Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects 10 million to 25 million Americans every winter season during the months of September to April, in particular during December, January and February. Out of those who are affected, 60 percent to 90 percent are women, and SAD occurs more frequently in younger people in their 20s.
SAD symptoms include:
· Desire to oversleep
· Feeling of fatigue and inability to carry out a normal routine
· A craving for sugary and/or starchy foods, usually resulting in weight gain
· Loss of self-esteem
· Difficulty concentrating and processing information
· Tension and inability to tolerate stress
· Decreased interest in sex and physical contact
· Full remission from depression occurs in the spring and summer months
· Hormonal imbalances
SAD or winter blues is often a reason to move south where there is more sunlight. You may have known that sunlight is an effective treatment for SAD but how does light influence moods?
Our natural physiology is such that when we no longer have enough light stimulating through our eyes the pineal gland (pih-knee-uhl shaped like a pine cone) will start to produce a hormone called melatonin. Melatonin is a powerful natural hormone made by your body’s pineal gland. This is a pea-sized gland located just above the middle of the brain. During the day the pineal is inactive. When the sun goes down and darkness occurs, the pineal is “turned on” by the nervous system and begins to actively produce melatonin, which is released into the blood. Usually, this occurs around 9 pm. As a result, melatonin levels in the blood rise sharply and you begin to feel less alert. Sleep becomes more inviting. Melatonin levels in the blood stay elevated for about 12 hours – all through the night – before the light of a new day when they fall back to low daytime levels by about 9 am. Daytime levels of melatonin are barely detectable. Melatonin is a powerful antioxidant and this may be one of the reasons why we sleep at all, to repair and reduce free radicals that our bodies make. The point here is that if a lack of light turns on a sleeping hormone and you are not getting enough bright light during the day you may have high levels of a hormone that makes you sleepy and groggy! The obvious answer is to get more light. Light boxes have been very successful, but you have to sit two feet in front of 10,000 lux light box for 20 to120 minutes. I personally don’t have the time to imitate a potted plant under a grow light. And the classic medical approach of antidepressants makes no sense at all when there are better alternatives. So, what do you do? Well let’s assume you didn’t always have depression, fatigue, etc. so something in you must have changed since winters in Vermont haven’t changed for the most part. I find that a three prong approach works best. Fix the structural, chemical and light imbalances in your life. The light therapy approach can be simple. Just turn on lots of bright lights in your home first thing in the morning to stop the production of melatonin. In tough cases a portable visor light can be worn. Next nutritionally get more vitamin D also known as the winter vitamin. It is interesting to note that sunlight stimulates the skin to make vitamin D in the summer but now everyone is avoiding the sun and using sun-blocks! Emphasize foods that contribute to serotonin production or nutritional supplements. Such as food that contain tryptophan (turkey, milk). Other helpful items are fish oil, zinc, “B” vitamins and other specific amino acids.
You’re probably wondering how structure can influence this subject. After all doesn’t nutrition and chemistry influence health more than anything else? Well, no. Your nervous system exerts a powerful effect too. So, exercise is a key and so are chiropractic adjustments since both can stimulate the nervous system and restore balance. I find cranial therapy very helpful in stubborn cases. Cranial therapy is relatively unknown yet has been around for over 50 years. Basically this is where the bones of the skull are gently encouraged to move as they should which influences the nervous system and the flow of fluids that surround the brain and spinal cord. Your skull is not a bowling ball and has 23 separate movable bones which do affect your health.
In summary S.A.D. is a very treatable condition that responds to natural methods. I wonder how many people are taking antidepressants year round when in reality they have S.A.D. In fact this last summer was quite cloudy and I saw the same symptoms in the middle of the summer in susceptible individuals. So for those of us in the northern states this can be year round problem that is treatable with natural methods. Don’t mistake depression and incorrectly treat the symptoms with drugs when the true cause can be easily corrected.
Randy Schaetzke, D.C., D.I.B.A.K.