Tips

Winter Blues Tip 3: Light therapy and Vitamin D don’t mix

by Marsha Stopa

Every day a variety of internet searches find this site asking if light therapy lamps and light boxes produce Vitamin D.  Short answer: No.

You don’t want to get Vitamin D from a light box

There are two key parts of the winter blues puzzles tangled together here – light therapy and Vitamin D production.

Light therapy is exposure to bright artificial light to mimic the sun, usually very early in the morning, and is used to treat seasonal depression and other conditions.

Vitamin D is produced by the ultraviolet rays (UV) in sunlight on our bare, exposed skin. Studies are increasingly showing that Vitamin D is a key factor for virtually every organ and system in the human body. Every one of our cells has Vitamin D receptors. Because of the lack of winter sunshine, low Vitamin D levels are linked with seasonal depression.

UV rays create Vitamin D

The UV radiation from the sunlight is what makes your skin tan and has been linked to skin cancer and eye damage. UV rays have no place in light therapy. All light therapy lamps and bulbs produced by reputable manufacturers filter out UV rays to avoid eye damage.

UV rays damage your eyes

No light therapy lamp, white light or blue light, should produce UV rays. And because all-blue light has been implicated in long-term retinal damage, I recommend not using an all-blue light for light therapy.

That leaves you with four choices to get enough Vitamin D

  • From sunlight – Many medical experts now say daily, short sun exposure on bare skin can help most people prevent Vitamin deficiency. Caucasian skin naturally produces 10,000 IU in about 20-30 minutes summer sun exposure – without sunblock.
  • From a tanning bed – To give you a tan, tanning beds emit high amounts of UV radiation. Be careful – people who use tanning beds are 1.5 to 2.5 times more likely to develop skin cancer.
  • From food – Some foods, like milk, cereal and orange juice, are fortified with Vitamin D.
  • From supplements – Vitamin D3 cholecalciferol is the form produced by our body with sun exposure. The debate about how much Vitamin D is enough continues.

Bottom line: Use your light therapy lamp to reset your body clock AND get the Vitamin D you need.

The home study course, The LightDiet: Using Light to Beat the Cloudy Day, Rainy Day, Winter Day Blues, teaches you everything you need to understand and use light therapy. Subscribe to the advance list (top right) to learn about the pre-release discount.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Svetlozar Utsenov December 16, 2012

This was confusing.

Which one is it:
“You don’t want to get Vitamin D from a light box”
Or
“Bottom line: Use your light therapy lamp to reset your body clock AND get the Vitamin D you need.”
?

2 Marsha Stopa December 16, 2012

Svetlozar,

Apologies if it is confusing.

It’s a two-part solution:

1. Use your light therapy lamp to reset your body clock
2. Get your Vitamin D from other sources — the sun or Vitamin D supplements

I hope that makes sense.
Let me know if it doesn’t. And thanks for asking.

Marsha

3 Circadian Rhythm & Blues February 5, 2013

Hi. Thanks for this helpful article. I came here from exactly the search you described in your first sentence. But I found/find the title of the article a bit confusing: when you say that light therapy and vitamin D “don’t mix” it suggests that you don’t want to mix them, eg, use light therapy while also taking vitamin D supplements because of some kind of bad interaction between the two. So if I hadn’t read the whole article, plus your clarification to the previous comment, I could have come away with a mistaken impression.

4 Marsha Stopa February 5, 2013

Excellent point and suggestion.
I will look at rewriting that to make it more clear
I’m glad you found the article helpful nonetheless.
Thanks.

Marsha

5 The Ardent Vegan Advocate February 9, 2013

You may be interested to know that you can supplement vitamin D through UV treated mushrooms too:
http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2008/081112.htma
http://mushroominfo.com/all-about-vitamin-d/
The Ardent Vegan Advocate´s last blog post ..Vegan Dietary Transition Tips

6 Bonny Barber February 22, 2013

I have a disabled child who can not be in the sun.has a history of kidney stones .And low vit D .We have been told that the light therapy should be our best bet for her .Are you saying do not use the lift therapy?

7 CJ, London February 25, 2013

There is (as usual) conflicting opinion on whether vit D supplementation works by itself without sunlight. Its certainly possible, and not widely known, that UV lamps work just as you would expect them to. Obviously, like the sun itself, you don’t sit and stare at them.

Study: Treatment of vitamin D deficiency with UV light in patients with malabsorption syndromes: a case series

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2846322/

8 Marsha Stopa March 2, 2013

I apologize for any confusion. Light therapy is definitely useful. Just don’t expect it to supply the Vitamin D your son needs.

Best of luck to you.

9 rward August 31, 2013

beware. only UVB creates Vit D,and that ONLY gets to Earth when sun is above 50 degrees in sky. and UVB cannot penetrate clouds.This site will tell you how high the sun is where you live ;
http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/AltAz.php
mushrooms create Vit D but also need UVB
also.. if you swim in chlorine pool after UVB exposure… it is cancelled.so avoid pool after,or you wasted your time.

10 Elizabeth R. January 13, 2014

I am Vitamin D deficient and my doctor advised me to begin taking Vitamin D supplements, starting several years ago. Also, I used to develop hives as often as on a weekly basis. I went to multiple allergists and they couldn’t figure out what was causing the hives. And at times, the hives were severe enough to need an ER visit. Due to a particularly busy month, last year, I forgot to get my refill of vitamin D supplements and went without them for several weeks. Low and behold…the hives stopped. I haven’t had even one bout since then. I am a fair-skinned, redhead who has already had 3 “problem spots” surgically removed by my dermatologist after discovering them during my twice-annual skin check. So increased “true” sun exposure isn’t an option, nor are tanning beds. I was hoping a light box would be an alternative solution, but now it sounds like that’s not the case. Any other suggestions?

11 Marsha Stopa January 13, 2014

Elizabeth,

Did you try a different brand of Vitamin D to see if you had the same reaction?

There has been a lot of research the last several years about just how much sun exposure we need to get the Vitamin D benefit. And the answer has shown that rather than increasing sun exposure, we can actually decrease exposure and still benefit. And by that I mean exposure from a couple of minutes to 15-20 minutes. The general guideline is to get only enough sun exposure on your bare arms and face to JUST barely start to turn pink. If that’s 2 minutes, that’s all you get. If that’s 5 minutes, you’re done. Skip a day or two, or whatever length of time it takes for the redness to disappear, and then get a few minutes of sun again. That way you work within your body’s own natural limits and avoid overexposure based on a chart.

I hope you find that useful.

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