Keeping the Dark Days Bright
The days are getting shorter. Fall has arrived in all its resplendent beauty. While the changing colors are lovely, insufficient daylight may find you down in the dumps and more tired than usual.
The world-renowned Mayo Clinic estimates that ten to twenty percent (and maybe more) of the population suffers from some sort of seasonal depression brought on by shorter days. Some estimates indicate there are millions of North Americans who suffer from a more extreme version of “winter blues” called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Women aged twenty to forty are four times more likely to suffer from this disorder than men and it is believed this is because there is some correlation between estrogen and progesterone and SAD.
SAD is more common in northern locations such as Canada and the Northern United States. An American study about the disorder found that only about 1.4 percent of people in Florida experienced symptoms.
There are numerous symptoms of SAD, but the main ones usually appear in the winter and include: a change in appetite, particularly for sweet or starchy foods, weight gain, change in sleep patterns, a tendency to oversleep, avoidance of social situations, decreased ability to concentrate, irritability, and, of course, decreased energy.
At this stage of the research, the disorder seems to be related to insufficient light and the resulting hormonal disruptions caused by the pineal gland. The pineal gland is a tiny gland in the center of the brain that is controlled by light traveling a rather complex pathway from the eyes to the brain. The light seems to only reach the brain if it is more brilliant than ordinary room illumination. When the pineal gland believes it is in darkness, it secretes a hormone called melatonin, which has sedative properties. All people are prone to getting insufficient light, but in those with SAD, the symptoms become more severe. In some people with the disorder, even overcast summer days can be problematic.
Whether it is full-blown SAD or a milder case of the seasonal blues, the symptoms can be significantly helped by increasing exposure to light, either by being outdoors more in the winter or by replacing fluorescent or regular household light bulbs with full-spectrum lighting. Unlike standard office and home lights, full-spectrum lights contain a range of rays from ultraviolet to infrared, with rainbow colors of violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, red, and a multitude of shades between.
Wearing sunglasses also limits the amount of natural light that travels the path from the eyes to the pineal gland, thereby increasing the risk of suffering from the winter blues. Of course, it is important to take certain precautionary measures when sunlight is strong.
Deficiency in any nutrient can cause an imbalance to the body which may result in a worsening of the winter blues or seasonal affective disorder. It is important to try to eat a well-balanced diet to help your body cope with seasonal changes. Be sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, including many raw fruits and vegetables. I encourage my clients to eat at least fifty percent of their diet raw. This is actually quite simple if you include a large and varied salad at each meal; raw fruits, nuts, and seeds (unsalted, (of course)) as snacks; and a fresh juice wherever possible. Even if you don’t have a blender, you can peel citrus fruits and blend them with a little water for a refreshing nutrient blast.
Vitamin D is potentially the most critical nutrient to staving off SAD. Sunlight is the best source, but, let’s face it, it’s not always possible to get adequate sunlight during the cold weather. You can also supplement with vitamin D. Liquid sources of this vitamin tend to best absorbed. Also, D3 is the natural type of vitamin D, while Vitamin D2 is synthetic and not as well-absorbed by the body. Most people require at least 400 IU of vitamin D daily. Most experts now recommend 1000 IU; however, sometimes more is needed but higher doses should only be used under the guidance of a qualified health professional.
All the B-vitamins are critical to moods and helping the body to deal with stress so a B-Complex supplement can help. B-vitamin deficiencies are linked to emotional imbalances as well as many other functions so it is important to obtain adequate amounts on a daily basis—for most people that includes a 50 mg B-complex supplement daily.
The minerals selenium, magnesium and iron are also critical (to) in dealing with depression and alleviating anxiety and mood disorders. A multi-mineral supplement can supply essential minerals and trace minerals.
So eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables, take any needed nutritional supplements, and bundle up and take a brisk walk outdoors during your lunch or after work to get some sunlight. Replace some of your home or office lights with full-spectrum ones. When it comes to the seasonal blues, it is important to get reds, oranges, greens, and yellows too.
Read more about Vitamin D: The Great Health Vitamin–Are You Getting Enough?