This month, as fall is upon us and winter is quickly approaching, I would like to write about seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of depression and a debilitating problem that interferes with the quality of life of many people, especially during the fall, winter, and early spring. Living in Quebec, it is important to know about this disorder, as it seems to especially affect people living in countries far from the equator.
Symptoms that reappear regularly with the seasonal changes include:
- difficulty concentrating
- negative thoughts
- elevated cravings for carbohydrates with corresponding overeating and weight gain
- hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness)
- tiredness in the morning
- diminished libido
- decreased social interaction.
Seasonal affective disorder responds well to treatment with a combination of acupuncture and lifestyle modifications in order to address the root of the problem.
Individualizing the treatment in order to treat each person’s specific pattern seems to give the best results. One of the most important points in acupuncture for SAD is a point called yintang. Yintang is located between the two eyebrows. Deeply beneath this point is the pineal gland, which responds to light and seasonal changes. When light levels are low, the pineal gland manufactures and secretes melatonin, which is involved in the regulation of sleep and mood disorders. It has the effect of sedating the body and promoting sleep. During seasons of low light, the pineal gland constantly produces melatonin and a sleepy state is induced. By needling yintang, the pineal gland can be stimulated such that both lethargy and depression are decreased. My patients generally love the effect of this point as it helps them to be more relaxed yet invigorated.
Along with acupuncture, lifestyle modifications are a very important way to help with SAD. Changing one’s lifestyle is not always the easiest thing to do, but it often creates the most dramatic and long-lasting changes in one’s health.
We must all take our health into our own hands.
Here are a few suggestions to help. Beware of cravings for carbohydrates. If needed, consume breads, pastas, and pastries made of whole grains instead of white flour. Add more protein to the diet such as Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, salted cod, lean meat, and small amounts of cheeses. Beets are one of the best foods to counter depression. Parsley, asparagus, spinach, almonds, whole oatmeal, and avocados are also useful as they help in the secretion of the hormones dopamine and serotonin. Avoid overeating or gaining weight, as both will make your more tired and more sensitive and depressed. Be sure and exercise regularly by walking at least 20 minutes, 5-7 days per week, when there is the most sunlight. Work with lots of light by the windows to allow exposure to natural light. Try to go to bed earlier and get up earlier when there are more daylight hours. Avoid naps during the day, which can interfere with sleep in the evening. Finally, think positive, happy thoughts, try not to worry or be fearful and enjoy the warmth of family, friends or any activity that brings ‘fire’ into your life.