Light Therapy Not Just For Seasonal Affective Disorder

Since it was first described by psychiatric journals in 1984, artificial light therapy has been used successfully to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD).  This therapy is meant to simulate exposure to sunlight in winter months, preventing people with SAD from suffering as much during periods where exposure to sunlight is more limited.  In the past few years, more evidence has suggested that light therapy may be beneficial for other types of depression as well.  In 2005, for example, a study in the American Journal of Psychiatry reported that the effects of light therapy are comparable to those found in many clinical studies of antidepressant drug therapy for mood disorders.

Since our bodies are programmed to be in sync with nature’s rhythms, this concept makes total sense.  If you’re suffering from depression, you will ideally want to make it a point to get outside on winter days for at least 15 minutes at a time.  Otherwise, you can acquire a light box that mimics the rays of the sun, and expose yourself to this light for 20 minutes or more every morning.  Dawn simulators are also a great tool, as you can program them to automatically turn on each morning, gradually getting brighter to replicate the rising of the sun.

Other tools to help get your body in sync with nature’s natural rhythms may also be helpful for depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.  For example, taking physiological doses of melatonin (1 mg or less) at the onset of evening darkness can prepare your body for sleep (without being sedating).  Looking at cortisol and other hormonal fluctuations can also be helpful, as abnormalities in the diurnal output of these hormones can be corrected with natural interventions, making you less prone to mood changes that may be associated with these problems.

Does this mean that if you’re taking antidepressants, you can just go outside for a few minutes every day and be cured? Absolutely not!  You will need to work with your doctor to start implementing light therapy and some of the other recommended changes, and hopefully with time, be able to cut back on your medication.  I think the take home message is that more and more evidence is demonstrating how a disconnection with nature and it’s rhythms can have a profound effect on our mood and overall health.

 

Anxiety, Cancer, and Music

As some of you may know, I’m an avid music lover, so I’m always excited when I see research that confirms the therapeutic benefits of music.

A new Cochrane research review shows how music can reduce anxiety, and may also have positive effects on mood, pain and quality of life.

Evidence from 1,891 patients taking part in 30 trials was examined-13 of the trials involved trained music therapists, while the other 17 trials studied patients who listened to pre-recorded music. The results showed that in comparison to standard treatments, anxiety levels were significantly reduced by music, based on clinical anxiety scores. Music was also shown to have beneficial effects for patients with chronic pain-heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure saw smaller beneficial effects.

Lead researcher Joke Bradt of the Department of Creative Arts Therapies at Drexel University in Philadelphia, US., explained

“The evidence suggests that music interventions may be useful as a complementary treatment to people with cancer.

Music interventions provided by trained music therapists as well as listening to pre-recorded music both have shown positive outcomes in this review, but at this time there is not enough evidence to determine if one intervention is more effective than the other.”

Bradt continues

“It should be noted, however, that when patients can’t be blinded to an intervention, there is an opportunity for bias when they are asked to report on subjective measures like anxiety, pain mood and quality of life.”

While additional studies may be necessary to confirm some of these findings, I would emphasize incorporating some form of musical enjoyment into your daily routine, whether you’re sick or not!

Acupuncture and Anxiety

In my practice, I’m always amazed at how effectively acupuncture is able to diminish the severity of anxiety, even for patients who experience panic attacks other extreme forms of this condition. A recent study measured the response of patients to acupuncture before operations, and how well it was able to reduce their anxiety levels. The results showed a marked decrease in anxiety levels after acupuncture was performed. Although this study applied exclusively to preopearative anxiety, it still demonstrates the efficacy of acupuncture in treating stress and anxiety. 

Please don’t be afraid to seek out acupuncture if you’re burdened by chronic stress, as you’re otherwise overlooking a proven treatment that could end up being very effective in your quest to destress.
“Comparing the treatment effectiveness of body acupuncture and auricular acupuncture in preoperative anxiety treatment,” Wu S, Liang J, et al, J Res Med Sci, 2011 Jan; 16(1): 39-42. (Address: Department of Psychology, School of Aerospace Medicine, Fourth Military Medical University, Xi’an, China).

Work Causes Heart Disease

People who regularly work long hours may be significantly increasing their risk of developing heart disease, the world’s biggest killer, British scientists said Monday.

Researchers said a long-term study showed that working more than 11 hours a day increased the risk of heart disease by 67 percent, compared with working a standard 7 to 8 hours a day.

They said the findings suggest that information on working hours — used alongside other factors like blood pressure, diabetes and smoking habits — could help doctors work out a patient’s risk of heart disease.

However, they also said it was not yet clear whether long working hours themselves contribute to heart disease risk, or whether they act as a “marker” of other factors that can harm heart health — like unhealthy eating habits, a lack of exercise or depression.

The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine journal, followed nearly 7,100 British workers for 11 years.

“Working long days is associated with a remarkable increase in risk of heart disease,” said Mika Kivimaki of Britain’s University College London, who led the research. He said it may be a “wake-up call for people who overwork themselves.”

Cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes are the world’s largest killers, claiming around 17.1 million lives a year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Billions of dollars are spent every year on medical devices and drugs to treat them.

The findings of this study support previous research showing a link between working hours and heart disease.

For this study, men and women who worked full time and had no heart disease were selected, giving 7,095 participants.

The researchers collected data on heart risk factors like age, blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking and diabetes and also asked participants how many hours they worked — including work during the day and work brought home — on an average weekday.

During the 11-year study, 192 participants had heart attacks. Those who worked 11 hours or more a day were 67 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those with fewer hours.

Of course, heart disease is a multi-factorial issue, but those working more than 11 hours per day need to take even further precautions to lower their heart disease risk. Talk to your naturopathic doctor about laboratory studies that can help to identify numerous cardiovascular risk factors, so the proper steps can be taken to help prevent heart disease and stroke in the future. 

Natural Remedies and Anxiety-A Summary

The October 7th, 2010 edition of Nutrition Journal published a summary of studies investigating nutritional and herbal treatments of anxiety. 71% of the studies (15 of 21) showed that the nutritional and herbal interventions were indeed effective in the treatment of anxiety. Specific supplements tested which showed positive results included those containing extracts of passionflower, kava, combinations of L-lysine and L-arginine. Supplementation with magnesium showed promise, while St. John’s wort was not found to be effective as an anti-anxiety treatment. Another benefit with these therapies, as opposed to pharmaceutical interventions, is that minimal side-effects were reported.

If you’re suffering from anxiety or other mood disorders, it’s definitely worth pursuing “alternative” forms of treatment, as the risk of becoming dependent on anti-anxiety medications is very high. Clinically, I’ve found a number of these treatments, along with acupuncture and other modalities, to be just as effective or better than pharmacological interventions for anxiety.

Heart Disease and Anxiety

The July issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry contains a study that demonstrates a 74% increased risk for adverse cardiovascular events (stroke, heart attack, and sudden death) in patients with general anxiety disorder (GAD). While it’s often been speculated that many patients with coronary heart disease (CHD) are also anxious, this study is the first of it’s kind to prove that there is indeed a definitive link between anxiety and heart disease. 

This study is further proof that the mind-body connection cannot be ignored. If your stress level is consistently high, don’t wait until you begin to experience symptoms before taking the necessary steps to address your anxiety. Naturopathic medicine can offer a number of therapies, including botanical, nutritional, acupuncture, and biofeedback, to help you manage stress more effectively. The Heart Math Institute (www.heartmath.org) offers tips and products that help you “retrain” your stress response, making you less prone to the adverse effects of anxiety. MoodGym (http://moodgym.anu.edu.au/welcome) is another online resource that is recommended for this purpose.