Bipolar disorder, or bipolar depression, may lead to early death. It is a mental condition characterized by alternating mania and depression, usually interspersed with normal mood. And, it also may include psychosis. Because of the alternating moods, bipolar disorder was previously called manic-depressive illness. The word “manic” means excessive activity, euphoric mood, and impaired judgement.
Bipolar disorder affects about 5.7 million adult Americans, and one in 5 people who have the condition commits suicide. Furthermore, the U.S. has the highest bipolar rate in the world. Bipolar disorder is also the sixth leading cause of disability in the world. In addition, it results in a 9.2-year reduction in the expected life span.
New (and very exciting) research demonstrates that bright-light therapy has a profound and positive influence on this disease. The researchers conducted a 6-week program to investigate the value of bright light therapy at midday for bipolar depression. The study participants were chosen from depressed adults who were receiving stable dosages of anti-manic medication. The subjects were randomly assigned to treatment in one of two groups: the bright-white light (7,000 lux) group or dim-red light (50 lux) group.
At the end of the six-week period, 68% of the bright-light group went into remission of their bipolar problems, compared with 15% of the dim-light group. This is a most noteworthy result.
The study provides transcendently important information for those who suffer from this debilitating mental disorder. Therefore, the researchers summarized their findings thusly: “The data from this study provide robust evidence that supports the efficacy of midday bright light therapy for bipolar depression.”
The mechanism by which bright-light therapy performs its anti-depressive miracles is probably through production of serotonin in the brain. When we are surrounded by bright light, the light enters the eye and stimulates the brain to produce serotonin. Serotonin is the master mood enhancer, and anti-depressant drugs work by manipulating serotonin. Hence, these drugs are called selective serotonin uptake inhibitors (SSRI). However, SSRI often have serious, sometimes deadly, side effects. We should therefore obtain our serotonin naturally, through regular sun exposure. Why? Because serotonin can be increased by as much as 800% by spending a day in the sunlight. What a marvelously simple therapy bright light is. And what is the easiest way to obtain it? Go outside during the day, for goodness sake!
It is not necessary to go outside at midday. Any time of day, when the sun is shining brightly, should work very well. However, we should never look directly at the sun. That may cause eye damage. Sufficient light enters just by being outside.
In conclusion: Safely embrace the sunlight whenever possible, and remove the risk of bipolar disorder.
 Amanda Gardner. U.S. has highest bipolar rate in 11-nation study. Heath.com. March 7, 2011. http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/03/07/US.highest.bipolar.rates/
 Bipolar Disorder Statistics. BDS Alliance. http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=education_statistics_bipolar_disorder.
 Sit DK, McGowan J, Wiltrout C, Diler RS, Dills JJ, Luther J, Yang A, Ciolino JD, Seltman H, Wisniewski SR, Terman M, Wisner KL. Adjunctive Bright Light Therapy for Bipolar Depression: A Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trial. Am J Psychiatry. 2017 Oct 3: [Epub ahead of print].
 Lambert GW, Reid C, Kaye DM, Jennings GL, Esler MD. Effect of sun and season on serotonin turnover in the brain. Lancet. 2002 Dec 7;360(9348):1840-2.
We have discussed the extraordinary ability of sunlight exposure or other bright-light exposure to profoundly increase the production of serotonin, a brain chemical that is a potent mood enhancer. The most remarkable research on this subject was by Dr. Gavin Lambert and his colleagues in Australia. They measured serotonin levels in response to varying degrees of bright light. To do this, they actually took blood samples from internal jugular veins of 101 men and compared the serotonin concentration of the blood to weather conditions and seasons. The results were remarkable: MEN WHO WERE MEASURED ON A VERY BRIGHT DAY PRODUCED EIGHT TIMES MORE SEROTONIN THAN THOSE WHO WERE MEASURED ON A CLOUDY, DISMAL DAY. They also observed that the effect of bright light was immediate, and that there was no holdover from day to day. SEROTONIN LEVELS WERE ALSO SEVEN TIMES HIGHER IN SUMMER THAN WINTER. NO WONDER WE FEEL SO GOOD WHEN WE ARE OUTSIDE IN THE SUMMERTIME!
The most popular anti-depressant drugs also work by keeping serotonin levels higher, but there are frightening side-effects. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), indicates that antidepressant medications known as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) may increase depression in some cases and lead to suicidal thoughts. Some of the brands involved are Paxil, Lexapro, Prozac, Effexor, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Luvox, Celexa and Serzone, although the FDA listed 34 drugs. The entire list is at fda.gov/cder/drug/antidepressants/. They state the following: “The Food and Drug Administration asks manufacturers of all antidepressant drugs to include in their labeling a boxed warning and expanded warning statements that alert health care providers to an increased risk of suicidality in children and adolescents being treated with these agents, and additional information about the results of pediatric studies.”
The FDA lists several additional warnings and instructions about these drugs:
Antidepressants increase the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior (suicidality) in children and adolescents with MDD (major depressive disorder) and other psychiatric disorders.
Anyone considering the use of an antidepressant in a child or adolescent for any clinical use must balance the risk of increased suicidality with the clinical need.
Patients who are started on therapy should be observed closely for clinical worsening, suicidality, or unusual changes in behavior.
Families should be advised to closely observe the patient and to communicate with the prescriber.
Missing are two important facts: (1) SSRI’s increase bone loss. Women who used SSRI’s lose nearly 80% more bone per year than non-users! And as expected, later research shows that SSRI use correlated to a 75% greater likelihood of sustaining a fracture. Secondly, SSRI’s don’t work very well. A meta-analysis of data on SSRI’s submitted to the FDA indicates that placebos (sugar pills) are as effective as SSRI’s in reducing depression;  in other words, only drug companies benefit from SSRI’s—not depression sufferers.
Based on that information, it seems prudent to increase our endorphins (and our happiness) through sunlight exposure. It is what nature intended.
 Lambert GW, Reid C, Kaye DM, Jennings GL, Esler MD. Effect of sunlight and season on serotonin turnover in the brain. Lancet. 2002 Dec 7;360(9348):1840-2.
 Diem SJ, Blackwell TL, Stone KL, Yaffe K, Haney EM, Bliziotes MM, Ensrud KE.. Use of antidepressants and rates of hip bone loss in older women; the study of osteoporotic fractures. Arch Intern Med 2007:167:1231-32.
 Sheu YH, Lanteigne A, Stürmer T, Pate V, Azrael D, Miller M5. SSRI use and risk of fractures among perimenopausal women without mental disorders. Inj Prev. 2015 Jun 25. pii: injuryprev-2014-041483. doi: 10.1136/injuryprev-2014-041483. [Epub ahead of print]
 Kirsch, I. et al. Initial severity and antidepressant benefits: a meta-analysis of data submitted to the Food and Drug Administration. PLoS Medicine 2008;5:e45. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050045