Seasonal Affective Disorder or Winter Bahls

As the days get shorter and the hours of sunlight diminish you may find yourself unmotivated, depressed, lethargic and tired. Your body may feel physically heavier, likewise, emotionally the burdens seem harder to bear. Well you may take small comfort in knowing that you are not alone. Many people at our latitude feel these familiar symptoms as we move into the later months of Fall or Winter.

It has been suggested that decreased melatonin levels altered by the change in total hours of sunlight may be a contributing factor. In addition, genetics, hormones and stress may make one more susceptible to the condition. While some resort to anti-depressants to take the edge off, and others find light therapy effective, these treatment protocols often do not get to the root of the problem. In addition, anti-depressants, in many cases, can produce unwanted side affects that then need to be dealt with. SAD is about not getting enough light but also about not getting enough omega 3’s- there it is again. Omega 3’s are important for optimum brain function and assists with warding off depression.

My first recommendation is to take a winter home in the Mediterranean. I have a great contact if you’re interested. But for those of us on more modest incomes, the alternative could be acupuncture and Chinese medicine to combat these long cold days and nights. Most likely you’ve heard of the two dynamic opposing and complementary forces, yin and yang. Yang is related to the masculine side and is warmth and brightness as well as the motions of lifting, dispersing and increasing. Yin, on the other hand, is the feminine aspect related to nourishment, passiveness, cold and darkness. Its actions include, decreasing, descending and contracting. What this translates to in seasonal terms is, autumn marking the beginning of the yin cycle and the tendency to move towards isolation, sadness, and grieving. If ones constitution is more yin in nature, the seasonal influences are compounded. This would account for the fact that women are in the majority when looking at percentages of population affected by SAD.

TCM views the body wholistically, both internally within internal organs and systems and as one part of a greater whole externally. In relation to our discussion, the body is viewed in relation to the environment. Studies have shown that acupuncture releases serotonin, noradrenaline- norepinephrine in animals, the same chemicals that are known to be the active ingredients in anti-depressants. Acupuncture, along with Chinese herbs, work to restore the internal balance thereby bringing the body more in balance with environmental changes.

As always, it must be stressed that acupuncture is not the magic elixir. It is but one component in what makes up ones lifestyle activities. The other components should include exercise such as tai chi, Qi Gong, yoga, hockey and skating-yes, even when it is minus 20, as well as attention to diet, since we naturally gravitate towards more carbohydrates and sweets. One should aim at achieving a healthy balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats with each meal. A good balanced meal might look like this; a 3oz piece of wild salmon, brown rice, and dark green leafy vegetable such as spinach, which has an abundance of folic acid. Inclusion of foods high in tryptophan, often found lacking in patients with SAD, is extremely beneficial. Foods in this category include, legumes, quinoa, soybeans and nutritional yeast.

Supplements with Vitamin D can help alleviate some of the symptoms of SAD. Many Chinese herbs can help to ease the symptoms of SAD, and your acupuncturist trained in Chinese herbals can assist you in choosing the right herbal remedy.