Words of Wellness: The Fall of Autumn

“In the beginning there was nothing. God said, “Let there be light!” And there was light. There was still nothing, but you could see it a whole lot better.” – Ellen DeGeneres

“An age is called ‘dark’ not because the light fails to shine but because people refuse to see it.” – James Michener
“Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while or the light won’t come in.” – Alan Alda

“Lethargics are to be laid in the light and exposed to the rays of the sun for the disease is gloom.” – Aretaeus

Therapists in the northern part of the country routinely see an increase in the number of people who experience depression and anxiety in the fall and spring. The waning or waxing of daylight has a pretty significant effect on the physiology of mood. The seasonal correlation is significant enough and really showing itself right about now, so I wanted to use this column to highlight some natural self-care things that are known to be quite helpful for minimizing symptoms and enhancing year round resilience and wellbeing

As I write this today, our length of daylight is about 10hrs 8 min. By the winter solstice Dec 21st we’ll be down to 9 hours. This means an increased use of artificial light in the evening, significantly less exposure to sunlight via the retina to maintain our circadian rhythm as well as a complete loss of UVB light absorption for Vitamin D skin production between October and April.
Some people experience Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD due to bright light deprivation. The treatment is light therapy and or Vitamin D augmentation.

Light Therapy: Get outside and get some natural light by walking, exercising or just hanging out for at least a half hour/day during mid-day when there is maximum light. If you don’t have one, the Health & Counseling Center has a 10,000 lux therapy light that anyone is welcome to use on a walk in basis. We recommend 15 minutes a day for any day that you can’t get outside for at least a half hour while it’s bright out.

Go with the Gold: Artificial light and in particular the blue light coming from reflective TVs, computer and smart phone screens in the evening shuts down the release of melatonin, which if unavailable causes delayed sleep insomnia. I can’t tell you how many people I know who can’t fall asleep till 2 or 4 am. The remedy is to rock the amber sunglasses, thereby blocking the blue wavelength light. Start a new hipster trend and order those inexpensive amber sunglasses that wrap around (and over your other glasses if you wear them) and you should see results by the second night.

Tanning to get UVB light which your skin can make Vit D from: Recommended times are 5 to 20 minutes 1-2 times/week depending on the strength of the lamps (ask the shop owner for their recommendation).

Exercise & Light: Studies have shown that combining 20 minutes intervals on the aerobic bike during the day along with the same amount of time underneath the UVB light in a tanning bed were very effective in reducing symptoms.

Nutritional Therapy: Eating well is best. If using supplements make sure to keep your Dr. up-to date about it.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is found in eggs and fatty fish such as salmon ad mackerel and cod liver oil. Deficiency symptoms are rickets, osteoporosis because it is necessary for the absorption of calcium for bone formation and maintenance; muscle aches, twitching, joint stiffness, high blood pressure, diabetes and depression. Dr. John Cannell, founder of the Vitamin D Council, recommends taking 5,000 IU daily until your level is between 50 and 80 ng/ml. Once your levels are ideal, a typical maintenance dose ranges from 2,000 to 5,000 IU per day. It’s a good idea to test your level every three months. When supplementing, be sure to take vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) is the synthetic form and not as effective. Recent research suggests that it’s most effective to take vitamin D with your largest meal.

B complex is really helpful for supporting the nervous system. Get a good balanced formula, and always take it if enhancing your diet with any of the individual B vites to maintain balance. Remember to add up the amount in your b-complex with the individual B’s to not take too much of them. Some suggestions include:

Vitamin B1 is important for blood sugar control and this has a major impact on anxiety. People who drink alcohol heavily should get 100-150 mg/day.

Vitamin B3 Niacin is involved in many enzymatic processes and plays a key role in serotonin synthesis. At doses of 1,000 to 3,000 mg a day, it may be helpful for anxiety. Doses over 2000/day can cause blurring of vision, reversible nausea, jaundice and elevated liver enzymes.

Vitamin B5 Pantothenic Acid is very important for the adrenals and therefore helps with modulating stress.

B6: Vitamin B6 helps in the production of neurotransmitters, the chemicals that allow brain and nerve cells to communicate with one another. It can also help address a number of conditions, including nerve compression injuries (like carpal tunnel syndrome), premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and some cases of depression and arthritis. It is often used to treat high homocysteine levels along with folic acid and vitamin B12. Memory loss, diabetes, asthma attacks, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), kidney stones, lung cancer, acne and atherosclerosis may also be treated and improved via vitamin B6 supplementation. 50 mg/day is fine. Don’t take more than 200/mg/day Good sources of vitamin B6 include fortified cereals, beans, poultry, fish, and some vegetables and fruits, especially dark leafy greens, papayas, oranges, and cantaloupe..

B9 Folic acid is essential for human growth and development, encourages normal nerve and proper brain functioning, and may help reduce blood-levels of the amino acid homocysteine which may cause an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Folic acid may also help protect against cancers of the lung, colon, and cervix, and may help slow memory decline associated with aging. Limit 800 mcg/day total.

B12 Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include fatigue, muscle weakness, shortness of breath, dizziness, numbness, heart palpitations, bleeding gums and mouth sores, nausea, poor appetite and diarrhea. Low stomach acid and medications like Prilosec, Prevacid and Nexium; Pepcid, Zantec and Tagamet can reduce B12 absorption. B12 is found in animal products such as fish, poultry, meat, eggs, or dairy; it is also found in fortified breakfast cereals and enriched soy or rice milk.

Magnesium is a calming mineral that nourishes the nervous system and helps prevent anxiety, fear, nervousness, restlessness and irritability. Magnesium is also very protective of the heart and arteries; again, this is important if you suffer from anxiety or panic attacks. Supplemental magnesium, together with vitamin B6, was shown to alleviate anxiety-related premenstrual symptoms, as well as breast tenderness and menstrual weight gain and pain. This study also showed that even a small amount can make a difference; it used only 200 mg of magnesium and 50 mg of vitamin B6. A typical supplemental amount is 400 to 600 mg of magnesium per day, usually with 800 to 1,200 mg of calcium, as it’s typically best to get about twice as much calcium as magnesium. However, taking magnesium alone can be helpful for anxiety. Too much magnesium will cause loose stools.

Taking magnesium and calcium at bedtime can also help promote restful sleep. A very pleasant and easy way to increase your intake of magnesium is to add about a cup of Epsom salts to a warm bath—you’ll absorb the magnesium through your skin. Add some lavender essential oil and have a wonderful calming soak before bed, and you’ll sleep better too.

Dark-green, leafy vegetables, like spinach, kale and chard, contain plenty of calming magnesium as well as good amounts of the B vitamins. Whole, unrefined grains like oats, buckwheat, millet and quinoa also contain both magnesium and B vitamins. Other food sources of magnesium include legumes, beef, chicken, fish (especially halibut, cod and salmon), nuts, seeds, bananas, watermelon, figs, potatoes and green beans. Homemade bone broths are rich in magnesium, calcium and other vital minerals, with the added bonus that the gelatin in the broth enhances mineral absorption.