An Alternative To Anti-Depressants?

Pregnant women suffering from depression may experience as much emotional relief through 10 weeks of bright light therapy as persons taking anti-depressants, a Yale researcher found in a small pilot study.
Pregnant women suffering from depression may experience as much emotional relief through 10 weeks of bright light therapy as persons taking anti-depressants, a Yale researcher found in a small pilot study. The research published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry also found that the light dosage (the length of time spent in front of the light box) could be varied for improved results, just as medication can be prescribed in varying doses.

The principal investigator, C. Neill Epperson, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, says 13 percent of pregnant women meet the criteria for major depressive disorder during pregnancy, but treatment options are limited because of concern about how anti-depressant medications might affect the unborn baby.

"Untreated maternal psychiatric illness can compromise fetal health," Epperson says. "Although most antidepressants do not cause major birth defects, they may adversely affect neonatal adaptation, growth and long-term neurodevelopment."

In this study, 10 pregnant women diagnosed with depression were randomly assigned to a five-week clinical trial with either a 7,000 lux light box or a 500 lux light box. The 500 lux level is within the upper range of normal room light. The women sat in front of the light for one hour within 10 minutes after rising.

A small difference was observed after five weeks, but a significant beneficial effect was seen after 10 weeks of light therapy.

"The relative dearth of studies that focus on the neurodevelopmental impact of in utero exposure to other antidepressant therapies, taken with the encouraging nature of these findings, underscores the need for a full-scale clinical trial to determine whether light therapy can be added as a treatment for depressed pregnant women," Epperson


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