As the days get shorter, and the nights longer in late autumn, some people begin to develop a kind of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD) which can last through the winter months. Some symptoms include an inability to concentrate, loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness and urges to eat sugar and high-carbohydrate foods. While most people with SAD see these symptoms wane in the spring, they may be left with extra pounds, exhaustion and troubled relationships. A recent review published in the American Family Physician indicates there may be various causes for SAD, including changes in the body’s circadian rhythms, as well as the eyes’ sensitivity to light, and how chemical messengers like serotonin work.

There are several ways to treat seasonal affective disorders. The first step is to talk with your doctor so that your specific situation can be properly evaluated. Psychotherapy, medication, and bright light therapy are all treatments that can make a difference.

Bright light therapy stimulates cells in the retina that connect to the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that aids in controlling circadian rhythms.  This can be done by sitting within 18 inches of a special “light box” about 30 minutes a day. These light boxes emit 10,000 lux (“lux” is a measure of light intensity). Light therapy helps a lot of people, but not everyone. That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor, to see if it’s an option for you. Veralux, Northern Lights Technology, and Sunbox are reputable companies that manufacture light boxes. Currently, researchers are examining ways to improve bright light therapy. These efforts include creating a light box that simulates dawn and sunrise, whereby the light gradually increases. Another concept is creating a light box using a lower intensity blue light – which would be more effective than white light on the retina….. Harvard Health Publications   12/27/12



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