Many people who live in the northern latitudes experience the debilitating symptoms of the Winter Blues. Some can muddle through the lethargy, fatigue and lack of motivation felt during autumn and winter. For those suffering from Winter Blues, it is difficult to make it through the dark season. Over 25 years ago, mental health researchers showed that the Winter Blues (also called seasonal blues) could be treated with light therapy. Today, light treatment is the modality of preference by physicians for the treatment of seasonal blues. About 10% of the population of northern countries suffer from the Winter Blues. The main signs are fatigue, excess sleeping, withdrawal, and carbohydrate craving during the fall and winter months. The Winter Blues is a form of depression that occurs mostly during the fall and winter months, when days shorten and sunlight decreases. One of the characteristics of this particular form of depression is its seasonal aspect. Night-shift workers or people who work or live in a poorly or badly lit place can also suffer from Winter Blues, even during the summer. Usually, women tend to suffer from this type of depression more than men. The depressive symptoms appear more often during the fall months and tend to disappear come late winter or early spring.
Winter Blues symptoms include sluggishness, irritability, carbohydrate craving and reduced libido. It is important, however, to consider that the seasonality may be caused by other factors, notably psychological (eg. the return to school in the fall and the anticipation of summer vacation in the spring). For this reason, it is always a good idea to consult with a health professional.
The magnitude of seasonal difficulties may vary from one person to another. For Winter Blues sufferers, it is a relief to know that depression is no longer linked to a weakness of character, but to an alteration of our brain chemistry. With this greater understanding over brain chemistry, we now know that bright light therapy can be used to fix hormonal imbalances by increasing serotonin and decreasing melatonin levels.
Many people treated by Dr Norman Rosenthal at the NIMH (National Institute Mental Health) in Maryland, USA have told how, prior to being diagnosed with Winter Blues, they felt lazy, worthless, and immature. Just knowing that the disease has a name, a description and that there is an affordable and effective non-invasive treatment, is a relief in itself.
CONSULT WITH YOUR PHYSICIAN
If you feel that you may be suffering from depression, you must consult a qualified health professional (Winter Blues sufferers are not an exception). Although a self-diagnosis seems relatively easy to make, other conditions can be similar to the Winter Blues. These problems must be considered and eliminated before a seasonal blues diagnosis is made.
NORTHERN LIGHT THERAPY
Working with thousands of clinicians in North America and in Europe, Northern Lights has a full range of suitable products to put Light in your Life for both daily and seasonal applications.
Light therapy is a simple, scientifically recognized, efficient treatment to fight the Winter Blues, and some sleep disorders. Research on the Winter Blues has shown that it is better to start treatment early in autumn, before the usual onset of symptoms.
The most common side effects from bright light therapy are eye and/or skin irritation and headaches. They are most prevalent in people with light colored eyes, blonde or red hair and sensitive skin. These side effects can usually be resolved by gradual introduction of light therapy, and tend to disappear as daylight hours increase in late winter or early spring.
If you are suffering from any of these side effects, you should first stop using the light until eye or skin irritation clears up. Then, start using the light five minutes a day, increasing gradually to full use over a period of about two weeks. Please note that some medications, such as lithium, certain antibiotics, acne creams, chemotherapy drugs, can make you very sensitive to light.
NUTRITION – SLEEP ROUTINES
For Winter Blues sufferers, the nutrition and sleep routines vary a great deal between summer and winter. In winter, those afflicted have a tendency to eat too much, especially carbohydrates and starchy foods, and gain weight. Although they may lose weight in summer, these people have a tendency to accumulate additional excess pounds each year. As years go by, it can result in obesity. Winter Blues sufferers also need to sleep more than usual : even after a 10 to 12 hour night of sleep, they sometimes still feel tired and feel like they are dragging themselves along. The resulting inactivity also causes weight gain.
DIET – BENEFICIAL EFFECTS
Dieting and exercising must be considered as important factors for Winter Blues sufferers, not only because they can have a positive effect on their mood, but also because they have beneficial effects on combatting the Winter Blues itself. Research has shown that gaining or losing weight in a cyclic way can be particularly bad for an individual’s health. In spite of all its benefits, light therapy may disappoint those who hope to automatically lose weight once they feel better. For this reason, dieting and exercising must be part of a program for Winter Blues sufferers.
Although light therapy diminishes the appetite and the weight gain, often it is only partially effective, and sometimes, exercising is not enough. The best solution is to watch what you eat. For more detailed information on how best to use light therapy Click Here.
In his book “Winter Blues”, Dr Norman Rosenthal mentions that the following three dietary approaches offer the best perspectives for seasonal blues sufferers:
A dietician may be of great help to personalize a diet. It is also possible to combine different elements of these approaches in order to create a dietary program that works for a particular individual.
EXERCISE – MOTIVATING ACTIVITIES
There is more and more evidence that regular aerobic exercise benefits depressed people in general. For those who suffer from the Winter Blues, if these activities imply more lighting, either outdoors or in front of a lamp, the antidepressant effect may be even greater. If people chose an activity only on the basis of its aerobic properties or its therapeutic value, there is little chance that they will stick to it for a long time. It is important to choose a motivating activity, which brings pleasure and satisfaction. To persevere and motivate oneself further it is useful to find someone who can share in this activity with you. This is also a great way to keep social contact as we tend to isolate in winter.
BIOLOGY – MEDICAL MODEL
There is a medical model to explain how the seasonal changes can cause the Winter Blues. According to this “model”, the changes of the cerebral functions are considered in the same way as any other organ deficiencies – the pancreas in diabetes for example. The diabetic’s pancreas produces too little insulin. The Winter Blues sufferer’s pineal gland produces too much melatonin. Additionally not enough serotonin is produced. The diabetic is helped with insulin; the person with Winter Blues is helped through light therapy. An excellent account of the way in which melatonin and serotonin act can be found in a paper by the UK National Institute for Medical Research entitled “Seasonal Depression and Light Therapy”.
BLUE LIGHT – WHAT DO THE EXPERTS SAY?
“The bottom-line answer is, at this time stay with conventional white-light fixtures. We have decades of experience indicating that these are effective and safe. As of the writing of this book, there is not one published study on the effectiveness of blue light for treating Winter Blues. Nor is there the long track record of safety. On the contrary, there is long-standing concern about potential toxicity of blue light to the eyes.” Norman Rosenthal, MD, in WINTER BLUES (2005)
“…elevated chronic exposure to light has been identified as a risk factor for development of ARMD (Age Related Macular Degeneration)…avoiding exposure to bright short-wavelength [blue] light is the simplest preventative measure against light damage”. Rozanowska M. & Sarna T./ Photochem Photobiol 2005 Nov 1
“…blue light alone can damage the powerhouses of the retina cells, called mitochondria, and in particular the DNA of these energy producing cells.”Journal of Biological Chemistry 2005 June
“Visible light of short wavelength (blue light) may cause a photochemical injury to the retina, called photoretinitis or blue-light hazard.” Okuno T, Saito H, Ojima Evaluation of blue-light hazards from various light sources. J. Dev Ophthalmol. 2002;35:104-12.
“…the most important damage from blue light involves pigments that accumulate only in retinal pigment epithelium (RPE)] cells” which “very efficiently absorb wavelengths in the blue region…this pigment, we now know, is able to initiate phototoxic reactions, that is it can absorb light and initiate reactions in the cell that are damaging”. Janet Sparrow of Columbia University as reported by Carol Lindsay in ScienCentral News Aug 11, 2005.
“…continuous exposure to blue light is potentially dangerous to vision.” Koide R, Ueda TN, Dawson WW, Hope GM, Ellis A, Somuelson D, Ueda T, Iwabuchi S, Fukuda S, Matsuishi M, Yasuhara H, Ozawa T, Armstrong D. Nippon. Retinal hazard from blue light emitting diode. Ganka Gakkai Zasshi. 2001 Oct;105(10):687-95.
“…high levels of exposure to blue or visible light may cause ocular damage, especially later in life, and may be related to the development of age-related macular degeneration.” Taylor HR, West S, Munoz B, Rosenthal FS, Bressler SB, and Bressler NM. Archives of Ophthalmology 1992; 110:99-104.
“I think chronic blue light is probably damaging.” Joshua Dunaief, MD, in Bethke W. Review of Ophthalmology Oct 15 2003; 10(10).
“The high-energy segment of the visible region (400-500 nm) is enormously more hazardous than the low energy portion (from 500-700 nm).” Young RW Survey of Ophthalmology 1988; 32(4): 252-269.
“Visible light of short wavelength (blue light) may cause a photochemical injury to the retina, called photoretinitis or blue-light hazard.” Okuno T, Saito H, Ojima J. Dev Ophthalmol. 2002;35:104-12.
“[The] Action spectrum for blue-light induced [retinal] damage shows a maximum at 400 nm and 450 nm.” Bartlett H, Eperjesi F Nutrition Journal 2003, 2:12.
“The effectiveness of light in inducing photo damage to the retina increases with decreasing wavelength from 500 to 400 nm.” Andley UP, L.T. Chylack Jr LTPhotodermatology Photoimmunology and Photomedicine 1990; 7:98-105.
“The photoreceptors in the retina…are susceptible to damage by light, particularly blue light.” Shaban H, Richter C. Biol Chem 2002 Mar-Apr;383(3-4):537-45.