Blue Light Therapy Reduces Depressive Symptoms From Traumatic Brain Injuries


Preliminary data shows blue therapy results in a significant decline in raw depression scores when compared to a placebo.

William D. Killgore, PhD

William D. Killgore, PhD

Blue light therapy could be beneficial to patients suffering from mild traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).

A team from the University of Arizona College of Medicine examined 35 individuals who had been diagnosed with a concussion within the past 18 months in a double-blind, randomized study. The average age in the study was 26 years old.

“Patients with mild traumatic brain injury, like concussion, often develop persistent problems associated with sleep, concentration and depression,” study author William D. Killgore, PhD, from the University of Arizona College of Medicine said in a statement. “Morning blue light exposure has been shown to lead to improved circadian rhythm of the body’s sleep-wake cycle, which is linked to improved sleep, better mood and daytime alertness.”

In the study, each participant used a tabletop device that shines bright light for 30 minutes each morning for a total of 6 weeks. Overall, 17 participants received the blue light therapy and 18 people received a placebo amber light therapy.

Both groups completed tests at baseline and the conclusion of the study to measure the symptoms of depression and other concussion symptoms, including headache, fatigue, and issues with sleep, memory, and concentration.

The investigators found that the participants who received the blue light therapy had lower scores on the Beck Depression Inventory than the individuals who received the placebo light therapy.

Raw depression scores also showed a significant decline in only the blue light group, where the participants in the blue light group improved by 22% on the test for depression, while there was a 4% worsening in mood for the people in the placebo group.

The improvement in depression scores for the blue light was also linked to improvements in other concussion symptoms including sleep disturbance, fatigue, concentration, restlessness, and irritability. However, there was no relationship for people in the placebo group.

“These results reinforce that blue light therapy may be an effective, non-drug treatment for concussion and that improvements in depression may result in improvement in both mental and physical concussion symptoms, and thus quality of life,” Killgore said.

Data from the preliminary study will be presented during the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) 2020 Annual Meeting in Toronto this April.

The relationship between reduced brain tissue oxygenation and poor outcomes after traumatic brain injuries is well known but monitoring and treatment strategies are still lagging behind.

Neuroscientists from Northwell Health’s Institute for Neurology and Neurosurgery and the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research will examine a pair of strategies for monitoring and treating patients with severe traumatic brain injuries in a phase III trial at the North Shore University Hospital (NSUH), a level I trauma center.

The first treatment strategy entails doctors preventing high intracranial pressure caused by a swollen brain, while doctors in the second part will look at preventing intracranial pressure and low brain oxygen levels.

“Both strategies help doctors adjust treatments, including the kinds and doses of medications, the amount of intravenous fluids administered, ventilator settings, the need for blood transfusions and other medical care,” David Ledoux, MD, Northwell’s chief, neurocritical care, said in a statement. “The results of the BOOST-3 study will help us better understand if one of the treatment methods improves survival and reduces disability.”

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