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  • Dr. Miki Gordon

Infrared Light has been shown to ease symptoms of Depression.

Updated: Dec 30, 2019

Depression rates in the US continue to grow, with 17.3 million adults experiencing an episode of Major Depression in 2017, according to the National Institutes of Health. This does not take into account other disorders that also cause depression, or what is termed “subclinical depression” - depression that is not a diagnosable disorder but often caused by stress, grief, or other life events. Counseling and medication have both been shown effective against depression, but what are some other ways to stave off the blues?

While still experimental, current data for Near Infrared Light (NIL) to treat depression is promising. NIL has been shown to improve mood in several studies. One study found that applying NIL to the foreheads of subjects increased their positive emotions and decreased negative emotional states (Barrett & Gonalez-Lima, 2013). In a review of the literature on near infrared light for depression, Cassano et. al (2016) found significant evidence that near infrared light affects many of the brain mechanisms thought to be causes of depression including oxidative stress, neurogenesis rates (production of brain cells that influence the nervous system) and inflammation.

One study of subjects with treatment resistant depression found that they significantly improved after just one exposure to NIL, with a 60% remission rate at the 2 week mark (Shiffer et al, 2009) A double blind sham-controlled study at Massachusetts General Hospital found that subjects with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) significantly reduced symptoms of depression with weekly NIL, and two of the subjects achieved complete remission of depressive symptoms (Cassano et al, 2015). While the sample sizes of these two studies were small, the results are promising. In all the studies, NIL was well tolerated with no side effects. Perhaps NIL can become a safe and non invasive alternative to treat depression naturally.

All information in this article is for educational purposes only. It is not for the diagnosis, treatment, prescription or cure of any disease or health condition. Do not make any changes to your healthcare or treatment without consulting your physician.

Barrett D. W., Gonzalez-Lima F. (2013). Transcranial infrared laser stimulation produces beneficial cognitive and emotional effects in humans. Neuroscience 230, 13–23. 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2012.11.016

Review of transcranial photobiomodulation for major depressive disorder: targeting brain metabolism, inflammation, oxidative stress, and neurogenesis

Paolo Cassano, Samuel R. Petrie, Michael R. Hamblin, Theodore A. Henderson, Dan V. Iosifescu

Neurophotonics. 2016 Jul; 3(3): 031404. Published online 2016 Mar 4. doi: 10.1117/1.NPh.3.3.031404

Schiffer F., et al. , “Psychological benefits 2 and 4 weeks after a single treatment with near infrared light to the forehead: a pilot study of 10 patients with major depression and anxiety,” Behav. Brain Funct. 5, 46 (2009).10.1186/1744-9081-5-46

Cassano P., et al. , “Near-infrared transcranial radiation for major depressive disorder: proof of concept study,” Psychiatry J. 2015, 352979 (2015).10.1155/2015/352979

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