Light Therapy Brightens Outcome for Bulimic Patients

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
July/August 2001 Volume 12, Number 4
©2001 Gürze Books

Many patients with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) have dysfunctional eating patterns, and many women with bulimia nervosa report that both their mood and bulimic symptoms worsen during the winter. According to one study, the use of light therapy apparently can help improve mood and reduce bulimic symptoms in such patients—at least for a time.

Dr. R.W. Lam and co-workers at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, used light therapy to treat 22 women with SAD who met DSM-IV criteria for bulimia nervosa and major depressive disorder (J Clin Psychiatry 2001;63:164). The women were treated with an open-design, four-week trial of light therapy. Sessions involved a 10,000-lux fluorescent light box with an ultraviolet filter, used for 30 to 60 minutes per day in the early morning. Binge-purge diaries and depression scales were used to chart their progress.

Mood improved and depression lessened

Light therapy significantly improved mood, and there was a 56% mean reduction in the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression after treatment. The frequency of binges and purges per week also fell significantly, with a mean decrease of 46% for binge eating and 36% for purging. Two of the 22 women completely stopped binge eating and purging. Ten patients had remission of depressive symptoms. All patients tolerated the treatment well.

The authors noted that the positive effects of light therapy can be sustained over at least 4 weeks. They also believe that the low abstinence rate of bulimic symptoms in this study indicates that light therapy may be most effectively used as an adjuvant to medication and/or psychotherapy for patients with SAD and bulimia nervosa.

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