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This Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Treatment Might Be More Powerful Than Sunlight

Could an indoor light help your body produce enough of the sunlight vitamin? Here's what you need to know about avoiding seasonal affective disorder.

sadsematadesign/shutterstockFalling low on vitamin D can lead to all kinds of troubles, such as depression, low energy, and even cancer. Though you can get vitamin D from fortified foods like dairy, or supplements, perhaps the easiest way is through sunlight: The body requires UV light to manufacture this vital nutrient. Unfortunately, the weak—or absent—winter sun poses a real problem for people who live in northerly climes. Now, a new study suggests there may be an indoor alternative for those who can’t get enough sunlight.

According to research by a team at Boston University School of Medicine and published in Scientific Reports, light from RayVio’s 293nm ultraviolet (UV) LED light produces more vitamin D3 in skin samples than the sun. The team, led by Tyler Kalajian is reporting that skin exposed to the light for one minute showed twice the amount of vitamin D3 production compared to skin exposed to sunlight for more than a half hour.

“We tested ultraviolet LEDs from different sources and at different wavelengths. RayVio’s 293nm LED showed the most significant potential for vitamin D3 production in the shortest amount of time,” said Dr. Holick, professor of medicine, physiology, and biophysics at Boston University School of Medicine, as reported by EurekaAlert. “This study will lead to a new generation of technology that can be labeled as photopharmacology in which the use of LEDs with targeted wavelengths can cause specific biologic effects in human skin to help treat and prevent chronic illnesses.”

Getting enough vitamin D is beneficial for the body in many ways—it can help prevent multiple sclerosis, rickets, joint pain and more. According to American Family Physician, about 6 percent of people in the United States suffer winter depression or seasonal affective disorder; 10 to 20 percent may have a milder form of the depression caused by the weather. Typically, integrating exercise, light therapy, fun activities, and getting enough vitamin D can help ward off feelings of sadness.

This study lends more support to the idea of using light therapy to treat patients with seasonal affective disorder and vitamin D deficiency. According to the study authors, UV LED devices like the RayVio light could reach areas of the skin that don’t necessarily always receive sunlight, including the upper legs and arms, as well as the back and abdomen. This would lessen the possibility of non-melanoma skin cancer, as the light produces a much smaller amount of light than sunshine and would then reduce the risk for skin damage. The study authors hope that with more research a small wearable device that emits the needed amount of light could be created.

“The potential of digital UV technology for phototherapy is enormous,” Dr. Robert C. Walker, RayVio’s CEO said. “Dr. Holick’s research with our UVB LEDs demonstrates the potential for new applications that can potentially improve and save hundreds of thousands of lives.

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Spend time outside

iStock/Martin Dimitrov

Bundle up and head outside even it’s it cold. Just 30 minutes of natural sunlight at a time, ideally in the morning, will raise levels of the feel-good neurotransmitter in your brain called serotonin, studies show. Too little sunlight exposure can cause serotonin levels to dip, setting you up for symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest

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