We know, it is not Winter yet…but just as animals start preparing for the shift we also need to be aware of ways that the cold and darker months can affect us and therefore prepare months ahead so our symptoms are not as problematic.
Many of us dread the dark mornings and short days that start creeping in once Fall begins. Some of you might find that your mood drops along with the temperatures. It may start slowly with changes in appetite, a decrease in motivation and then the need to sleep longer and longer … before you know it, you are exhibiting more than just the fall/winter blues. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to alleviate the winter blues before the first snowflake falls.
The lack of light in the winter causes an interesting shift in the hormones that govern our mood and sleep. Opposite to summer sunshine, winter darkness blocks the production of serotonin, our happy hormone, and stimulates the production of melatonin, our sleep hormone instead. This change in hormonal balance during the day, unfortunately, causes us to feel drowsy and sleepy, rather than alert and energized. Since SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is related to a lack of light, it only makes sense that using light as a form of treatment would help reduce symptoms. Phototherapy or bright light therapy has been shown to suppress the brain’s secretion of melatonin, which is the main reason why we tend to hit snooze on the alarm clock when winter rolls around. Your solution: look for full-spectrum lighting. Light devices (light visors) can be worn around the head or banks of white fluorescent lights (light boxes) on metal reflectors can be placed in the home or office. Exposure for 30 minutes to two hours per day in the morning has been found to be very effective. For mild symptoms, spending time outdoors during the day or arranging homes and workplaces to receive more sunlight may be helpful. One study found that an hour-long walk in winter sunlight was as effective as two and a half hours under a bright artificial light. A walk in nature and sunlight is ALWAYS good for the body!
The herbal medicine, St. John’s Wort at dosage of 900 mg per day, has also been shown to help with the symptoms of mild to moderate depression. A study published in the Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and Neurology followed two groups of people diagnosed with SAD who were treated with 900 mg of St. John’s Wort plus 2 hours’ exposure to bright light or 2 hours of dim light over 4 weeks. Both groups improved significantly, suggesting that St. John’s Wort may be an effective therapy in patients with SAD. Clear St. John’s Forte is available at Clear Medicine, take 1 capsule 3 times daily to get the optimal benefits.
It is best to begin taking this one month prior to the onset of your symptoms since it takes four to six weeks to reach full effectiveness. If you already have the symptoms, however, it is not too late to take this herb. Check with your health practitioner or pharmacist before beginning this herbal remedy if you are currently taking medications.
Soak Up the Sunshine Vitamin
Vitamin D is produced when the sun’s rays hit our skin, which makes deficiencies common in winter. Many studies have tested the hypothesis that vitamin D deficiency might play a role in SAD.
One such study was conducted on a group of 15 subjects with SAD. Eight subjects received 100,000 IU of vitamin D and seven subjects received phototherapy. At the onset of treatment and after one month of therapy, the subjects were administered the Hamilton Depression Scale questionnaire as a means of analysis. All subjects receiving vitamin D improved in all outcome measures. Surprisingly, the phototherapy group showed no significant change in depression scale measures. It appears that an improvement in vitamin D levels was associated with significant improvement in depression scale scores. For this reason, I recommend 2000 to 5000IU of vitamin D3 daily in the winter, with food.
By Dr. Natasha Turner, ND