Light up your life to ease bipolar symptoms

Over five million Americans suffer from bipolar disorder, leaving them alternating between severe depression and manic (or high energy) episodes where they can lose touch with reality.

And, while many people are diagnosed by the time they’re in their twenties, for some, the disorder doesn’t manifest until they are much older — in their 40’s and 50’s.

For most who suffer from bipolar disorder, their doctor’s answer is lithium. However, while the drug can help with the mania, it’s often ineffective for the depression component of the disorder, giving them no relief form the low energy, decreased motivation and loss of interest in daily activities that come with it.

This means that they’re then put on antidepressants as well to try to solve the problem. Unfortunately, these drugs come with a high risk of weight gain, something that is already too common for people with bipolar disorder, with 35 percent of bipolar sufferers also living with obesity — the highest percentage for any psychiatric illness.

But, there is good news.

A new study at Northwestern University has demonstrated the power of daily exposure to bright white light at midday to significantly decrease symptoms of depression and increase functioning in people with bipolar disorder.

The power of bright light

While previous studies have found morning bright light therapy reduced symptoms of depression in patients with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD.), patients with bipolar disorder can experience side effects such as mania from this type of depression treatment.

So, for this study, researchers implemented a midday light therapy intervention instead.

And, the results offer hope if you or a loved one suffers from the disorder.

Compared to dim placebo light, study participants assigned to bright white light between noon and 2:30 p.m. for six weeks experienced a significantly higher remission rate (minimal depression and return to normal functioning).

In fact, more than 68 percent of patients who received midday bright light achieved a normal level of mood, compared to 22.2 percent of patients who received the placebo light.

And, the group receiving bright light therapy also had a much lower average depression score of 9.2 compared to 14.9 for the placebo group and significantly higher functioning, meaning they could go back to work or complete tasks around the house they hadn’t been able to finish prior to treatment.

Using light to cope with bipolar depression

So, if you or your loved one suffers from bipolar disorder, here are the key takeaways from the study that can help overcome depression and improve functioning:

  • You want to be sure to get your bright light exposure at midday (between noon and 2:30 pm) rather than in the morning.
  • You can use sunlight or a 7,000-lux bright white light, like the study participants
  • Use bright light exposure daily for best results

The depression that comes with bipolar disorder can be crippling. To feel and function better, use the tips above and get daily midday bright light exposure.

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

By Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst is a board-certified Doctor of Chiropractic, with more than 20 years of experience. She has dedicated herself to helping others enjoy life at every age through the use of alternative medicine and natural wellness options. Dr. Schmedthorst enjoys sharing her knowledge with the alternative healthcare community, providing solutions for men and women who are ready to take control of their health the natural way.