Brighten Your Day, Brighten Your Mood

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Filed Under: Mood & Memory
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

Brighten Your Day, Brighten Your Mood

Help ease your depression with natural light and Vitamin D

 Some important factors linked to depression include light exposure and vitamin D levels, which make it unsurprising that that depression cases increase during the winter months.

A study from the Netherlands tested the effects of bright lights and melatonin, a natural hormone linked to mood and sleep, on a group of elderly residents of several group care facilities. The study involved 189 residents, 90 percent of whom were female and 87 percent of whom had dementia.

Either bright lights (described as “whole day bright,” around 1,000 lux) or dim bulbs (around 300 lux) were installed in the ceilings and left on from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day. Melatonin was randomly assigned to some individuals at a dose of 2.5 mg a day, while others received a placebo.

Over the three-year study, the bright lights alone reduced cognitive deterioration by 5% and the symptoms of depression by 19%. These changes may seem small, but the therapy worked as well as any of the anti-dementia drugs on the market—without the side effects. And changes like these could easily mean the difference between requiring institutional care or being able to live on one’s own.

Melatonin alone actually worsened withdrawn behavior in some individuals. Researchers found, however, that the problem could be resolved simply by using the melatonin in combination with the bright lights. This resulted in improvements like those above, plus it produced both a calming effect and better sleep in these individuals.

Bright light during normal waking hours helps regulate the body’s natural circadian rhythm. We weren’t made to live in a cave, yet how many homes of older folks do you enter that feel that way? When the sun comes up in the morning, open the shades and the curtains to help keep your internal clock set correctly. You’ll be a happier and healthier person in the long run.

Let the Sun Shine In

When the light comes from the sun it increases levels of vitamin D and serotonin as well. It should come as no surprise that vitamin D deficiencies are associated with not only depression but diabetes, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and osteoporosis as well. It appears that depression can be a reliable predictor of many, if not all, of these diseases.

A study from Holland directly linked low vitamin D levels to depression. The study involved 1,282 individuals ages 65 to 95. Of those, 26 were experiencing major depression and 169 minor depression. Although practically everyone had below-optimum levels of vitamin D when compared to non-depressed individuals, the levels of those with minor depression were 14 percent lower and those with major depression were 33 percent lower.

If you have depression, get plenty of light in your home and life during the waking hours. A dosage of 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day is recommended if you totally avoid the sun. (With just 20 to 30 minutes of sun exposure, your body can produce as much as 20,000 IU.) To ensure you have adequate levels of vitamin D, you can: take higher doses of vitamin D3 (and have your doctor monitor the situation and dosage, or take the least expensive and most effective method—getting regular exposure to the sun for 20 to 30 minutes two or three times a week.

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