Bright light therapy helps adults with major depressive disorder

Starting the day with 30 minutes of light therapy, with or without prescribed antidepressants, helped ease depression symptoms in a recent study.

By Stephen Feller

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Nov. 19 (UPI) -- Medication can be used to effectively treat depression, however drugs alone often don't help patients. Researchers at the University of British Columbia found pairing fluoxetine, sold as Prozac, with light therapy can help adults with depression.

Light therapy is often used to treat seasonal affective disorder because it can correct disturbed circadian rhythms. Poor sleep patterns and not getting enough sleep, including conditions like sleep apnea, have been shown in previous studies as contributing to depression.


"These results are very exciting because light therapy is inexpensive, easy to access and use, and comes with few side effects," said Dr. Raymond Lam, a professor at the University of British Columbia, in a press release. "Patients can easily use light therapy along with other treatments such as antidepressants and psychotherapy."

Researchers worked with 122 patients between the ages of 19 and 60 from October 2009 to March 2014. The participants were randomly assigned to receive one of four treatments: light monotherapy with a 10,000-lux fluorescent white light box for 30 minutes in the morning, and a placebo pill; antidepressant monotherapy with fluoxetine and an inactive negative ion generator; both the light and fluoxetine; or a placebo pill and inactive negative ion generator.


After eight weeks of treatment for the four groups, researchers reported that light treatment, both alone and with drug therapy, was effective and tolerated well by patients. The combination, they said, had the most consistent effect on patients' depression symptoms.

"More and more people are seeking help because there is less stigma about having depression," Lam said. "It's important to find new treatments because our current therapies don't work for everyone. Our findings should help to improve the lives of people with depression."

The study is published in JAMA Psychiatry.

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