The eyes may be the windows to the soul, but the ears are the secret to happiness, according to a new company that's created a pair of mood-boosting headphones.
How It Works
The Valkee channels bright, sunshine-like light straight through the ear canal to the photosensitive regions of the brain. It's designed to help people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression that usually occurs during the winter (and can cause weight gain, social withdrawal, moodiness and fatigue).
But the headset (which doesn't really play music) isn't just the latest fad to sneak under a hoodie - it's supposedly backed by science. After four weeks, 13 participants who used the light technique felt improvements in their mood and energy levels Can transcranial brain-targeted bright light treatment via ear canals be effective in relieving symptoms in seasonal affective disorder? A pilot study. Timonen, M., Nissilä, J., Liettu, A., et al. University of Oulu, Institute of Health Sciences (General Practice), Oulu, Finland. Medical Hypotheses 2012;78(4):511-5.. Manufacturers at Valkee say their device works by stimulating a protein called OPN3 in parts of the brain that regulate serotonin, melatonin, and dopamine. Since these are the neurotransmitters that most antidepressants target, the device is designed to alleviate symptoms of depressionRelationship of neurotransmitters to the symptoms of major depressive disorder. Nutt, D.J. Psychopharmacology Unit, University of Bristol, United Kingdom. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 2008;69 Suppl E1:4-7.. The light runs for 12 minutes, which they claim is just enough time for users to start feeling the benefits of more energy and a better mood.
Though the product is pretty high-tech, it doesn't look so different from something we might already find in our backpacks. The Valkee is basically a box that looks like an MP3 player plus a pair of headphones with little lights inside. And while the Valkee may be the first smile-inducing headset, scientists have been coming out with a range of new technologies marketed toward SAD patients. (Check out these shades.)
The Valkee has also been put to the test by athletes. A study of elite ice hockey players (which wasn't run by Valkee) found the headset boosted performance by speeding up reaction time. And as for the future, Valkee hopes to improve the technology so that it can help people overcome jet lag, too.
The company's still in the process of raising money, so the tech won't be available in the U.S. until at least 2013. That means Greatist hasn't had a chance to test out the device to find out whether it's really a genius piece of equipment or just a fancy conversation starter. And the company's still running clinical tests on the product to make sure it's safe and effective. But when the product's available here, we'll definitely consider opening our ears to let the sun shine in.
Would you try out the Valkee? Or would you be worried about using it? Let us know in the comments below or tweet the author directly at @ShanaDLebowitz.