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SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder – Fall Equinox & Daylight Saving Time

Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD

Fall Autumn Equinox - The beautiful colors and changes during this season can bring difficult struggles - strangelycharming.comIf you are reading this than most likely you are aware of the condition known as seasonal affective disorder. This disorder is characterized by the loss of motivation, energy and positive mood during the seasonal change occurring around the time of fall. The effects can be anywhere from mild to nearly paralyzing. Many are unaware of this vicious cycle that plagues them year in and year out. Productivity and quality of life mysteriously seems to take a nose-dive during the fall and winter. Many people attempt to rationalize this change in mood and motivation to external circumstances in their lives, not realizing the very real biochemical factors that precipitate this through the loss of light in our daily schedules.

Fall / Autumnal Equinox

The timing of the fall equinox usually falls around September 22nd or 23rd. To explain in astronomical terms, the plane of the Earth’s equator has fallen in line with the center of the Sun. This marks the time of year or season where there is increasingly more dark hours than there are light hours. From that point forward there will be less and less light during the day until the winter solstice, at which time the amount of light during the day starts to increase again.

Autumn Equinox Consequences in Relation to Mood Disorders in General

Autumnal Equinox - photo from therablog.blogspot.comThe autumn equinox has powerful consequences to those who are sensitive to such changes, mainly those who suffer from mood disorders, such as seasonal affective disorder, depression and bipolar. An unnerving statistic is the fact that during the autumn equinox there is a giant influx of psychiatric based hospitalizations. Many suffering from bipolar are hospitalized for mania or “manic sprees.” During the spring equinox the impact is seen again but on the other side of the spectrum. This period is marked with some of the highest suicide attempts and completions during the year. If you haven’t been one to believe that you and your body are tied to and interwoven with nature, these startling, verifiable facts conclude otherwise.

Daylight Saving Time – “Fall Back” and Seasonal Affective Disorder ( SAD )

Melting Clock - The abrupt shift in daylight available to us distorts our biochemical processesWhile the equinox is especially powerful for those suffering from bipolar disorder, there seems to be an equal stir amongst seasonal affective disorder sufferers and daylight savings time. After the fall equinox we see light slipping further and further from our day. This begins to impact those with seasonal affective disorder but because of the sunlights’ gradual decline it’s effect is gradual and not as dramatically felt. When we set our clocks back during daylight saving’s time, which takes place the first Sunday in November, we are suddenly punctuated with a dramatic loss of sunlight from our day. Many sufferers of SAD feel the hit of this dramatic light shift quite powerfully. This can start a tail-spin descent into the darker regions of depression. Its debilitating effects cause disruption to our lives in countless ways.




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What is Happening in a Scientific, Biochemical Way

Sunlight helps regulate our natural body's production of vitamin D and melatoninYou may be asking,

“Why does this happen? I loosely understand that light makes us happy and losing more throughout the day can make us feel gloomier… but why?”

The answer has multiple factors related mainly to the body’s response to light.

Vitamin D Production

Your body is an amazing factory capable of creating many compounds to regulate itself. Your skin has the unique ability to harness sunlight to synthesize vitamin D3. Your skin has 5 layers or “strata,” with the most exterior of which we are the most familiar with being the epidermis. The bottom two layers of these 5 layers ( the stratum spinosum and stratum basale ) use UV rays from light and produce Vitamin D3. Vitamin D helps regulate many things, positive mood being one of them.

Melatonin Production

Your pineal gland, is a little pine cone shaped gland, about the size of a grain of rice and sits in the middle of your brain. It is in charge of producing a hormone called melatonin. It produces melatonin in the absence of sunlight. Among other things melatonin helps regulate our sleeping patterns. During the fall and winter months, where there is an increase of darkness and the body is triggered to produce more melatonin. This can disrupt mood, energy and circadian rhythm.

Season of Frustration

Girl staring out window - Seasonal affective disorder causes depressionThis period of time marks a difficult time for many. Some choose to adapt and cope with their own unique strategies, many of which are mindset and psychological techniques. For some, their methods will help alleviate negative consequences but for others it may not be nearly enough to stave off ill effects. Relationships can suffer, mental activity can diminish, work and productivity can be slowed and self-esteem can plummet.

Treatment Strategies for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Light Box Therapy


Light therapy can be extremely effective at alleviating SAD symptoms and depression. It is causing the halt of melatonin production. There are different wavelengths of light that are given off by different light sources. Blue wavelength light (that the Sun contains) has been scientifically researched to cause melatonin inhibition. So make sure that if you get a light box it emits blue wavelength light. There are many good products. Lightbox devices made by Phillips are very good. I highly recommend the NatureBright Sun Touch Plus Light and Ion Therapy Lamp. I have personally used it and find it works extremely well. I had extreme doubts about the ion component but it proved to be a quite noticeable and beneficial feature of the product. Negative ions have a positive impact on our mood. Check out the WebMD article Negative Ions Create Positive Vibes to learn more.

Medication – Rx Prescription Drugs / Pharmaceuticals


The most common SAD prophylaxis and treatment is Wellbutrin (generic names: bupropion, budeprion). You will need to have your doctor write you a prescription. “Prophylaxis” is the fancy term for preventative treatment. Many people who know they suffer from SAD will begin taking Wellbutrin around the fall equinox before their symptoms start to manifest. This is known as prophylaxis.

Herbal / Over-the-Counter Preparations

St. Johns Wort and SAM-e ( S-Adenosyl methionine ) have been shown to help elevate mood. You can also supplement with Vitamin D because as we discussed earlier many times our skin isn’t getting enough sun to make sufficient amounts of Vitamin D. And Vitamin D helps regulate our mood. I would recommend taking 5,000 IU daily. The NutriGold Vitamin D is an excellent product. Most of NutriGold’s products are superior to their competitors and have high manufacturing standards. You can also see your doctor, have your vitamin D levels determined by a blood sample and if appropriate prescribed prescription Vitamin D which is 50,000 IU and only take once a WEEK.

Conclusion

Seasonal affective disorder can be a serious problem disrupting our lives. Losing an hour of daylight when we “fall back” during daylight saving time in the first week of November can cause our mood and energy to drop off dramatically.  Being aware of this and preparing for it annually can help you stay in your best health and prevent losses. There is no need to suffer the emotional, mental, physical and even spiritual consequences of SAD. Make sure you actively seek treatment that works for you. I invite you to share your related experiences, treatment strategies and recommendations to the community here.

About Doctor Scott Health

Dr. Scott McLeod, PharmD is an independent researcher, health advocate and author living in Santa Barbara, CA. For more information about Scott and Doctor Scott Health please visit the 'About' section, here.

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