Friday, December 19, 2014

Seasonal Affective Disorder: Fighting Wintertime Blues

For some, the holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year. For others, shorter days and less sunlight mean wintertime blues, or worse, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
SAD can take its toll on the body, both physically and mentally and this month’s edition of Think Healthy, Prevent, Heal reminds us that indoor workers are especially susceptible. Read on for the causes of SAD as well as some tips and tricks to beat the winter blues.
Causes
·        Your biological clock is disrupted: The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter months may disrupt your body's internal clock and lead to feelings of depression. This disrupts your sleep and can cause chronic fatigue.
·        Reduced serotonin levels: Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin -- a brain chemical that affects mood. Reduced serotonin levels have been known to trigger depression. 
·        Melatonin levels: The hormone melatonin plays a major role in our biological makeup. Our bodies are designed to manufacture melatonin at night and stop making it when the sun comes out. The change in season disrupts the balance of the body's level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood. Melatonin is produced when it is dark to help you sleep, so the less sunlight—the more melatonin.
·        Vitamin D “sunlight vitamin” deficiency: Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to depression and fatigue. And it’s from the sun that we naturally get vitamin D. So naturally, when there is a deficiency, it can affect mood, especially in higher latitude areas (north of equator) where there is less sunlight during winter months.
Treatment
·       Light box therapy: These manufactured light boxes simulate natural outdoor light and have been proven effective as a treatment for SAD.
Vitamins: Taking 2,000-20,000 IU of vitamin D daily has also been proven effective at treating SAD. Those who have a deficiency may need a prescription strength dose. Vitamin B complex supplements also assist with fatigue and other symptoms.
·       Natural sunshine: When the sun is shining, try to go outside even if for only 15-20 minutes. The natural vitamin D will do your body good.    
·       Fish oil: Fish oil contains omega- 3 fatty acids that are proven to decrease SAD. Increasing fish in your diet or taking cod liver oil can go a long way toward combating the winter blues.
·       Exercise: The most effective weapon against SAD is aerobic exercise. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week such as walking, riding a stationary bike, or swimming. It’s a great way to get started, and you can work up from there. However, any activity that raises your heart rate helps. So whether you’re doing daily chores near a sunny window or more strenuous exercise outside or weight training, it will do your body good.
Although SAD is very real for some people, your body will take notice of the steps you take to keep it healthy and happy during the darkest days of the year.  

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