brings clarity into the mental area at the solar plexus. The color of harmony and balance on all levels is green, and the related chakra the heart. Blue at the throat endows our speaking with spiritual integrity. At the brow is deep blue (indigo) which harmonizes our whole personality and opens the door to higher awareness. At the crown is violet, shading off into the color of a free spirit: magenta.
A full understanding of the workings and potential of color, which is the small visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum, has still to be discovered. At present, color is being applied in so many ways that no overall philosophy can be discerned. However, psychological and physical healing certainly takes place as a result of color treatment, and color certainly assists wellness when it is used wisely in our surroundings. It is something we can all make use of to improve our health and well-being. Colour is ideally included in meditation, breathing exercises, yoga postures, dress, and visualization.
The wizardry of plants and animals
Nature has evolved some incredible feats of colour communication. Nature seems to have understood a great deal more about the extraordinary interactions between light and matter than human beings did before the modern scientific age. Butterflies and birds array themselves in spectral colours made by interference from microscopic diffraction gratings in their cells. Insects and flowers co-evolved, aeons before animals, to share the same colour and form language - how they mysteriously mimic each other! Deep marine creatures, like the angler fish, often make their own light - using an enzyme which functions as an anti-oxidant for surface dwelling animals which have to contend with the damaging effects of ultraviolet light. Colour in nature, like every aspect of colour, is a large subject. Colour perception is widespread in animals and especially insects, although the spectral sensitivities vary. Human perception, remarkably, uses eye and brain processes based on a grasp of complementary colours, a concept which colour researchers began to explore rather more recently, following the inspiration of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in the nineteenth century.
© International Association of Colour 2002.
Text by Michael Grevis PMIAC, Chairman of IAC