HAS WINTER GOT YOU SAD?
Do you get sad and down in winter? In Australia, about 1 in 300 people are effected by seasonal affective disorder affects (1). Especially in the southern states of Australia where there is less winter sun and cooler temperatures in winter.
SAD is also known as ‘winter blues’ and is a mood disorder that affects people in the winter months when there is less sunlight. These people get down and depressed in the winter months, have less energy and sleep for longer than usual. They may also experience weight gain, mood swings irritability, have appetite changes and be hypersensitive. Withdrawing from social situations is also common
BUT…. Did you know that you can also get the opposite in summer? When there is more sun and longer daylight hours some people experience more anxiety and energy and less sleep. Melatonin is our sleep hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain.
In the colder winter months, the reduction in sunlight means our melatonin is produced earlier in the day and sometimes its production is also prolonged in the mornings. This upsets our ‘ circadian rhythm’ which is our internal 24 hour sleep/ wake cycle. Research suggests that SADs is to do with the delay in our circadian rhythm. These changes in melatonin also influence our serotonin levels which is our ‘happy ‘ hormone and in turn influences our mood.
More on Melatonin ….. for more than just sleeping……..
Melatonin also regulates core body temperature, is immune enhancing and has antioxidant properties. Most people are familiar with it helping lessen jet lag whilst traveling.
It treats age related insomnia and improves sleep efficiency in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Hungtinton’s diseases.
It also reduces blood pressure in people that are hypertensive (already have high blood pressure. )
C’MON….GET HAPPY AGAIN! Natural Treatment options…..
US research showed that walking 3 times a week for 30 minutes if you are depressed can make you feel less depressed. I would recommend if you suffer from SADS you exercise every day and outdoors so then you get natural sunlight and vitamin D as well. Sunlight stimulates the pineal gland in the brain to produce melatonin at night time to induce sleep and regulates our circadian rhythm.
2. LIGHT THERAPY
A dose of sunlight first thing in the morning can help with our serotonin and melatonin production and set our body clock or circadian Rhythm.
The more we are exposed to sunlight the more serotonin we produce which can stave off day time melatonin and depression. Melatonin makes us feel sleepy and is produced as the sun goes down.
Research has shown that 15 minutes of blue light therapy is equivalent to 2 hours of natural sunlight. Blue light is used as research has found that this specific colour light stimulates the part of our retina which differentiates night time from day time. You can read more about this HERE.
Jeff Collings, clinical director of sleep and snoring solutions company MCS Australia, recommends busy office workers getting little to no natural light keep a blue light box on their desk.
“A ten minute burst when you are feeling a little low can really perk you up. The light works instantly and is completely natural.”
Bright white “full spectrum” light at 10,000 lux, blue light at a wavelength of 480 nm at 2,500 lux or green (actually cyan or blue-green) light at a wavelength of 500 nm at 350 lux are used, with the first-mentioned historically preferred. (3)
For comparisons on the different types of light therapies available, check outhttp://light-therapy-lamps-review.toptenreviews.com/.
Pub med have many research papers on Light therapy and depression.
Have a look at this one “The efficacy of light therapy in the treatment of mood disorders: a review and meta-analysis of the evidence”
Professor Trevor Norman is a psychiatrist in Melbourne and he says research into bright light therapy has offered the most hope. “In one study at the Austin Hospital in Melbourne, they found sitting in front of a bright fluorescent light effectively reduced symptoms.” (4)
3. TO SUPPLEMENT OR NOT TO SUPPLEMENT?
A study showed that St. Johns wort improve the condition in those who regularly experienced winter depression. Is has been shown to be more effective in conjunction with light therapy. Other adrenal and adpatogen hebs can lift mood and help us feel more alive in the winter months. These include the ginsengs, Siberian and panax, and other herbs to keep in mind are Rhodiola and Withania. Withania is one of my favourite herbs. It helps us with moods, sleeping, reduces anxiety and has mild antidepressant qualities.
VITAMIN D and ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS
If you are getting less sunlight then you may be vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D is important for all round brain health as vitamin D receptors in increase nerve growth in the brain. Optimal levels are at least 100 mol/l. As vitamin D is fat soluble taking it with fats will increase its absorption. Omega 3 fatty acids are also important for brain health. These fats found in fish oil help stabilise moods and emotions.
5HTP or 5 – hydroxytryptophan, an activated form of the amino acid tryptophan, is the precursor to serotonin, along with co factors vitamin B6, magnesium and folate. This is a practitioner only product and is best discussed with your naturopath.
Researchers at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) have found that melatonin, a naturally occurring brain substance, can relieve the doldrums of winter depression, known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. I would not recommend this in all cases.
4. GET YOU GUT HEALTH RIGHT!!
The majority of serotonin is produced in our gut. So it’s imperative to have a good balance of the gut flora. Eating a healthy diet of fresh foods with plenty of vegetables will help our gut produce more of the good bacteria. You may crave carbohydrates and processed foods but they will only encourage growth of the bad bacteria and result in less serotonin production. A good quality probiotic will be valuable here.
A combination of different therapies is suggested to counteract SADS and I would recommend that if you suffer from this, that you exercise and get sunlight daily at the very least.
2 Sleep, health and consciousness, a physicians guide. Reza Samvat and Henry Oseki.