Seasonal Changes and Light Therapy

It's that time of the year-the days are getting a little shorter, the mornings are a little crisper and our beautiful Florida days are less humid. This is the reason most of us put up with the sweltering heat and humidity of summer time. As Florida residents, we live in the land of eternal sunshine. There is certainly no lack of natural light, but it does certainly decrease in its length and intensity during the fall and winter months. The ending of Daylight Savings time and the falling back of the clocks yield darker mornings, early evenings and less time outdoors.

As the snow birds and ex-northerners move down South, many have and still suffer from varying forms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), commonly known as winter depression. The statistics are alarming and more than likely if you are reading this and have lived above the 40 degree latitude line at some point in your life, you may have experienced symptoms of mild depression, seasonal weight gain, listlessness, the inability to wake up in the morning, a decrease in libido and premature bone loss. One in five northern residents suffers from SAD. Even more difficult: One in four Fibromyalgia sufferers experiences SAD symptoms. Over 20 million Americans experience varying levels of winter depression and ironically 2 percent of these individuals live right here in the Sunshine State.

The Root of SAD
(Seasonal Affective Disorder)
The root source of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a chemical imbalance in the brain. In the fall and winter months the brain produces more melatonin than serotonin, and the production of Vitamin D slumps with the lack of exposure to the sun. Melatonin is the regulatory chemical that adjusts sleep patterns and in an abundant state induces melancholy feelings, an inability to get out of bed in the dark mornings, and increases in carb cravings. The chemical imbalances that accompany shorter days instill a sense of foreboding, unease and mild depression that is hard to shake. The lack of natural sunshine in the fall and winter months inhibits the production of the happy chemical, serotonin.

SAD Remedies
Often seasonal depression sufferers find changes in diet, exercise and supplementation to be equally effective in combating depression and minimizing its symptoms. A low fat, low carb diet that is rich in leafy greens and lean proteins is helpful. Moderate daily exercise has been helpful in increasing energy and regulating sleep patterns. Supplementation with Vitamin D, a B Complex and 5-HTP are helpful. 5-HTP acts as a precursor to serotonin and will help balance the levels of serotonin and melatonin.

Light Therapy for SAD Challenges
One of the greatest remedies for individuals who suffer from winter blues or SAD is the use of light therapy. Full Spectrum light lamps or "happy lamps" emit natural light similar to that from the sun minus the harmful UVA and UVB rays that are linked to skin cancer, advancing skin aging, skin spots and even potential damage to our eyes. I have a deep affinity to these "happy lamps" as I routinely used a large Light Therapy box to help combat the affects of winter depression.

These light therapy lamps are also extremely useful for individuals who suffer from skin cancer, breast cancer and osteoporosis. Full spectrum light allows the body to produce Vitamin D naturally. Vitamin D deficiency is now linked with increased risks for osteoporosis and breast cancer. Similarly, skin cancer patients can get the benefits of the sun without harmful exposure to cancer causing rays. Varying color tints like blue light therapy or narrow spectrum light is used to treat insomnia naturally, without pharmaceutical drugs in a side effect free manner. Blue and red lights are now being used in skin care practices to treat acne by soothing the skin and activating the antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties of the skin that reduces breakouts and promotes healing.

Light therapy has also been found to be extremely effective in treating insomnia, jet lag, lupus, bulimia and even prolonged menstrual cycles. Bright light is the most effective treatment for most people and it has been proven success in 85% of diagnosed cases. These special light lamps or light boxes can be used every day when a particular disorder occurs. For effective treatment, individuals sit in front of a light therapy lamp anywhere from ten minutes to two hours. The user sits one to three feet away from the light box, usually placed on a table, allowing the light to shine directly through their eyes. Light therapy is easy and simple and can be used when reading, watching TV, working at the computer and even applying makeup and getting reading the morning.

The light lamps come in all types of shapes and sizes varying from large boxes to desk lamps and even sunrise simulator alarm clock lamps. As a former seasonal depression sufferer, I had two lamps. The most powerful lamp was used every day while getting ready in the morning and a smaller, less bright and very chick desk lamp brightened my fall and winter months in my office space. There are also full spectrum light bulbs and office bulbs that can be easily transitioned into your existing light fixtures.

There are a number of natural and holistic remedies that are better suited for the body than conventional medicine and can provide an answer for how to beat seasonal depression. Herbal and homeopathic remedies can provide harmony in the body to better balance your moods and feelings without the side effects and potential for dependency associated with the synthetic drugs.


By Melissa Gallagher

Melissa Gallagher is a naturopath and founder of Healing Being, LLC, offering a complete line of organic, homeopathic, naturopathic and alternative health and wellness products including Sunshine in a Box, a natural SAD relief kit that was recently featured on CNN Accent Health News. Please visit for information or call 727-954-8968.

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