I Hear The Light… But Feel S.A.D.

Pseudoscience that makes me SAD

There is something very uplighting about sunshine for anyone who has ever lived in Scotland or most of Northern Europe for that matter. On the flipside, Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is a depressive mood that is linked to the winter months when the days shorten. Apparently, one way to treat SAD is to use phototherapy by sitting in front of a light box for a couple of hours, thereby mimicking the longer days of summer. I am not sure if it works over and beyond a placebo and I am at a loss to know how one could produce a control for light, but hell, if it works, it works. However, one recent development of phototherapy is really pushing the boundaries of credibility.

According to the website, the Valkee “substitutes the mood-elevating effects of the sun, by channeling safe bright light directly to photosensitive regions of the brain through the ear canal.” Now if I was naive, I might think, “Well I feel more miserable during the winter and phototherapy is supposed to work but I can’t sit in front of a box for two hours. I know I’ll plug it straight into my brain through my ears.”

The last time I looked, receptors sensitive to photons were in the retina. You could rip of the back of someone’s skull and shove the brightest beam into their visual cortex and they would still see absolutely nothing. And the visual cortex is nowhere near the ears. I know, lets shout at the auditory cortex to find out if we can hear better.

Oh I give up sometimes. I am not even going to bother reviewing the ‘scientific evidence’ for this one.


Filed under In the News

11 responses to “I Hear The Light… But Feel S.A.D.

  1. There was an iPhone app that claimed to ‘cure’ SAD. I covered it a little while back on the Cow. Seems to have been pulled from the iTunes Store now. Much better value than this thing @ $1.99!

  2. Rox

    Every reader should follow Valkee’s invitation to download their “medical device certificate”. This confirms that it has been manufactured to their specification and inspected (by them?), not that it actually does any good ! “The manufacturer’s quality system for the manufacture and final inspection of the aforesaid product category has been evaluated and meets the provisions of Council Directive 93A2|EEC as set out in Annex V Section 3.”

    Personally, I am not enlightened at all by the diagrams of how bright light activates the brain via the ear canal. I think Female 43 years would do better to go on eating a lot of chocolate. What’s wrong with eating a lot of chocolate? It’s weird how women love to think of chocolate as peculiarly sinful. I believe it does contain serotonin and stuff, which is somewhat more credible for this condition than shining a light in your earole.

    • Yeh- it contains both serotonin and tryptophan, which is a chemical that gets converted into serotonin via a well defined pathway. Also – it contains dopamine, which is not responsible for sensations of reward (as we used to think) but is responsible for the feeling of anticipation of reward; and theobromine, another chemical with an effect of elevating mood. It even contains a cannabinoid: anandamide, which could in theory get you high but … well, there’d be a risk of over-doing the xanthines in it….

      Chocolate…. comfort or curse?

      I wonder if Bruce would like to do a documentary on that topic 😉

  3. I’m really glad I have found this info. Today bloggers publish only about gossips and web and this is actually annoying. A good website with exciting content, this is what I need. Thank you for keeping this website, I will be visiting it.

  4. I enjoy studying and I conceive this website got some truly utilitarian stuff on it! .

  5. Rox

    Utilitarian ?
    “Frivolous” comes to mind in some cases.

  6. OMFG! One thing about this Valkee thing that depresses me is that it is a Finnish invention: I am a Scot living in Finland and I have become extremely aware over the past couple of years particularly of the surprisingly poor level of scientific literacy amongst Finnish higher education graduates; yes, it is true: I have, with my colleague and ex-wife, being involved in presenting training days to Finnish professionals – allegedly highly science-literate – but, when it comes down to evaluating things for evidence of efficacy, totally unable to do this! The professionals in question are psychologists, speech therapists, educators and so on; all of whom have some level of higher education behind them. They have been using Facilitated Communication (or what used to be called that) , and have failed entirely to appreciate the overwhelming evidence of the scientific community … all of which says that FC is utter garbage. Well, what it doesn’t do is validate any claims made about FC or inferences made on the basis of FC-derived messages. In fact, FC is one of the few things that can be scientifically investigated and end up with science not just failing to validate such claims and inferences, but actually invalidating them flat out! Not that the vast majority of Finnish professionals seem to be aware of this, even when the facts are clearly laid out in front of them.

    Also depressing about this device is that it has some currency, it seems, with the University of Oulu: I did my final-year psychology studies there (Yes, Bruce, I’m a psychologist too), and learned a lot under the brilliant supervision of good scientific psychologists such as Professor Timo Järvilehto. Yet, in the very department in which I had studied under this guy, research was being done into FC that blatantly ignored the quantitative science done on it in the 1990s in favour of qualitative studies aimed at ‘proving authorship’. And as any good scientist knows: if the quantitative research says it doesn’t work, there’s no earthly point in doing qualitative studies. Period.

    The reason why there is so much depression in Finland, often leading to suicide, is that the system here – despite the reviews done by people who haven’t even set foot in Finland (let alone lived here) – is not fit for purpose, and is not being improved in line with modern knowledge and understanding of how social support systems should function.

    Light into the ears? FFS, man!!!! How in the name of anything scientific can that work? We have six basic senses, bundled into three groups of two: mechanoreceptive, chemoreceptive and photoreceptive. Yes – hearing and touch are both two sides of the same coin, since one of them evolved from the other; the same can be said of gustation and olfaction, since the one evolved from the other in this case too; what we think of as one sense (sight) is in fact two senses that have evolved separately inside the same organ, one of which is frequency-dependent and one of which is intensity-dependent. Any fool could see clearly that it makes no sense to try to stimulate gustation using (for example) a mallet or a finely-focused sound beam. So why anybody would think that it is possible to stimulate brain function by deluging photons (involved, of course, in the photoreceptive senses) into an organ involved in a very specialised mechanoreceptive sense, I honestly do not know. But it seems that the Finnish do think it is useful … even if the evidence would say it isn’t. High levels of scientific literacy my backside!

    No wonder the country’s in the state it’s in! I*m glad that most of my studies were done in UK institutions.

  7. roxks

    I have stuck firmly to the chocolate myself, and recent research (unreliable possibly) suggests it may ward off dementia as well ! The BBC (and probably others too, because this oddity is common) report it specifically as “dark chocolate”, but I really don’t see why adding milk to the serotonin and other goodies should make any difference. I think it’s part of the sin thing again, an attempt to make it more bitter and less sweet for the guilty women.

  8. Miihkali

    The first research done over this showed placebo worked better that the Valkee headset with maximum setting. Actually Valkee’s maximum setting worked the worst. This whole thing is a scam.


    • Rox

      Did it actually need any research to convince people who would accept the result of the research that this is a scam ? A lot of money gets wasted on research to disprove outrageous claims about “food supplements” etc, and yet the gullible public still goes on believing the Arch Shaman concerned and buying the merchandise .

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