Daily 'Light Therapy' May Help Some With Bipolar Disorder

From Drugs.com - October 12, 2017

Daily 'Light Therapy' May Help Some With Bipolar Disorder

THURSDAY, Oct. 12, 2017 -- People afflicted with bipolar disorder may find some relief from depression with daily doses of light therapy, new research suggests.

With light therapy, people spend time sitting in close proximity to a light-emitting box -- in this case, bright white light -- with exposures increasing from 15 minutes per day to a full hour over a period of weeks.

The study found that within a month the therapy helped treat depression in people with bipolar disorder.

"Effective treatments for bipolar depression are very limited," noted lead researcher Dr. Dorothy Sit.

"This gives us a new treatment option for bipolar patients that we know gets us a robust response within four to six weeks," said Sit, who is associate professor of psychiatry at Northwestern University in Chicago.

According to the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, bipolar disorder "is a brain and behavior disorder characterized by severe shifts in a person's mood and energy, making it difficult for the person to function." Over 5.7 million Americans are thought to have the disorder, which often involves depressive episodes.

As Sit's team noted, prior research had shown that morning light therapy reduces symptoms of depression in people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a condition where winter's reduced light spurs depression.

However, it's also been noted that light therapy can sometimes cause side effects, such as mania, in people with bipolar disorder.

Still, the Northwestern team wondered if the treatment might not have a role for bipolar patients with at least moderate depression who were also taking a mood stabilizer drug.

In the study, 46 patients received either a 7,000 lux bright white light or a 50 lux light (acting as the "placebo arm" of the trial).

The study participants were told to place the light box about one foot from their face for 15 minutes between noon and 2:30 p.m. each day at the start of the study.

Over six weeks, the patients increased their light therapy "doses" in 15-minute increments until they reached a dose of 60 minutes per day -- or had a significant change in their mood.

Compared with people in the placebo group, those in the treatment group were more likely to have significant improvements, Sit's team said.

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