Community Partner: Herbs, etc.

By Denise Denman, Natural Health Therapist

Why are you S.A.D.?

Seasonal Affective Disorder is very common during the colder months. Especially here in Michigan where there is little sunlight. This disorder is characterized as a depression that many people fall under due to the lack of exposure to natural sunlight. About 80% of the people who experience Seasonal Affective Disorder are women. It hits hardest for people between the ages of 20 and 30. Many people who experience SAD feel very tired and want to sleep a lot more than usual, although it doesn’t give them any relief. Along with this lethargic feeling, many people tend to have difficulty in concentrating, a decrease in their sex drive, weight gain, irritability, unrestful sleep, anxiety, and intense cravings for carbohydrates and sweets.

Why do people develop S.A.D.?

Oftentimes, the root cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder is attributed to disrupted levels of serotonin and melatonin since these are both directly affected by natural light. When this light source is lacking, our serotonin levels are decreased leading to depression and fatigue. Serotonin levels are lowered when we are asleep, or exposed to darkness. During sleep, the lowest levels of serotonin are present while we are dreaming and in the REM stage of sleep. In 1999, “Sleep Research Online” reported that serotonin could be a REM inhibitor. When we do not reach the REM stage of sleep, we do not experience restful sleep. Serotonin is more commonly known to be a mood enhancer as it leads to feelings of bliss. Daily practices of yoga or meditation lead to increased levels of this neurotransmitter.

Serotonin is produced in the pineal gland to make melatonin, a hormone famous for inducing sleep. Under normal conditions, melatonin levels are high at night and while we are asleep, and are lower in the morning upon rising. Being deprived of sunlight, as we are in the winter months, our pineal glands have lowered levels of serotonin. Therefore, our melatonin levels are not kept in check causing us to feel tired and drained of energy to get up and get moving. Although widely known for its sleep inducing properties, melatonin is also a powerful antioxidant that has the ability to pass the blood brain barrier. This ability makes this hormone effective against aging and degenerative brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. With its immune boosting and anti-inflammatory properties, melatonin is very useful in inhibiting cancer growth, regulating blood pressure, preventing heart disease and osteoporosis. Melatonin can be purchased in the form of a supplement, or the body can utilize it by eating organic foods such as: pineapple, oats, bananas, oranges, sweet corn, rice, and tomatoes. Pineapple and bananas have been shown to be the best sources to use for dietary melatonin supplementation. Both serotonin and melatonin are derived from Tryptophan, an essential amino acid commonly found in proteins like seeds and meat. Essential amino acids are not made by the body and must be consumed from a food source or from supplementation; seeds, nuts, oats, beans, eggs, meats, poultry, and fish are the foods with the highest levels of tryptophan.

Not only does the lack of sunlight affect our melatonin and serotonin production, but it could also contribute to increased levels of cortisol. It is commonly known as the stress hormone as it is produced by the adrenal glands to help us properly cope with the stresses of life. When this hormone is out of balance, it contributes to disrupted sleep and insomnia. Cortisol imbalances attribute to weight gain (especially in people with an A blood type), decreased immunity, depression, anxiety, and fatigue. All of these symptoms are associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder.

During the summer months in Michigan, we experience as much as 15 hours of sunlight in a day as opposed to the winter months where we experience less than 9 hours of sunlight in a day. Natural sunlight helps our bodies to be able to use vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is used to maintain bone and tooth health, is anti-cancerous, protects the brain from aging, decreases asthma symptoms, and even helps aid the body in losing excess fat! Along with providing our bodies with the ability to use D3, natural sunlight builds the immune system, helps oxygenate our blood and cleanse our blood and blood vessels, helps to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, kills the bad bacteria in our systems, and helps to heal skin issues such as eczema and psoriasis.

What to do if you are feeling S.A.D.?

Get outside! Even when clouds cover the sun, the rays are still there for us to soak them up. Spend at least 15 minutes outside every day to get some of the benefits from the rays. The best time to be outside is around noon but anytime during the day is better than nothing at all! If it is not possible to spend time outside, consider getting a “Happy Light”. These lamps are also known as bright light therapy. They produce a full spectrum of light, similar to what we get from the sun. The most effective way to use light therapy is daily use in the morning and in the evening. Another way to help alleviate symptoms associated with S.A.D. is regular exercise. Exercise increases levels of endorphins within the body that help to reduce the likelihood of developing depression. Altering the diet is also very important when it comes to all matters relating to health; by eating regular small meals or snacks with organic vegetables and a small amount of protein, blood sugar levels in the body will balance out and in turn will ward off the urge to eat breads or sweets that could contribute to the lack of energy and saddened feelings.

Often, when a person is feeling the effects of depression, the last thing they want to do is to talk to someone about their problems. However, this is incredibly beneficial for people who experience Seasonal Affective Disorder. Expressing emotions is not something that is encouraged in our society but is vital for not only our emotional health, but our physical and mental health as well. Negative emotions are impossible to avoid in life, but we don’t have to hold on to them. These pent up emotions can be mentally and physically detrimental to our health by lowering our immune systems, impacting our digestive and cardiovascular systems, and leading to many other states of dis-ease within our bodies. Approximately 80% of physical complaints stem from emotional imbalances; that is why it is so vital to get help when dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder and other emotionally based conditions.

Regular bodywork is under appreciated when it comes to improving the mood and providing mental and emotional balance. The ancient Chinese technique of acupuncture has been used for thousands of years to help different ailments such as depression. This technique involves inserting needles into specific meridian points along the body to encourage a proper flow of energy or chi. If needles sound a little too scary, regular massage work is fantastic for boosting the mood, enhancing self-esteem, and relaxing the body leading to a more balanced lifestyle and better nutrient absorption. Reflexology and craniosacral are other bodywork techniques that influence positive changes within the body and the mood. Reflexology relaxes the muscles, decreases restlessness and anxiety, and helps to regulate hormone production by stimulating the nerve endings in the feet and hands. This technique works with some meridian pathways as acupuncture does, and incorporates deep relaxation techniques like massage. Craniosacral is a gentle technique that encourages proper alignment to the plates in the skull and spine, and works with the protective fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. This fluid helps the neurotransmitters fire off more efficiently, helping to regulate the production of those important hormones that affect the mood. By receiving any of these forms of bodywork on a regular basis, you’ll feel like a brand new person!

If taking supplements is the more convenient route for you, there are several different herbal and natural options to consider helping with S.A.D. Some of the most effective remedies include: St. John’s wort, S-Adenosyl methionine (commonly referred to as SAMe), 5-HTP, fish oil, Ginkgo biloba, probiotics, or a multi-vitamin. Although these supplements can be found in many stores, quality of the products is essential for true healing; be sure to purchase these products from a trusted source. Determining the proper diets, remedies, therapies to balance out hormone and neurotransmitter levels can be tricky business. If you are unsure what route you should take when dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder, set up an appointment with your local Naturopath for some guidance.

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