Depression is a profound problem in America and worldwide. Roughly 27% of Americans will have depression sometime in his/her life. Medications can be helpful, but overall current medications are disappointing at best. Numerous studies show that 60-70% of patients do not respond to the first antidepressant and only 28% of chronically depressed patients experience complete relief of depression symptoms. Alternatives to medications do exist, but also have been disappointing. For example, rapid transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) has a response rate of 41 – 56%. Radical surgical interventions, such as vagal nerve stimulation or deep brain stimulation, can be considered for some patients, but these surgical interventions can have dangerous risks and are not guaranteed to work.
Over the past decade, transcranial NILT has been studied in animal models to understand its ability to repair damaged or dysfunctional brain tissue resulting from stroke and TBI. Two small studies (Schiffer 2009; Barrett 2013) have demonstrated the NIR light applied to the brain through the scalp can temporarily relieve symptoms of depression. Notably, the impact of this treatment took up to two weeks to be manifested.
However, it is vital to recognize the distinction between low-level infrared light treatment programs and high-energy infrared light treatment programs. Programs may claim to have solutions or treatments for TBI with low-level infrared light, but our preclinical studies clearly show that there is no significant penetration through skin or through bone and brain to deliver meaningful levels of photoenergy to the portions of the brain affected by depression or TBI (Henderson & Morries 2015).
We are working with an intriguing new treatment approach for depression. Our published work on a series of patients treated with multi-Watt laser (10-15 Watts) demonstrated significant and, more important, lasting improvement in mood, depression and sleep patterns, as well as numerous other symptoms (Morries et al, 2015). Standardized depression scales showed a drop from mild-to-moderate depression to non-depressed. NILT laser shows considerable promise for treating depression, in addition to its established benefits for TBI. Further research is needed in the area of depression and the Neuro-Laser Foundation will pioneering that work soon.