Tag Archives: winter blues

Battling the Winter Blues

If the short, cold, dark winter days leave you feeling lethargic and energy-depleted, then you may be suffering from the winter blues, or its more severe form, seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Other symptoms include carbohydrate cravings, irritability, weight gain and the desire to avoid social situations.

The winter blues are triggered by a lack of sunlight – as the number of daylight hours decreases, levels of ‘feel-good’ hormones in our body begin to drop. The symptoms can appear in late autumn and don’t normally lift until the brighter days in early spring. Fortunately there are simple measures that can help to alleviate these troublesome symptoms.

There is certainly a link between low Vitamin D levels and seasonal affective disorder, although it is unclear whether there is a causal connection. A recent review of existing studies concluded that treating Vitamin D deficiency offers a simple way to improve mental health (1). It would seem sensible for those feeling the effects of the winter blues to test their Vitamin D levels, and to address any deficiency. Sunlight and supplementation are likely the fastest way to address deficiencies, although fatty fish, fortified milk and egg yolks will also help to boost levels.

Other studies have shown that omega-3s appear to help maintain healthy levels of the ‘feel-good’ brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin. Healthy cells membranes, which require good levels of omega-3 fats, are required for the brain to respond to serotonin and dopamine. A recent large double-blind trial of more than 400 adults supports its use in treating depression (2). Based on these results, ensuring adequate omega-3 intake is certainly a sensible approach for those affected by seasonal changes.

Studies investigating the effectiveness of supplements such as St John’s Wort and 5-HTP have had mixed results, though some studies have found that supplementation improves symptoms such as fatigue, sleep problems, anxiety and lethargy in those with SAD (3,4).

Dietary changes may also help to relieve symptoms. According to Judith Wurtman, Ph.D., co-author of The Serotonin Power Diet, a well-timed snack can help to relieve symptoms. Dr Wurtman led a study looking at the SAD-carb connection, concluding that a low-protein snack providing about 30 grams of carbohydrate was enough to provide a serotonin boost. A warm bowl of leek and potato soup in the evening might well provide that much-needed serotonin-boosting carbohydrate.

Light therapy is a non-invasive, natural, effective and well-researched treatment approach for those with SAD
Light therapy is a non-invasive, natural, effective and well-researched treatment approach for those with SAD

The most effective natural intervention, however, is probably light therapy. Light therapy is a non-invasive, natural, effective and well-researched treatment approach for those with SAD. Specially designed light therapy devices mimic the effects of sunlight to regulate levels of melatonin and serotonin. A recent meta-analysis concluded that light therapy works as an effective treatment for SAD no matter what time of day it is used, so long as it is used at least once daily (5). Dawn simulation is especially useful, and studies have found that this approach is more effective in alleviating SAD symptoms that standard bright light therapy or placebo, alongside additional benefits such as less morning drowsiness (6).

Those looking for a natural way to address the winter blues may benefit from the following approach:

1. Ensure that you are getting sufficient amounts of omega-3 and Vitamin D. You can have your levels checked by a nutritional therapist.

2. Exercise regularly. Try a 30-minute run or brisk walk in the daylight.

3. Start the day with a protein-rich breakfast, but try a carbohydrate-rich meal or snack in the evening. Good options are sweet potato, brown rice, lentils, rye bread and butternut squash.

4. Try a light therapy lamp or a dawn simulation device, making time to use the device at least once each day for the best results.

References

1. Anglin RES et al (2013) Samaan Z, Walter SD and McDonald SD. Vitamin D deficiency and depression in adults: systematic review and meta-analysis. Br-J-Psych 2013, 202:100-107.

2. Lespérance F, Frasure-Smith N, St-André E, et al. (2011) The efficacy of Omega-3 supplementation for major depression: A randomized controlled trial. J Clin Psychiatry. 72:1054-1062.

3. Ghadirian AM et al (1998) Efficacy of light versus tryptophan therapy in seasonal affective disorder. J Affect Disord 50:23-7.

4. Wheatley D. (1999) Hypericum in seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Curr Med Red Opin 15:33-7.

5. Golden RN et al (2005) The Efficacy of Light Therapy in the Treatment of Mood Disorders: A Review and Meta-analysis of the Evidence. Am J Psychiatry 162(4):656-62.

6. Avery DH et al (2001) Dawn Simulation and Bright Light in the Treatment of SAD: A Controlled Study. Biol Psychiatry. 50:205-216.

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Beat the autumnal blues…

The nights are now well and truly drawing in and becoming colder and darker, so it’s common to feel low in mood.

Here are some helpful tips to keep you feeling upbeat:

Vitamin D
This sunshine vitamin has been getting more and more press coverage in recent months and it’s an important vitamin in supporting immunity amongst other things. Getting natural daylight is the best way to generate Vitamin D in your body; however in countries like the UK, the sun’s strength is not high enough between October and March to do this adequately. It’s important to eat foods containing vitamin D such as oily fish (mackerel, sardines etc), eggs, fortified breads and cereals. Supplementation is popular at this time of year with varying options of strengths (500iu – 5000iu) and types (tablets, capsules, sprays, sublingual) available. The UK Government now recommends that Vitamin D supplements should be taken by under 5’s, women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, everyone over 65 and anyone who has little sun exposure.

Omega 3
Continuing with the importance of fish and omega 3’s, it has been shown that those with diets high in fish and omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to have better moods. As well as other potential benefits such as improved skin quality, cardiovascular health and joint mobility.

Exercise is good for the mood
Exercise is good for helping to improve the mood during Autumn and Winter.

Natural Daylight
Balancing your circadian rhythm is important in balancing your mood and hormone levels. Try and get some natural daylight every day to avoid feeling low in energy and depressed – although it’s not easy if you work a in a 9-5 office environment. Go for a walk on your lunch break or offer to go to the shop for a colleague – any reason to get outside. Growing evidence also suggests sunshine can help protect against cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Having a SAD lightbox on your desk or at home can help beat the blues – opt for a lightbox with a 10,000 lux output from a respected manufacturer like Lumie or the Sad Lightbox Company.

Exercise
That lunch break walk suggested previously can have a double effect on your mood – gentle exercise can increase endorphins which are those “feel good factors” keeping your looking on the bright side of life. Green Exercise (i.e. not in a gym) has been found to have more significant improvements in mood.

5 HTP
This supplement is well known for its mood-boosting properties. If you feel you still need some support then this may be a good option. Speak to your GP or Health Practitioner first though, as it can interfere with other medications.

Written by Katie Guest

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Are you SAD or just Grumpy?

In the summer can you take on the world and work all day, with buckets of energy? But in autumn and winter do you feel lethargic and eat more, especially carbs, and feel irritable or overly anxious? It could be that you are just lacking in light. These are some of the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. Worse still, if your office has no windows or has tinted glass then you may be suffering all year round, as you are not getting the light that your body craves.

SAD Lightbox
Using a lightbox can be useful for SAD sufferers, but also those in need of more energy during the winter months.

The answer is simple – put a lightbox on your desk and then get on with your day. As you sit doing your tasks, your eye will automatically pick up the light. Within 7-10 days you will start to feel the benefits of using a lightbox, feeling more alert and having more energy.

So how does it work? The light goes into the eye, through the retinohypothalamic tract and into the brain. That’s the detail – what you need to know is that the light has a double effect. It ‘cuts off’ the body’s production of melatonin, the hormone which makes you sleepy and triggers hibernation in animals. It also increases levels of serotonin, ‘the feel good’ hormone.

So why are we seeing this problem now? When you think about it, it is only a little over a century ago that we got electric light. Before that about 75% of the population worked the land and kept to the rhythms of the seasons, getting up with the light and going to bed when it got dark – they weren’t trying to stretch the day the way we do now. So this is a man-made problem with a man-made solution – the lightbox.

Lightboxes are even VAT exempt, in recognition that SAD is a significant, debilitating condition. So if you feel tired all the time and can’t seem to pinpoint why, try using a lightbox to bring some light into your life.

Written by Carol Barksfield at the SAD Lightbox Co.

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An Introduction to Seasonal Affective Disorder and the Winter Blues

About SAD

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or S.A.D., is now officially recognised as a medical condition thought to affect over 2 million of the British population.

SAD can affect people of any age but most commonly it starts between the ages of 18-30. At one time it was thought that four times as many women as men suffered from SAD, but now increasingly men recognise the symptoms and seek treatment. SAD is also known as the Winter Blues, and about 10% of the population suffer to some degree with 2-3% suffering with clinical depression.

Typical symptoms include:

  • Depression, feelings of gloom and despondency for no apparent reason.
  • Lethargy, lacking in energy, unable to carry out a normal routine.
  • Anxiety, inability to cope.
  • Social problems, irritability not wanting to see people.
  • Sleep problems, finding it hard to stay awake during the day, but having disturbed nights.
  • Loss of libido, not interested in sex or physical contact.
  • Craving for carbohydrates and sweet foods, leading to weight gain.
  • Recurring symptoms year after year at about the same time of year (Autumn / Winter).

The Cause

SAD has a lot in common with the hibernation cycle of animals and research showed that this was triggered by a response to decreasing light levels. As the days grow shorter and the light becomes less intense, it increases the desire to ‘hibernate’.

Light intensity is measured in ‘lux’ the Latin word for light. On a summer’s day at our latitude we may have up to 16 hours of daylight at 100,000 lux. In winter an 8 hour dull day will give less than 5,000 lux and indoor lighting rarely exceeds 500 lux.

The Treatment

LitePod
Lights from trusted brands like the SAD Lightbox Co. have medical certifications and quality assurances.

Historically, treatment for depression involved the use of drugs, however, in recent years research in the USA and UK showed that SAD sufferers responded, often quite dramatically, to Bright Light Treatment. Fully proven lightboxes from trusted brands such as the SAD Lightbox Co. (carrying ISO 13485 / 9001 and Medical CE Mark 0120) have been specifically designed for and are a recognised method of alleviating S.A.D.

Lack of light causes an increase in the production of Melatonin (the hormone that makes us sleepy at night), and a reduction of Serotonin, a lack of which causes depression. The exposure to bright light therapy reverses the process, with the additional benefit of being drug free. You should start to feel the benefit within 4-10 days of using a lightbox.

By providing summertime levels of light during the winter you can successfully alleviate the symptoms of SAD with the result that former sufferers can lead a normal, happier life and beat the Winter Blues.

Studies have also shown that bright light therapy can prove beneficial with Pre-menstrual syndrome, Jet lag, shift work, insomnia and with some cases of MS and ME. The Light Therapy Institute have also been successful in treating children with dyslexia and specific learning difficulties; even children and students without these problems can benefit and work better by using the lightbox as a desk top working light.

 

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Light therapy for SAD: Looking on the Bright Side

While many look forward to the crisp and clear autumn and winter months, others find that they struggle through these months feeling tired and low. Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, is a form of depression that is brought on when levels of natural sunlight are reduced. Symptoms tend to begin as the days get shorter and winter draws in, only lifting completely during the summer months. A milder form of seasonal depression – often called sub-syndromal SAD (S-SAD) or simply ‘the winter blues’ – affects around 1 in 10 adults.

Bright Light Therapy
SAD is a form of depression that is brought on when levels of natural sunlight are reduced

I was interested to read a recent Swedish study that tested a treatment called ‘bright light therapy’ on individuals with SAD and with S-SAD (1). Bright light therapy is a treatment that involves exposure to a special light that mimics natural outdoor light.

The study tested the effects of the light therapy on 49 individuals who had been diagnosed with either SAD or S-SAD.

When the individuals began to experience winter depressive symptoms, some of the group were either given a 10-day course of bright light therapy, or were put onto a 3-week waiting list, after which they were given the 10-day treatment course. The group of people on the waiting list were used as the ‘control’ group for this study.

The study found that bright light therapy was linked to improvements in a number of symptoms. The researchers had conducted an earlier randomised clinical trial which found that bright light therapy did indeed have a positive effect on depressive mood in those with SAD and S-SAD (2). This new study, however, also measured the effects of bright light therapy on other symptoms, such as tiredness, fatigue, sleep problems and health-related quality of life. All of these symptoms had improved after the 10-day course of light therapy. Symptoms were then measured again, a month after the treatment had finished, and it was found that the symptom improvements had lasted.

The study suffers because, although a control group was used, strictly speaking there was no placebo group. If the second group had been exposed to a ‘placebo’ light rather than the therapeutic bright light, then this might have served as a better comparison group. The study is nevertheless very interesting because it indicates that light therapy can help not just depressive mood, but that it can bring about improvement in a number of symptoms including milder symptoms of depression and daytime sleepiness.

Despite the design flaw in the study, light therapy does appear to be a promising treatment for the ‘winter blues’. Systematic reviews have reported that light therapy represents an effective and well-tolerated treatment for SAD (3). A home light box may therefore be a wise investment for those who need a boost during these darker months. Using a light box for between 30 minutes to an hour in the morning is considered to be an effective approach, and the light should be at least 2500 lux to be beneficial. Some individuals also use a Sunrise Alarm Clock as well to help balance their circadian rhythm and ensure they wake naturally in the morning rather than to the sharp, shrill noise of a standard alarm clock. These Wake-Up Lights simulate the “sunrise” so the brain wakes gradually.

Seasonal affective disorder, or the milder ‘winter blues’ can mean months of misery for those affected. With an estimated 1 in 20 adults affected by SAD, and a further 1 in 10 suffering from its milder form S-SAD, it is certainly an approach worth considering.

Written by Nadia Mason

References
1. Rastad C, et al. Improvement in Fatigue, Sleepiness, and Health-Related Quality of Life with Bright Light Treatment in Persons with Seasonal Affective Disorder and Subsyndromal SAD. Depression Research and Treatment. 2011:543906
2. Rastad C, Ulfberg J, Lindberg P. Light room therapy effective in mild forms of seasonal affective disorder—a randomised controlled study. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2008. 108(3):291–296.
3. Lee T M, Chan C C. Dose-response relationship of phototherapy for seasonal affective disorder: a meta-analysis. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 2000. 99(5): 315-323

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