Seasonal Affective Disorder

Source Int J Neurosci, 58(3-4):261-7 1991 Jun

Magnetic fields and seasonality of affective illness: implications for therapy.

Sandyk R; Anninos PA; Tsagas N

Department of Psychiatry, Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Montefiore Medical Center, Bronx, NY 10461.

Seasonal affective disorder is characterized by recurrent winter depression associated with hypersomnia, overeating, and carbohydrate craving. The severe form of winter depression affects about 5% of the general population and is believed to be caused by light deficiency. About 70%-80% of patients with winter depression experience attenuation of symptoms when exposed to bright light therapy. Hypotheses pertaining to the pathogenesis of winter depression implicate the effects of light on different characteristics of circadian rhythms. One of the environmental factors which may be implicated, in addition to light, in the pathophysiology of winter depression is the geomagnetic field. There is strong indication that the pineal gland is a magnetosensitive system and that changes in the ambient magnetic field alter melatonin secretion and synchronize the circadian rhythms. In man, shielding of the ambient magnetic field significantly desynchronizes circadian rhythms which could be gradually resynchronized after application of magnetic fields. The strength of the environmental magnetic field diminishes during the winter months, leading to increased susceptibility for desynchronization of circadian rhythms. Thus, since the acute application of magnetic fields in experimental animals resembles that of acute exposure to light with respect to melatonin secretion (i.e., suppression of melatonin secretion), magnetic treatment might be beneficial for patients with winter depression. In addition, since the environmental light and magnetic fields, which undergo diurnal and seasonal variations, influence the activity of the pineal gland, we propose that a synergistic effect of light and magnetic therapy in patients with winter depression would be more physiological and, therefore, superior to phototherapy alone.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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