With the winter solstice fast approaching, it's the peak season for Seasonal Affective Disorder, which plunges millions of people into months of clinical depression. Although the condition is treatable by conventional therapies like antidepressant drugs, experts say a mere 30 minutes in front of a specially designed light box can make the body and the brain feel like it's summer again. SAD is no joke as sufferers have almost hibernation-like symptoms. They're very tired, they overeat, oversleep, and they have carbohydrate cravings and weight gain. Experts believe the condition is more common in northern regions that receive the least sunlight in the winter months. SAD is estimated to be about twice as common in Canada as it is in the United States. About 2 to 5 million North Americans have SAD; another 39 million have symptoms that do not fully qualify as depression.
Look Into the Light
The light boxes, made by a variety of manufacturers, are about the size of two computer monitors side-by-side and cost a few hundred dollars. The light box sits on your desk or table, and as soon as you get up you sit under it. The boxes screen out ultraviolet rays, so you won't get skin cancer ? but you also won't get a tan. Experts think the bright, sun-like exposure resets the body's internal clock. It's like SAD patients are constantly jet-lagged. As dawn drifts later in the winter, your internal rhythms drift out of phase with the alarm clock. Once your rhythms get out of sync, you get depressed. Light also seems to affect chemicals in the brain, with SAD patients producing lower-than-normal levels of serotonin and other important neurotransmitters.
The side effects of using light boxes are minimal: headaches, eye strain, visual blurring and even sometimes nausea. But sometimes people can experience the flip side of depression, becoming manic and wired. "They may feel a bit agitated or revved-up. Like any effective antidepressant, in some people it can precipitate a manic episode. But side effects are quite rare, and can be minimized by positioning the light box so people are not staring directly at it. If a person has any history of eye disease, and if they are getting some kind of ocular side effect, they should immediately stop the light.
Go Your Own Way
For people who don't meet the criteria for clinical depression but still feel down when the days get short ? and about 15 percent of the population feel this way, especially in Northern states ? light therapy may be a perfect pick-me-up. Many people do use it for symptoms of winter blahs. But the light boxes are not cheap, and there are other treatments like melatonin available to reset the body's clock. Still, there are even easier ways ? like taking a walk. The amount of indoor light is deceptive. Even a brightly lit office, you get about one-tenth the light you'd get in a cloudy, gray winter day. If you spend more time outdoors, that might be helpful, as is exercise. Whatever it takes to find the light at the end of the winter tunnel is worth it, the experts agreed ? even if it's a trip to Hawaii.
Dr. Mercola's Comment:
Well, this is the appropriate time for the Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) article, as winter provides the least amount of sunshine than any other time of the year.
And, since most of us live in regions with a serious deficit of sunlight, it is difficult to get the recommended exposure time. For this reason, I am proud to present: Bio-Pure Light Boxes -- now available on my Web site.
Bio-Pure Light Boxes contain light bulbs that project full spectrum sunlight – essential if you are to achieve natural balanced sunlight INDOORS. These bulbs contain the full spectrum of color (imagine the colors of the rainbow), as well as infrared and the three ultra violet wavelengths. No other type of lighting source -- not "regular" or even "natural" light bulbs or fluorescent light bulbs -- contains these requirements.
There are two Bio-Pure models you can chose from (BP-12 Combo Box and BP-12 Junior), which contain these necessary ingredients to help you obtain the balanced sunlight that is essential to your physical AND mental health.
Specifically, Bio Pure BP-12 and BP-12 Jr. Light Boxes both include state-of-the-art Blu-Lux technology that truly sets these light therapy boxes apart from any other source of light. The Bio-Pure BP-12 also provides the highest quality full spectrum lighting.
These light therapy boxes are the most exceptional boxes on the market.
Where can you use these light boxes? Many places. You can use them while you are reading, using a computer, cooking, working out, giving or receiving a massage, etc. Some people prefer to be directly in front of the light box, while others use it to illuminate an area from the side or from behind.
Each person is unique and different location and distances for your light box should be experimented with. It is also beneficial to develop a routine that is consistent and feels right for you to get your daily dose of safe "sunshine in a box!"
Therefore, it is not only highly recommended (but absolutely critical) that you get routine exposure to the next best thing to sunlight: full spectrum lighting!