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Can Light Therapy Ameliorate Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease?

By July 14, 2009

For years now doctors have been treating various forms of depression with light therapy. The patient literally sits in front of a bank of lights for a few hours per day and that treatment really does improve some forms of depression. Recently the therapy has been tried for patients with Parkinson's disease. Not only to treat the depression of PD but to treat its motor problems as well. Why should light therapy help reduce symptoms of PD? Well you see light, when it reaches certain levels of intensity can inhibit production of a chemical called melatonin…and melatonin in turn can limit production of dopamine. So if you inhibit production of melatonin you should get better production and use of dopamine in the brain-or at least that is the theory. Now we have a couple of recent reports of some case studies involving use of bright light therapy to treat symptoms of PD. Interestingly these case studies appear to be very promising. When people with PD were exposed to white fluorescent light for 1-1.5 h at an intensity of 1000 to 1500 lux once daily for two weeks commencing 1 hour before bedtime, marked improvement in bradykinesia and rigidity was observed in most patients. The authors of this study also claim that elevated mood, improved sleep, decreased seborrhea, reduced impotence, and increased appetite were observed after light therapy as well! Another study used an lluminance of 7.500 lux for 2 weeks and found improvements in motor and mood symptoms. There are no serious side effects associated with light therapy as far as I know…though one wonders about the dangers of skin cancer. In any case here is a promising new treatment of PD symptoms that does not appear to be expensive or associated with serious side effects! Yet as far as I know there are no large scale clinical trials of light therapy for PD currently underway. Talk to your doctor about light therapy if you are interested in trying it yourself.
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