a special program of the National Emergency Medicine Association (NEMA)

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Week: 602.6 

Guests: Kirk Reneau, CEO Bio-Bright, Director, Circadian Lighting Assn. 

Topic: Seasonal Affective Disorder & therapies 

Host/Producer: Steve Girard 

NEMA: You may know about Seasonal Affective Disorder...a type of depression that has its roots in the change from Fall to Winter...when less light is available... and it can affect you in many ways. Always tired, stuffing yourself with carbohydrates, especially sweets, sleeping too much, losing interest in your usual friends or activities. And many of us just believe that's that way Winter should be...but it's really not true. Today we're talking to Kirk Reneau of Bio-Bright, Inc...and the Director of the Circadian Lighting Association, a trade group of companies that make light therapy products for treatment of SAD. I'm sure there are some easy ways to get information on the topic... 

RENEAU: Well, It's very important for people to learn as much as they can about seasonal depression or Winter blues, and they'll be in better position to make decisions about how to cope with it. Most local libraries will be able to point you in a direction of some books...there are quite a few of them on the topic. One of the best books you can get is called Winter Blues: Seasonal Affective Disorder, What it is and how to overcome it . And That's by Dr. Norman Rosenthal, and he is one of the top researchers in the field, out of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.  

NEMA: I'd guess that even with information like Dr. Rosenthal's book...if someone is feeling really down with the start of the colder months, it would probably be best to get the opinion of your health professional before they begin searching for products to use in therapy... 

RENEAU: Yes, well you know there's quite a range of winter blues...most of us, frankly, feel a little bit less energetic in the Wintertime...tend to eat a little bit more, have some of the symptoms of Winter blues...and if they're fairly mild, you can often do things on your own that can take care of those symptoms. But if they're serious, and if they're severe enough to make it difficult to get up in the morning...to get to work, you feel you're having personal problems with your family, or perhaps at work...you need to see a health professional. If it's a serious form of SAD, it's not something to be fooled around with, any more than any other form of depression. Talk to your health professional about what they think you can do about it. Ask them about light therapy as well as other kind of therapy that might be appropriate.  

NEMA: There are a range of different products, and the appropriate one depends on your personal situation, and what level of depression you may be suffering from, what your budget is and also a little bit about your lifestyle. The easiest thing to use and the most economical thing to use is called a Dawn simulator, and that is basically a name for a product that mimics a natural sunrise. Every morning it gradually gets brighter and brighter - just the way the sun does - and that simulation helps you get off to a better start in the morning, and is a much better, more natural way to wake up. Those kinds of products, there are several different brands that are out there, one's called the sunrise clock...and it's available at places like the Sharper Image stores...or Sharper Image catalogs. They are consumer items that don't need a doctor's prescription, and they cost about a hundred dollars. Those can be all you need in some situations.

However, some people find that they need more light than they can get from just a Dawn simulator, and if that's the case, then they should consider either a light box or a light visor. Light boxes come in different shapes and sizes, again from different suppliers from around the country. They range in cost between a few hundred to 5 hundred dollars, and what you want to consider there is again, the quality of the light...how bright it is...brighter is generally a little bit better, it means you'll need less time in front of the light box. And you'll want something that's about 10 thousand lux in brightness. The light visor is an alternative to this. They cost about 300 dollars, and they provide light from a head-mounted device...something you wear on your head that looks like a tennis visor...and it's main advantage is that you can be mobile while you're getting your light therapy in the morning. You can put your visor on and eat your breakfast, or read the newspaper or get the kids ready for school...and kind of forget you're wearing it, just get your light efficiently that way.

So those two are sort of the main stream choices, they both are equally effective...it's just a question whether you are comfortable, have enough time to sit still in front of a light box for, usually about 30 minutes each morning in the wintertime, or whether you prefer the mobility of wearing something during that same 30 minutes. The fourth choice is a special desk lamp, and that would be for people who really want to get some extra light in a working environment...and those also cost around 300 dollars. And it's something that looks pretty much like a normal desk lamp, only it's much brighter than that, and you can control the intensity of that light to give yourself more light during the daytime.  

NEMA: Is the proximity of strong light right in front of your eyes a hindrance? 

RENEAU: No...it doesn't, it doesn't block your vision, and because the light source is right near, right above your eyes, it doesn't have to be as bright as a light box. So it's there, but you hardly notice that the light is there. It's actually a very efficient way to get light directly to your eyes. And the key to remember in all this is that your eyes are the communication source to your brain, the optic nerve is. And so, you need to be getting light to the retina...and you can get that by going outside on a nice sunny day, or by getting it from a light box, a light visor, or one of the other products that are available today.  

NEMA: How does a customer know that the technology in the light product is sound, and will actually help them? 

RENEAU: When You're shopping around for lighting products, of course, do your homework. Find out about whether companies are members of the trade association...that means that they adhere to standards of performance and have their products tested...and That's the Circadian Lighting Association. Of course You'll want to make sure that the company's been in business for a while, and has a track record of not only having a good price on a product, but providing service down the road as well. Just as you would in any other consumer item that you'd be shopping for, that's important to you.  

NEMA: You have a toll free number for people looking to find out more about light products and Seasonal Affective Disorder... 

RENEAU: 800-621-LITE....and get a free package of information from the association, and there are a number of companies out there that do have web sites as well...so if you do some searching on the Internet using Light therapy, you'll probably come up with some other sources. You'll also be able to find some from some of the books that you might read, including Dr. Rosenthal's, has a list of companies that provide products. 

NEMA: What is the industry's take on the necessity of Full spectrum lighting? 

RENEAU: The research shows that you don't need, don't want ultraviolet light. And that's an important point, because there's some disagreement amongst the industry players about that. There is some indication that UV light may help with other kinds of things...vitamin production and so on, but there's a lot of indication that it may cause cancer - well, we know it causes cancer. So, for SAD, and winter depression, all the reputable companies make sure that there is no ultraviolet light in their products. And that's important for people to understand as they read about full spectrum and things like that. That's fine for a tanning salon, something like that....but it's not appropriate for something you want to stick in your eyes. that's something you should make clear to them, that for safety reasons, you want to avoid any extra ultraviolet light. Just as you would put sunscreen on the beach.  

NEMA: I guess we can avoid having to use light therapy to lift us out of the Winter blues...by taking more time to get out, and doing things around the home that will keep us in the light and active... 

RENEAU: You do want to kind of brighten up your environment. And the brightness of the light source is important, for giving yourself an actual phototherapy session. But hanging around in a house that's very dim, or in an office that's dark...that'll contribute to the depression. So, you should; people should take steps to go outdoors more....even if it's not a bright, sunny day, you'll still get good light from being outside, getting reflected light from the snow, for example. that's important to do. One of our other products is called the WindowLite, and that's an artificial window that you can put in rooms, or let's say an office cubicle that people have more and more...don't have natural light, don't have windows. that's a depressing place to work, I don't know...maybe your set up might be like that, some studios are like that. We really crave a little bit of outside light there. 

NEMA: Our thanks to Kirk Reneau, CEO of Bio-Bright, and Director of the Circadian Lighting Association, which oversees standards in the light therapy products.

Coming up soon on The Heart of the Matter: More on sleep related issues...how to break some bad habits that may be causing you to sleep poorly, how to get your kids up earlier and get them to nod off earlier. And we'll have a story on creatine, an amino acid supplement that is used by the majority of athletes around the world...but some are questioning its safety because of some reports of muscle tears and cramps, and some claims of organ damage. 

SPOT: 15 years in the prevention of heart disease, stroke and trauma - The National Emergency Medicine Association. This show is just part of what NEMA does. We send out millions of pieces of prevention information to people around the country, give grants to organizations in research, public information and emergency services, and have been instrumental in the creation and expansion of the Chest Pain Emergency Room movement. To play a role, call 800-332-6362. 

NEMA: Thanks for joining us for today's program. If you have any comments or suggestions, contact this station. Or visit our home page at: www.nemahealth.org/...for a look at transcripts of this or past programs, or to find out more about the National Emergency Medicine Association. I'm Steve Girard at The Heart of the Matter.