Friday, January 2, 2015

‘Tis the Season for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs in some people due to decreased amounts of daylight during the winter.

SAD is triggered by disrupting the body’s internal clock, causing a drop in levels of a mood-affecting chemical called serotonin, or by altering levels of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood, researchers say.

“The most important take-home message is that people who experience seasonal affective disorder should not suffer in silence. SAD – like other types of depression – is treatable, and people who experience symptoms should seek help,” Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein, president for the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, said in a foundation news release.

Symptoms of SAD may include: feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day; feeling hopeless or worthless; low energy levels; loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed; sleep problems; appetite or weight changes; feeling sluggish or agitated; difficulty concentrating; and frequent thoughts of death or suicide, Borenstein said.

Treatments for SAD include light therapy, counseling and medications. Keeping your home or workplace as sunny and bright as you can may help. It also helps to spend more time outdoors, and to get regular exercise Borenstein said.

My Take:
I suffered from SAD my first semester at the University of Michigan. Ann Arbor, Michigan sits in a little valley and is generally covered by dark grey clouds for months on end during the winter. I literally did not see the sun for two months. After living in sunny South Florida, I knew what was wrong with me although the disorder had not yet been identified. I transferred to the University of South Florida and solved my depression.
I agree with most of Dr. Borenstein’s recommendations, just not the medication. Medications are considered efficacious if they work at least 50% of the time. Antidepressants work, at best one-third of the time. Medication is not a viable therapy for SAD.

I recommend chaste tree if sleep disorder is one of the symptoms. Please review my blog on chaste tree posted Wednesday, August 20, 2014. Chaste tree increases the body’s own production of melatonin, regulating sleep cycles and hormone levels.

Vitamin D can also be very helpful. The hormone (yes, it’s a hormone, not a vitamin) is manufactured in the skin when exposed to sunlight. Even in South Florida, vitamin D deficiency is common as we hide from the sun and use sunscreen daily. Please review my blog “Taking Vitamin D May Be Losing Its Shine” posted on Thursday, December 14. 2013. That was one of my earliest blogs. I recommend all my patients have their vitamin D levels checked once a year.

Personally, I play tennis in the early morning virtually every weekend. I do not apply any sunscreen and I’m out there for close to two hours. Despite my fair Irish skin, the early morning sun does not create any sunburn. I also run the beach just after sunrise once or twice a week wearing only a pair of shorts. (I love the feel of running barefoot at the water’s edge) Theoretically, just 15 minutes of nude sunbathing per day produces enough vitamin D for the body. If you get caught following that recommendation, don’t blame my blog.

The Bottom Line:
SAD is a real and significant issue. However, it is easily treated with simple supplementation and lifestyle changes. Have your vitamin D level checked and see where you stand.

Source: National Institutes of Health –Monday, December 29, 2014

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