SAD Up to 12 million Americans suffer from SAD or seasonal affective disorder – but don’t have to. This medically recognized mood disorder is an episodic depression that affects people primarily during the winter months due to a lack of sunlight. Although many SAD sufferers, or those with the milder “winter blues,” are handed prescriptions for antidepressant medications, Dr. Mercola wants victims of these light deficiency maladies to be aware of a safe and effective non-drug treatment option for these winter maladies: full spectrum lights.
First, a little background on the problem. Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder vary from person to person. They can include feelings of hopelessness, despair, irritability and fatigue, weight gain, excessive eating or food cravings (especially for sweets or carbs), oversleeping, social withdrawal and loss of interest in sex or other activities. In some individuals, SAD symptoms may become quite serious and disabling. Milder degrees of these symptoms commonly affect those with the winter blues.
Dr. Mercola believes that natural sunlight exposure is absolutely crucial to everyone’s overall health and well-being. Sunlight is the key to controlling our metabolism, hormone production, reproductive function, internal clock or circadian rhythm and our moods. The fact that SAD and the winter blues come on when the days begin to darken and sunlight is scare is not coincidental. Rather, it is biological: the human equivalent of hibernation.
Serotonin, the brain hormone associated with mood elevation, rises with exposure to bright light, and falls with decreased sun exposure. Conversely, the hormone melatonin increases with decreased light, which explains that tired feeling that comes on when it begins to get dark outside — even if it is only 4 o’clock in the afternoon on a winter’s day.
Dr. Mercola’s top recommendation for dealing with SAD or the winter blues without resorting to Prozac, Zoloft or other pricey prescription drugs with potential side effects is to use full spectrum lighting in the home and office. He notes that the prevalence of SAD pioneered the discovery of an effective treatment method in the form of full spectrum light therapy, also known as phototherapy. A number of scientific studies have found that the effectiveness of full spectrum light therapy is comparable to the use of antidepressant drug therapy for mood disorders. But rather than having to use specialized “light boxes,” Dr. Mercola now recommends just trading in your ordinary light bulbs for full spectrum light bulbs.
Full spectrum lights offer all the health benefits of natural balanced sunlight — indoors. This type of full spectrum light therapy can help trick the brain into thinking it is spring or summer, even when it is snowing or blowing outside. True full spectrum light must contain a complete spectrum of color, as well as infrared and ultraviolet wavelengths.
In addition to the use of full spectrum lighting, other recommendations from Dr. Mercola, bestselling author of The Total Health Plan, include:
1. Getting adequate exercise, which has been clinically shown to decrease depressive symptoms.
2. Taking a high-quality source of omega-3 fatty acids, also shown to have a beneficial value in treating depression.
3. Avoiding sugar and grains, which increase depression.
4. Optimizing your diet by learning your specific metabolic type, to determine the foods you need to be eating in their correct amounts.