Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – Part 1

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Seasonal Affective Disorder – “Holiday Depression”?

In the northern hemisphere, the days get shorter and the darkness seems to win towards the holiday season around November-December.

In this 6-part series I will talk about possible causes of SAD - and what we can do to help!

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What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

For many people that darkness extends to their emotions, and they feel gloomy, down and generally miserable. They may be experiencing depression, sleep problems, weight gain, anxiety, joint pain, irritability, stress, or headaches.  This is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), winter depression, or “Holiday Depression”.

What are the most important causes contributing to SAD?

  1. Lack of sunlight
  2. Holiday Treats
  3. Lack of Nutrients
  4. Increased Stress from the holiday season
  5. Lack of Exercise
  6. Regrets and Worries

What Can we Do about it?

  1. Light Therapy
  2. Reduce Sugary and Junk Food (as much as possible)
  3. Take supplements  (shortcode to quick-start appointment)
  4. Relax – Your Holidays do not need to be perfect
  5. Move more
  6. Be kind to yourself – Exterminate the ANT’s from your Brain… (shortcode to download doc)

 Each week I will talk about one of these issues.

So today here is Cause - and Intervention # 1 addressed:

Cause # 1: Lack of Sunlight

If fatigue were the only issue triggered by season changes, things would be easier to solve (with a little coffee maybe!). It is a bit more complicated.

Our body produces melatonin in response to darkness. You may have heard of melatonin as the “sleep hormone”.  Light, especially bright daylight, inhibits melatonin production in your brain.

Your melatonin secretion is synchronized with the production serotonin, which also is involved in many physiological processes such as temperature, blood-pressure regulation as well as neuropsychological functions such as appetite, memory and mood. When melatonin is secreted, serotonin production is inhibited and vice versa. And with increasing age, melatonin secretion generally diminishes.

Lack of serotonin can cause chronic fatigue and mood issues as well as weight gain. It’s like you would want to hibernate in a cave…

Intervention # 1: Light Therapy

Light Therapy is a proven and effective way to help SAD.

Sunlight increases serotonin levels and helps the body to produce vitamin D. Besides having anti-osteoporotic, immunomodulatory, anti-cancer, anti-psoriatic, anti-oxidant properties, vitamin D is also a mood-modulator.

Exposure to UV rays increases vitamin D synthesis in the skin. That is why people who go to tanning salons have noticed mood improvements, which keeps them coming back….

But it is well-known that over-exposure to UVA or UVB, whether from burning in the sun or over-using tanning beds, increases wrinkles and promotes skin cancer…

Light operates on the body in two ways: through skin impact or by entering your eyes. UV light has effects primarily on the skin (and the eyes, where it can contribute to cataracts), while your brain reacts to any bright light, UV or not.  The energizing effect of light therapy stems probably from the increased production of serotonin. The simplest way to get enough bright light is to spend an hour a day or more outdoors, where the light levels range from 1,000 to 50,000 lux or more, compared to room lighting, which is about 50-200 lux.

If your schedule or the weather does not permit it, an alternative is to purchase a light therapy device. For optimum effects, the light source either has to be very bright - 5,000 lux or more - or it has to be in a particular spectrum - around 460 nanometers, which is in the blue range. According to new research, blue range light will provide benefits even if at a dimmer level. Most companies producing light bulbs make full spectrum lights that can to a certain extent replace sunlight.

Yet, there are side effects of bright artificial light. It interferes with sleep (especially when you are exposed to it before sleep time). It can even trigger a manic episode in some people suffering from bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression

Next Week...

In Part 2 of the SAD series we are talking about how nutrition - and holiday treats - are affecting your mood!


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About the Author Dr. Christine Sauer

Dr. Christine Sauer, MD,ND(Ger), INHC, CBHC is a German-trained conventional as well as naturopathic physician, a Certified Brain and Mental Health Expert and Coach and a Certified Integrative Nutrition Holistic Health Coach. Through her own journey from successful owner of a large practice in Germany through the abyss of mental and physical health to complete recovery she discovered her unique process to help her clients achieve lasting health and wellness. Her mission is to change the world for the better, one life at a time. Her hobbies are science, learning new things, cooking, gardening and her backyard chickens and dogs.

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