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Photobiomodulation for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Is photobiomodulation useful for seasonal affective disorder? It’s a timely question. Earlier this week, Druids all over the world celebrated Alban Elued. The link is to a script you can use for your own Druidic ceremony. I don’t know how authentic the script is; it includes both the injunctions “live long and prosper” and “may the force be with you,” so it seems to be addressed to both Star Trek Druids and Star Wars Druids. At least it’s nondenominational.

Alban Elued is the autumnal equinox, and it is one of the two days in the year that light and darkness have the same duration (the other, of course, is the spring equinox). The Druids seem happy about the autumnal equinox, but for me, it’s a sad time of year, because it signals that the days are going to grow shorter while the nights grow longer.

A SAD Time of Year

When I say it’s “a sad time of year,” I hope you will excuse the pun. SAD is the acronym for seasonal affective disorder, a serious seasonal depression that affects just about four percent of the population. About six times that number suffer from a milder form, known as SSAD (for subssyndromal SAD) — a persistent sadness and apathy that falls short of clinical depression. By the time we add up everybody who feels the effects of SAD and SSAD, we are talking about nearly one in four people.

Although SAD varies quite a bit from person to person, it can include heightened sensitivity to social rejection, feelings of hopelessness and sadness, fatigue, heavy-feeling limbs, weight gain, difficulty concentrating, and even suicidal thoughts. For many people, there’s plenty of reason to be depressed about the approach of winter, but the waning daylight seems to be a major contributor. We know this because the conventional treatment is light therapy: the patient sits in front of a broad-spectrum light source for 30 or 60 minutes a day.

Clinical Research Proves Light Therapy

A 2010 study of 51 patients found light therapy to be an effective treatment for SAD, and it seemed to be most effective in the most serious cases. It’s important to recognize that light therapy is more than just brightening a room by turning on the lights. Light therapy requires full-spectrum light, akin to sunlight, and the best way to make sure you enjoy the full spectrum is get a light box and sit close enough to it to receive the benefit of 10,000 lux. A well-designed one will deliver the full spectrum of visible light, which means it doesn’t put out harmful UV rays (UV is invisible).

But here’s another idea. Try regular photobiomodulation (PBM). I have not found any research specifically labeled as “photobiomodulation for seasonal affective disorder.” But I’ve seen plenty of studies that show PBM can treat regular depression. I discussed some of them here. And I know from my own experience and that of a number of clients that PBM generally results in a noticeable mood elevation. I wrote about that here.

Photobiomodulation for Seasonal Affective Disorder

If you have been diagnosed with actual SAD, I think your best course of action is get a good light box and use it. Life is too short to spend half the year in a state of depression. But if your SAD is the more common (less serious) SSAD, you may find relief in regular PBM sessions. A PBM session at Peak Recovery & Health Center provides a great deal of light (none of which includes the harmful UV variety) in just 12 minutes. It has a lower risk of side effects than antidepressant medications and is one of the safest ways to rid yourself of the sadness and apathy you may feel after everyone’s gone home from your Alban Elued celebration.

Book a session today.