Healing with Nature: Shine Energizing Light on Those Midwinter Blues

Healing with Nature: Shine Energizing Light on Those Midwinter Blues

With the dog days of winter upon us, how do we energize ourselves to get out and move about? It does take more effort to get motivated at this time of the war. The festive season is behind us and all that is left are some extra pounds ans a few more bills to lament. With the colder weather, exercising doesn't seem so appealing. Curling up and reading that next book or maybe just watching an episode of Star Trek seems so much easier right now. Is this "normal" or is it just being plain lazy?

Well, it's quite normal to feel a bit more sedate during winter time. Just as many animals go into hibernation in the winter, people in the temperate zone need more rest time in this season. If you think you are a bit too lazy, or you find yourself feeling depressed, maybe you have SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Many people feel mildly "depressed" during the winter, but some people have more severe bouts of feeling down all the time: low energy, problems with sleep and appetite, and reduced concentration to the point where they have difficulty functioning at work or in the home. We say that these people have a clinical depression, to distinguish it from everyday ups and downs. Seasonal affective disorder (affective is a psychiatric term for mood) describes people who have these clinical depressions only during the autumn and winter seasons. During the spring and summer, they feel well and "normal." North American settlers called it cabin fever. Inuit peoples call it arctic hysteria, while in Finland and Norway suicide races dramatically increase during the winter months.

What is SAD?

The common symptoms of SAD include: extreme fatigue and lack of energy; increased need for sleep; sleeping much more than usual; carbohydrate craving with increased appetite and weight gain. Other health issues also have these same symptoms, especially a systemic yeast (Candida albican) problem. You might want to get a trained health care practitioner to give you a proper diagnosis.

How common is SAD? Experts say that SAD affects 35 million Americans (10 million with true SAD and 25 million with sub-syndromal SAD or "winter blues"). Studies estimate that SAD is more common in northern countries because the winter day gets shorter as you go farther north. In Florida, less than 1 percent of the general population have SAD, while in Alaska its many as 15 percent of people may suffer from winter depression. Most (75 to 80 percent) SAD sufferers are women, for whom the illness typically begins in the third decade of life. SAD has also been observed in children, who may exhibit signs of irritability, difficulty getting out of bed and problems in school, particularly during the fall and winter.

Many patients with SAD improve with exposure to bright, artificial light, called light therapy, or phototherapy. As little as 30 minutes per day sitting under a light box results in significant improvement in 60 percent to 80 percent of SAD patients. People with milder symptoms of the "winter blahs" may be helped by simply spending more time outdoors and exercising regularly in the winter.

Light treatments

How does this work? One theory is that people with SAD have a disturbance in the "biological clock" in the part of the brain that regulates hormones, sleep and mood. In SAD individuals, this clock "runs slower" in the winter. Brighter light may help to "reset the clock" and restore the normal function. Another theory claims that changes in brain chemical (neurotransmitter) function, particularly serotonin and dopamine, may be disturbed in SAD, and that these neurotransmitter imbalances are corrected with therapy and/or anti-depressant medications. Still other scientists believe that patients with SAD have reduced retinal light sensitivity in the winter that is corrected with light therapy. The light has to hit the eyes, or at least the face, to be effective. The therapy may use ordinary fluorescent light bulbs (although many recommend full spectrum lights) with an intensity of 10,000 lux, about 10 to 20 times as bright as ordinary indoor light. I find light therapy in the early part of the day, especially before going off to work, to be the most effective.

Herbal remedies

Which nutritional supplements help with this disorder? Probably the two most helpful supplements are St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) and melatonin. Melatonin is well known to help reset the "biological clock" and has helped many with this condition. The normal dosage is 3 mg. of melatonin before bed. However, my favorite supplement for this health area is St. John's wort. There has been much debate over how St. John's wort works. One of the old folklore descriptions said that it concentrated the light of the sun. Perhaps St. John's wort is like a solar collector that can store energy to be used by us in the winter when we are solar deprived...The normal dosage for St. John's wort is 300 mg. taken three times daily. There have been some studies showing that vitamin D can also reduce the symptoms of SAD significantly. This does make sense as the most common way we get vitamin D is by exposing our skin to the sun. Usually 400 I.U. is sufficient and can be found in most daily multiple supplements or, come to think of it, in that tablespoon of cod liver oil (called liquid sunshine) that my mom used to make me take.

Other tonic herbs I use in the winter to increase energy and reduce the blues are: Siberian ginseng (Eleuthrococcus senticosus) and Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis). You can often find these herbs together in the same formula designed for high performance athletes, but they can also give a boost to most people if taken on a regular basis. I suggest two to three capsules twice daily.

Birds worked out a solution to this problem years ago. They just flew south! So, with that said, I'm packing my bags and heading off to the Aloha state. See you in the spring!

Measurements & Data Corporation.

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By Terry Willard

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