We Are the Spirit of the Holidays
Old man winter has arrived. With him he brought his bag of tricks, snow, ice, nor’easters and cold, short days. Try as you might, you can’t compensate for long nights with more coffee, and many people wind up feeling SAD about it.
In 1985 a number of folksy descriptions of dysfunction, such as the winter blues, hibernation reaction and winter depression were researched and renamed Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. It is believed that affected people react adversely to the decreasing amounts of sunlight and the colder temperatures as the fall and winter progress. It is important to note that although seasonal affective disorder usually presents in the fall and winter there are those unlucky individuals who suffer from this condition during other times of the year. As the length of the day changes, some peoples’ production of melatonin, the sleep hormone, and other brain hormones don’t adjust themselves appropriately. They have an over production of melatonin. As a result, a variety of troubling symptoms may occur.
SAD can potentially affect anybody but, in general, there are patterns of people at higher risk for developing it. SAD more typically affects women, older teens and young adults, people who live farther away from the equator and people with a family history of the disorder.
There is no specific diagnostic test for the disorder. Rather, it is characterized by a cluster of symptoms, which may include tiredness, fatigue, depression, crying spells, irritability, trouble concentrating, body aches, loss of sex drive, poor sleep, decreased activity level, and overeating, especially of carbohydrates, with associated weight gain. When the condition presents in the summer, the symptoms are more commonly insomnia, poor appetite and weight loss, in addition to irritability, difficulty concentrating and crying spells. In severe instances, seasonal affective disorder can be associated with thoughts of suicide.
If this sounds like you, I’m sorry, but the good news is that there are things that you can do about it short of moving to Miami – although for some people that may not be a bad idea. Anyway, phototherapy, a big word that essentially means replacing your regular light bulbs with full spectrum “daylight” bulbs or buying a light box and sitting in front of it for half an hour a day. Replacing your light bulbs is cheaper and you get the added benefit of happy houseplants. The light should be of adequate intensity, 10,000 lux (lux is a measurement of light intensity). At 10,000 lux, the amount of time required in front of the light is 30 minutes. If the light is 5,000 lux, then the amount of time will be 60 minutes. You need to have your eyes open, so that the light can reach the retina in the back of your eye. You do not have to look directly at the light. You can read, knit, web surf, etc.
Other things that are helpful include getting your vitamin D level checked and supplementing if it is low, taking a natural vitamin B complex “50” with meals 3 times per day and adding an amino chelated magnesium supplement like magnesium orotate 500 mg once per day in the morning can be very helpful.
Since SAD is more of a dysfunction than pathology, many people respond quickly to acupuncture finding it safe and helpful. Some Homeopathic medicines help stabilize the neurotransmitters. Supplements with the amino acid tyrosine can also be useful as they can help increase the levels of catecholamine brain hormones and balance the effect of melatonin. In more dire cases, various drugs may be temporarily helpful ranging from anti depressants like Zoloft or Prozac to neuro stimulants like Provigil. In any case you don’t have to suffer in silence – get help, get happy and thank God that you don’t live in Alaska! Be well.
Jesse A. Stoff, MD, MDH, FAAFP is a licensed Medical Doctor, a Certified Naturopathic Physician, a Certified Acupuncturist, and a licensed Homeopathic Physician. He has authored/co-authored dozens of articles and 8 books including co-authoring the bestsellers Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: The Hidden Epidemic and The Prostate Miracle. He has also served as a member of the Clinical Nutrition Board of Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Inc. As Medical Director of the Stoff Institute for Medical Research, he consults with physicians and medical groups both domestically and abroad on the subjects of immune system disorders and immune reconstitution. As a result of his research he has developed several new molecular complexes, one of which is now being patented as a true anti-biotic replacement. Dr. Stoff can be reached at the East End Wellness Center in Riverhead, NY. 631-591-2288. eastendwellnesscenter.com