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Light therapy is an effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder, but a tailored form of cognitive behavioral therapy seems to be a more effective long-term treatment.

Light therapy is an effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder, but a tailored form of cognitive behavioral therapy seems to be a more effective long-term treatment.

SAD therapy

Talk therapy tops light therapy for treating seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a recent study found.

SAD is a type of depression that usually occurs in the winter months and like other forms of depression often involves symptoms such as hopelessness, increased sleep, reduced energy and ability to concentrate, loss of interest in work or other activities, social withdrawal, sadness and irritability. It affects more than 14 million Americans, and in some areas of the northern U.S., its prevalence is close to 10 percent of the population.

Treatment for SAD commonly involves light therapy using a special lamp that mimics sunlight, but a new study from University of Vermont researchers suggests that a special type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a better long-term solution for SAD sufferers.

Kelly Rohan, a psychology professor, led a study in which about 175 people with SAD received either six weeks of light therapy or a version of CBT that taught them to challenge their negative thoughts about dark, winter months and to resist social isolation and other behaviors that negatively affect mood. Two years later, close to half (46 percent) of light therapy recipients experienced a recurrence of depression, compared to 27 percent of those who had CBT. Participants in the light therapy group also reported more severe SAD symptoms.

Part of the problem with light therapy, Rohan said, is the fact that people have to keep using the treatment in order for it to work.

“Adhering to the light therapy prescription upon waking for 30 minutes to an hour every day for up to five months in dark states can be burdensome,” she said, noting that 70 percent of people in the study were no longer using the light therapy equipment by the second winter.

In contrast, Rohan explained, CBT is a preventive treatment, and once people learn the basic skills it teaches, they can use those skills to control their symptoms.

Rohan emphasized that both light therapy and CBT are extremely effective in treating SAD during the winter months but said the talk therapy likely is a better long-term solution.

Funded by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, the study was the first large-scale initiative to examine the long-term effectiveness of light therapy as a treatment for SAD.

The American Journal of Psychiatry published the findings.


Just one drink

Drinking a single energy drink conceivably could trigger a cardiovascular event in a young adult, according to a study presented at the 2015 American Heart Association Scientific Sessions.

For a study, 25 healthy, young adults were served on two separate days either a 16-ounce can of a commercially available energy drink or a placebo beverage with similar taste. Measures taken 30 minutes before and after drink consumption showed that those who drank energy drinks had increases in blood pressure and significant increases in norepinephrine, a chemical that increases blood pressure and the heart’s ability to contract.

The changes occurring after consuming the energy drink “may predispose to increased cardiovascular risk,” researchers wrote, adding that larger studies are needed to further assess the drinks’ effects.


Prescription drug use

Nearly 60 percent of the nation’s adults take at least one prescription medication, according to a recent study.

Nearly 60 percent of the nation’s adults take at least one prescription medication, according to a recent study.

Adults in the U.S. who do not take at least one prescription drug are in the minority, according to a study published  this month in JAMA.

Researchers who looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found:

• The prevalence of prescription drug use among adults aged 20 and older increased from 51 percent in 1999-2000 to 59 percent in 2011-2012.

• The prevalence of adults taking five or more prescription drugs increased from 8 percent in 1999-2000 to 15 percent in 2011-2012.

• Prescription drug use increased significantly among adults aged 40 and older but not among younger adults

“Eight of the 10 most commonly used drugs in 2011-2012 are used to treat components of the cardiometabolic syndrome, including hypertension, diabetes, and dyslipidemia (high cholesterol). Another is a proton-pump inhibitor used for gastroesophageal reflux, a condition more prevalent among individuals who are overweight or obese,” the researchers wrote.

Study authors concluded that the increased use of some prescription drugs may be due to an increased need to treat complications arising from being overweight or obese.


Mistaken penicillin allergies 

About one in 10 Americans believe they are allergic to penicillin because a doctor has told them so, but for many of those people, penicillin is perfectly safe, according to a presentation this month at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting.

Dr. David Khan, allergist and ACAAI fellow, led a study that he said showed penicillin to be “safe for repeated use in patients who had been told they were allergic.”

“Of the patients whose records we examined, there were no adverse drug reactions or evidence of recurrence of their penicillin allergy,” Khan said. “Anyone who has been told they are penicillin allergic but who hasn’t been tested by an allergist should be tested. An allergist will work with you to find out if you’re truly allergic to penicillin, and to determine what your options are for treatment if you are. If you’re not, you’ll be able to use medications that are safer, often more effective and less expensive.”


Sleep and mood

Quality is more important than quantity when it comes to sleep, a study reported in the journal Sleep suggests.

At Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, researchers randomly assigned healthy adults to one of three experimental sleep conditions for three consecutive nights in an inpatient setting: sleep interrupted by forced awakenings, delayed bedtimes or uninterrupted sleep. Throughout the study, participants were questioned about their positive and negative emotions, such as cheerfulness or anger.

Following the second night, significant differences were noted, with participants who were forced to awaken reporting about a 30 percent reduction in positive mood and those with later betimes reporting a 12 percent decline in positive mood.

“When your sleep is disrupted throughout the night, you don’t have the opportunity to progress through the sleep stages to get the amount of slow-wave sleep that is key to the feeling of restoration,” lead study author Patrick Finan said.

According to Finan, the study indicates that the effects of interrupted sleep on mood are cumulative, because differences in mood among the groups became apparent after the second night and continued the day following the third night of the study.

“You can imagine the hard time people with chronic sleep disorders have after repeatedly not reaching deep sleep,” he said.


Brain diet

A National Institutes of Health study found that a form of non-invasive brain stimulation was effective in helping obese individuals eat fewer calories and lose some weight.

Researchers divided a group of study participants into two groups; one group received stimulation targeting the area of the brain controlling behavior and reward, and the other group received a fake stimulation.

Next, participants were invited to eat and drink as much as they desired from items offered in a vending machine. Those who received fake stimuli consistently consumed the same number of calories and failed to lose weight, but those receiving actual stimulation consumed an average of 700 fewer calories and lost weight.

Researchers plan to study the method further to determine its safety and effectiveness for weight loss.

Study results were published in the journal Obesity.


On the calendar

Cholesterol, glucose, BMI and blood pressure screening is offered from 7:30-9:30 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 3 at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital, 10 Hospital Drive in St. Peters. Participants should fast for at least 10 hours prior to screening. The fee is $25. For an appointment, call 928-9355.

• • •

Family and Friends CPR is from 6:30-9 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 15 at Progress West Hospital, 2 Progress Point Parkway in O’Fallon. The video-guided program is for parents, grandparents and teens who babysit (ages 10-15 if accompanied by an adult). Instruction and hands-on practice is included for infant, child and adult CPR, first aid for choking and the use of automated external defibrillators (AEDs) when appropriate. Course facilitators use American Heart Association materials. The program is offered through a partnership with St. Louis Children’s Hospital and does not include certification. The fee is $25 per person. To register, call 344-5437.

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