Suffer From SAD in the Winter? Many Services Can Help!
Treat Seasonal Affective Disorder with light and oxygen therapies
The cold, gray days of winter, with fewer hours of daylight, can trigger a form of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Despite its clever acronym, this condition isn’t funny - it can have a major impact on people’s lives. SAD can cause moodiness, irritability, lack of energy, weight gain, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, and in extreme cases, thoughts of suicide.
Although some people experience it in the summer months, SAD is more common in the fall and winter. As the days become shorter and less sunlight reaches the Earth, natural light that prompts the brain to produce serotonin and melatonin is in short supply. Serotonin and melatonin are neurotransmitters that affect mood, appetite and sleep.
Winter light conditions can also disrupt the body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm.
SAD sufferers (about 4% to 6% of the population) apparently are especially sensitive to the effects of reduced natural light.
Strategies to Relieve SAD Symptoms
The first step in SAD treatment is diagnosis, which can be tricky because other types of mental health issues can cause similar symptoms. Your primary care physician may conduct physical and psychological examinations and order lab tests. It’s important to find a doctor willing to take the time for a careful and thorough evaluation. Concierge medicine practices, which offer personalized care and more time spent with primary care physicians, are a good choice.
Once the doctor diagnoses SAD, he or she can choose from a number of treatment modalities:
A classic treatment for SAD is regular exposure to a light therapy box that gives off bright light mimicking natural outdoor light. However, there is growing interest in infrared light exposure. Infrared light does not carry a risk of tanning or burning.
Importantly, green/near-infrared light may surpass both red and white light in SAD treatment. A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found, “Green light provides a treatment effect superior to that of red light and similar to that seen in previous studies with white light. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that retinal photoreceptors mediate the antidepressant response in seasonal affective disorder.”
When green light is used in an infrared sauna, SAD patients get a dual benefit: light exposure combined with potential for better sleep and relaxation.
Improved oxygen absorption can be beneficial for SAD. It has been theorized that exposure to high levels of oxygen can improve neuronal functioning in patients with mental illness.
In a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, the air pressure is increased up to three times higher than normal air pressure. Under these conditions, a patient’s lungs can gather more oxygen than would be possible breathing pure oxygen at normal air pressure.
One effect of hyperbaric oxygen therapy is improved blood flow to the brain. This has been associated with improvements in a wide range of mental health issues, including depression.
One typical symptom of SAD is a craving for sugar and other carbohydrates. Adhering to a healthier diet and getting regular exercise can improve energy levels and help prevent weight gain. A nutritionist or fitness counselor can supply guidance on optimal diet and exercise choices.
If you are experiencing SAD, a concierge medicine practice can give you access to all these treatments—and more—in one facility for maximum convenience. For example, Pivot Concierge Health in Omaha, Nebraska, offers an infrared sauna, a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, nutritional counseling and, if needed, medications. Care is managed by primary physicians in a spa-like environment with exceptional, personalized service.
Memberships start at just $99 per month. For more information, visit our website.
Crisis Text Line also provides free, 24/7, confidential support via text message to people in crisis when they dial 741741.