SAD and the Fat Sand Rat (I’m not kidding!)

The cute little creature in the image is a fat sand rat. And its providing hope for those enduring seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Let’s take a look at some fascinating research, shall we?

This is a troublesome time of the year for those who traditionally endure seasonal affective disorder (SAD), as we’ve just moved our clocks back and winter is knocking on the door.

Whether it pertains to SAD, or any mood or anxiety disorder, quality research always brings hope. And the results of a fascinating study, published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, does just that.

Noga Kronfeld-Schor, of Tel Aviv University, and her colleague, Haim Einat, of the University of Minnesota, have discovered that the fat sand rat has similar reactions to SAD treatments as we human types. And that would only make sense, because we share the same sleep/wake cycle. Yes, we’re both diurnal – meaning we’re active primarily during the daytime hours. For the record, mice, traditionally used in lab work, are nocturnal.

By the way, so much of this is directed by melatonin, a hormone secreted by our brain’s pineal gland. Melatonin is an important component of our sleep/wake cycle, as it causes drowsiness and lowers our blood pressure. It would only make sense that most mice don’t secrete melatonin.

So here’s how the research went down. Kronfeld-Schor and Einat experimented with two groups of fat sand rats. In an effort to examine the effect of the length of light exposure on their emotional state, one group of rats was exposed to long hours of light – like summer. And the other group was exposed to shorter hours of light – like winter.

Fascinatingly enough, in several tests, the sand rats of the second group behaved in ways similar to depressed humans; presenting with despair, reduced social interactions, and increased anxiety.

Well, now that the researchers knew the fat sand rats had a similar reaction to light as humans; the team wanted to know if traditional SAD therapies – including medications and exposure to brighter light for an hour in the morning or evening – provided relief.

The results were interesting. The medications were, indeed, effective in treating the sand rat’s depression; however, the morning light exposure therapy was even more effective. As a result, the researchers concluded that any notion that the efficacy of light therapy in humans was a placebo effect was just plain false.

Aside from being interesting, the research is incredibly hopeful. Don’t you think? I mean, to be able to come upon an animal that so resembles a human makes the results of the work so much more relevant. And it’s this type of work that leads to more effective treatments for that which ails us.

So there you have it, a cool bit of research for this Tuesday, November 16. Thoughts? Why not share in a comment?