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Depressed and confused? Let the sun shine

July 28, 2009 |  8:20 am

Cloudy Rainy days have long been tied to a poor mood, while sunshine often lifts one's spirits. A new study now suggests that a lack of sunlight is associated with reduced cognitive function among depressed people as well.

Researchers at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, looked at national data from 14,474 people. They found that among people with depression, low exposure to sunlight led to a significantly higher probability of cognitive impairment, such as poorer memory. The relationship was found even when the researchers adjusted for seasonal differences.

"This new finding that weather may not only affect mood, but also cognition, has significant implications for the treatment of depression, particularly seasonal affective disorder," the lead author of the study, Shia Kent, said in a news release.

Kent said that the physiological mechanisms and neurochemicals that cause seasonal depression may also have an effect on cognition. Light has been shown to affect blood flow in the brain, which can impact cognitive functions.

The study "also suggests the possibility that light therapy that is prescribed for seasonal affective disorder may also improve cognitive function," the authors wrote.

The study is published in BioMed Central's open access journal Environmental Health.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Giuseppe Cacace / AFP/Getty Images