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Dark Winter Days Got You Down? Here's Natural Help

Dark Winter Days Got You Down? Here's Natural Help
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By    |   Wednesday, 13 January 2016 04:59 PM

The dreary days of winter are here, when sunlight is in short supply and nights are long and cold. Millions of Americans realize they don't feel as chipper as usual, and may be downright depressed. If you're one of them, you may be suffering from "seasonal affective disorder" or SAD.

SAD depression is caused by lowered levels of serotonin, the mood-affecting brain chemical that is triggered by seasonal changes in daylight. Shorter days may also disrupt the body's biological clock — circadian rhythm — which upsets the balance of melatonin, the hormone which regulates mood and sleep patterns.

Although SAD is often confused with other problems, such as regular non-seasonal depression, people with SAD usually suffer their worst symptoms during winter and improve when spring arrives. SAD symptoms are the same as those for regular depression, and they include excessive fatigue, difficulty concentrating, sleep problems, body aches and pains, and a loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy.

Try these easy, natural ways to fight SAD:

Take extra vitamin D. The body makes vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunshine, but numerous studies show that many Americans are deficient in vitamin D even during sunny months. Levels fall even lower as fall and winter approach.

"The best natural method is to maintain optimal vitamin D levels throughout the year," says board-certified family practitioner David Brownstein, M.D. "The key is to not let vitamin D levels fall before beginning fall and winter supplementation," he tells Newsmax Health.

Researchers at the University of Georgia analyzed more than 100 articles that examined the link between vitamin D and depression. Researchers found that a lack of vitamin D appeared to be a major factor in the development of SAD.

Vitamin D is necessary for the synthesis of serotonin and dopamine (chemicals associated with depression), so researchers concluded that a link between low vitamin D levels and depression was logical. The Vitamin D Council recommends 2,000 IU daily, but suggests taking more if you get little exposure to the sun.

Get more light. Most researchers agree that the people who fall victim to SAD most often are particularly sensitive to the lack of light. Although any amount of outdoor light can help raise serotonin levels, getting light in the morning seems to offer the most benefit.

If the weather permits, take a walk. In your home or office, try sitting close to a window that faces south.

Replacing light bulbs in your home with full spectrum light bulbs can help because they emit light similar to sunlight. Or you can buy a light box that delivers light that mimics sunlight. "Exposure to full spectrum lighting for 30 minutes to one hour per day can help many patients," says Dr. Brownstein. Light boxes can be purchased for around $200.

Do NOT use sun lamps or tanning beds for self-treatment — they use UV light for tanning, while light boxes use full-spectrum light that simulates daylight.

Increase exercise. Although exercising may be about the last thing you want to do and would rather curl up with a book or watch a DVD, studies have shown that upping your exercise routine can counteract SAD. Exercise raises levels of serotonin and also increases levels of endorphins, which are responsible for "runner's high" and have been shown to fight depression.

Dr. Brownstein advises exercising at least 20 minutes a day at least three times a week. Any type of exercise offers benefits. "The benefits are also long lasting," he says. "The longer you do it, the more benefit you'll get."

Eat more fish. Fatty fish, such as salmon and sardines, contain omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have found that people who have low levels of two chemicals found in fish, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are at increased risk for depression. Either eat more fish — at least three times a week — or take fish oil capsules to combat SAD.

Try St. John's wort. Use of this herb as medicine dates to the ancient Greeks, and it has been used for centuries to treat depression. "The Cochrane Collaboration, an independent, nonprofit healthcare study group, found St. John's wort compares favorably to SSRIs and older tricyclic medications in patients with major depression," says Dr. Brownstein. "In addition, St. John's wort was found to have 75 percent fewer side effects than standard medications used to treat depression."

© 2019 NewsmaxHealth. All rights reserved.

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The dreary days of winter are here, when sunlight is in short supply and nights are long and cold. Millions of Americans realize they don't feel as chipper as usual, and may be downright depressed. If you're one of them, you may be suffering from seasonal affective...
dark, winter, days, depression, SAD
Wednesday, 13 January 2016 04:59 PM
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