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Article

A Systematic Review of Bright Light Therapy for Eating Disorders

Marshall T. Beauchamp, MS, and Jennifer D. Lundgren, PhD

Published: October 27, 2016

Article Abstract

Objective: Bright light therapy is a noninvasive biological intervention for disorders with nonnormative circadian features. Eating disorders, particularly those with binge-eating and night-eating features, have documented nonnormative circadian eating and mood patterns, suggesting that bright light therapy may be an efficacious stand-alone or adjunctive intervention. The purpose of this systematic literature review, using PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) guidelines, was (1) to evaluate the state of the empirical treatment outcome literature on bright light therapy for eating disorders and (2) to explore the timing of eating behavior, mood, and sleep-related symptom change so as to understand potential mechanisms of bright light therapy action in the context of eating disorder treatment.

Data Sources: A comprehensive literature search using PsycInfo and PubMed/MEDLINE was conducted in April 2016 with no date restrictions to identify studies published using bright light therapy as a treatment for eating disorders. Keywords included combinations of terms describing disordered eating (eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating, binge, eating behavior, eating, and night eating) and the use of bright light therapy (bright light therapy, light therapy, phototherapy). After excluding duplicates, 34 articles were reviewed for inclusion.

Study Selection and Data Extraction: 14 published studies of bright light therapy for eating disorders met inclusion criteria (included participants with an eating disorder/disordered-eating behaviors; presented as a case study, case series, open-label clinical trial, or randomized/nonrandomized controlled trial; written in English; and published and available by the time of manuscript review).

Results: Results suggest that bright light therapy is potentially effective at improving both disordered-eating behavior and mood acutely, although the timing of symptom response and the duration of treatment effects remain unknown.

Conclusions: Future research should systematically control for placebo response, assess symptom change frequently and across a broad range of systems, and evaluate the longer-term efficacy of bright light therapy for eating disorders.


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