Tuesday, February 22, 2011

S.A.D.? What Would Grok Do?

This winter has been particularly rough in the way of freezing cold temperatures, snow fall (we’re up to at least 60” of snowfall this winter in Hoboken!), and general dreariness--- hello shoveling and de-icing! It is no surprise that many of us are feeling down and out, and wondering if we’ve been affected by SAD.


Seasonal Affective Disorder (also known as SAD) refers to seasonal bouts of depression that occur every year, not just a case of cabin fever! Most often SAD symptoms begin in the fall and last through the cold winter months (less frequently SAD can occur during the spring/summer months, this is known as summer SAD or summer depression). While it is not certain what causes SAD: your circadian clock, melatonin levels, and serotonin levels can all play a role in developing the condition.

Your circadian rhythm is your 24-hr internal biological clock. The short winter days bring about decreased exposure to sun light and this decrease could disrupt your clock, which helps you know when it is time to be sleeping and when it is time to wake up. This disruption could lead to depression. Melatonin, also known as the “hormone of darkness”, is a hormone in the body that chemically lowers body temperature and causes drowsiness. Melatonin production in the body is inhibited by light and allowed by darkness, meaning that during the shorter day winter months; melatonin is more easily produced in the body, making you feel more sleepy and ready for bed earlier than you should. Serotonin is a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that contributes to feelings of wellbeing, it is also known as the “happiness hormone” (even though it is not a hormone at all!). Research has shown that decreased exposure to sunlight can lead to decreased levels of serotonin (summer sunlight increases brain serotonin levels twice as much as winter sunlight), another reason the short days of winter can get you down.




So winter shows up and I get to be moody, lethargic, withdrawn, sleepy, and depressed? Awesome--- it’s time to ask the all important paleo question--- WWGD? (what would Grok do?) Grok is the name of our prototypical human ancestor, from over at Mark’s Daily Apple (a great primal living resource! You can meet Grok at http://www.marksdailyapple.com/definitive-guide-to-grok/). Grok rose with the sun and was exposed to the sun all day, even while resting in the shade, he was outside, not confined in some windowless cubicle for hours and days on end. He was soaking up the rays, and all of the mood-boosting benefits it offered! His biological clock was ticking on time, his serotonin levels were high as they could be, and his melatonin production was saved for night time. Unlike us, the working drone, whose clock is a little behind, serotonin levels faltering, and melatonin trying to promote sleep every chance it gets!

So what’s a modern day Paleo Girl to do? I’m going primal--- loading up on my Vitamin D3, investing in a “Happy Light”, and get moving!


Light therapy is a great way to get your beneficial rays (and we’re not talking about GTL--- gym TAN laundry for those anti-jersey shore-er’s out there) during the shortened winter days. Melatonin is principally supressed by blue light, so why not invest in a light that focus on that wavelength? I’m trying out the Philips goLITE BLU light therapy box! (Merri Ellen has a great demo: http://www.cure-your-depression.com/box-light-therapy.html) It's about the size of a man's palm which means super portable, and it's extremely easy to use and set up! I'm also starting a regimen of Vitamin D3, 1 tablet daily, usually taken after lunch. Vitamin D3 is made in the skin when it is exposed to ultraviolet light (UVB). This synthesis occurs naturally when the UV index is greater than three, which occurs daily within the tropics, daily during the spring and summer seasons in temperate regions, and almost never within the arctic circles. As it is- NJ falls in a temperate zone, which means no naturally synthesized D3 for us during fall and winter. Astudy at Washington State University (Vitamin D and depressive symptoms in women during the winter: a pilot study) found that Vitamin D supplementation not only increased vitamin D levels in the body, but it also decreased the BDI (Beck Depression Inventory)-II scores, one of the most widely used instruments for measuring the severity of depression, an average of 10 points… help for the seasonally depressed- I think so! By combining light therapy and vitamin D3 supplements, seasonal depression can be a thing of the past--- and we can move (might I suggest trying some walking lunges!) more healthily into the warm and wonderful Spring and Summer months!