What used to be called the “winter blues” now has a diagnosis complete with a code, it’s called “Seasonal Affective Disorder” or SAD.

I’m going to digress and explain why medical diagnoses are created.  As a doctor, I went to “medical” school and received a doctorate degree in “medicine.”   When people go to a “medical” doctor, should they be surprised when he/she gives them a medicine?  No.  If I go to a Chiropractor, I would expect that I would get an adjustment of the spine.  If I went to an herbalist, I would expect an herb.  If I went to a surgeon I would expect him to cut me (on purpose!) 🙂

8 ways to beat the winter bluesDiseases in the medical world are mostly created when there is a medicine to treat it.  In 1922, before the advent of antibiotics to treat infections, there was a wonderful article in a prominent medical journal by a professor of gynecology all about how women with cystitis (bladder infection) were so difficult to treat because they really didn’t have anything wrong with them and they whined all the time.  He called it “hysteria” (which literally means “wandering uterus”).  When antibiotics became available and cystitis could be treated it became a real medical diagnosis.  This pattern has followed for the last hundred years or so, the most recent being ED (erectile dysfunction) which used to be “impotence” and was a psychiatric diagnosis.  Now that Viagra and others are available, it’s a real diagnosis paid for by insurance companies.  There are still those who are still relegated to the “hysterical” such as chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia because there isn’t a drug to treat them.

OK.  Back to the winter blues.  With the invention of Prozac and other such drugs the winter blues became “SAD” so many doctors recommend antidepressants for this.  There are, however, other ways to deal with this depression.

In a nursing home, patients (who generally never see the light of day) were given monthly shots of 100,000 units of vitamin D3 to study the effects on bone fractures.  What was found was amazing.  Fractures decreased almost immediately, before the bones had time to build up calcium.  The patients who got the vitamin D were more stable, thinking more clearly, and were less depressed.  Vitamin D is not a vitamin, it’s a hormone and has multiple effects on every part of the body.  In the winter those in the upper latitudes get little, if any, vitamin D and this can clearly affect the mood.  I recommend 1-2 Tablespoons of Cod Liver Oil during the winter (this will also prevent the flu better than a flu shot).

Sunshine is also very helpful.  The light from the sun does much more than help us see and make vitamin D.  The amount of sunlight we get affects our brain chemistry to a great degree.  There is a gland that is specifically stimulated by sunlight called the Pineal gland in the brain that is responsible for the production of melatonin which affects sleep and mood.

Exercise is very important in maintaining a healthy mental outlook.  Heavy exercise releases endorphins and other hormones that improve and stabilize the mood and prevent stress.  During the winter many more hours are spent indoors with little exercise, which may contribute to SAD.

If you have an especially difficult case that doesn’t respond to the above, you may want to try a natural mood enhancer.  Since each person is different, in these cases it’s proper to use the “Thomas Edison approach to medicine.”  Mr. Edison tried over 2000 filaments before he found one that would make light for any length of time.  Be your own guinea pig.  When you test something you need one, and no more than two weeks trial to evaluate it.  (That would generally be true with ANY treatment).  These are the ones I recommend:

  • 5HTP 100mg twice a day.
  • Niacinamide 500mg twice a day.
  • St. John’s Wort can help the mood, even on a seasonal basis.
  • SAMe 200mg twice per day.
  • Some find GABA 500mg two to three times a day to be useful.

Dr. Scott Saunders