Light Device Helps Beat Winter Blues

People who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) — a condition that comes with a shortage of daylight hours — may have a new weapon to fight off those winter blues, according to a study by Finnish researchers.

These researchers explain that the human brain is as sensitive to light as the eyes, making it possible to treat SAD with a new headset — much like headphones — that beams light, rather than music, into the ears.

SAD is caused by the brain not receiving enough daylight which is needed to trigger serotonin, a hormone that regulates mood. Symptoms of SAD range from mild lethargy to depression, insomnia and anxiety.

Valkee, the inventor of the world´s first bright light headset, and scientists from the University of Oulu, Finland presented two clinical trials at the 11th International Forum for Mood and Anxiety Disorders (IFMAD) in Budapest on November 9-11. Results of their trials are also published in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice.

In one of the clinical trials, 89 participants suffering from SAD were tested. The team found that between 74 and 79 percent were cured of seasonal depression after using the device for 8 to 12 minutes every day for four weeks.

“In our first study, 92 percent of the patients with seasonal affective disorder achieved full remission measured by the self-rated BDI-21 questionnaire, during the four week study period,” noted professor Markku Timonen, MD, PhD, the lead investigator for the two trials at the University of Oulu.

“We presented earlier that the human brain is sensitive to light. These two clinical trials demonstrate that channeling bright light via ear canal into brain´s photosensitive areas effectively prevents and treats seasonal affective disorder,” added Juuso Nissilä, Valkee´s co-founder and chief scientist.

The human brain contains about 18 sites with photoreceptor proteins, which are also found in the eyes, the researchers said.

“Bright light channeled into the brain via ear canal is an important future method to treat seasonal affective disorder,” Professor Timo Takala, chief physician at Oulu Deaconess Institute, told Fox News.

Finland has long, dark winters, and this results in a high rate of people suffering from SAD. The country also has one of the world´s highest suicide rates, many likely stemming from prolonged SAD symptoms.

Valkee launched its headset in August 2010, and has been classified as a CE-certified Class II medical device under EU regulations, based on cross-functional science in neurology, biology, psychiatry and physiology at University of Oulu. The device costs nearly $300 (US) and looks like an iPod.

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