Thursday, August 22, 2013

SAD in Alaska: Thinking Outside the Box

In today's high-tech society, it's easy to forget the unbreakable biological bonds between human beings and the natural world. Failing to tend to these connections may cause problems. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a case in point.

A big part of the United States, especially Alaska, may be afflicted with SAD throughout the winter months. "Over 25 percent of the populations in mid to higher latitudes suffer from what is called Seasonal Disorder or SAD," claims Dr. Michael Terman of the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University. He goes on to say, "In fact one in every five persons who lives in Alaska may be affected by SAD." This alarming statistic, from a report by The Alaska Journal of Commerce, is supported by the Alaska Mental Health Association which estimates that 20 percent of Alaska population suffers from the disorder. The prevalence of SAD in Alaska is not surprising giving the lack of sunlight, short days, and low temperatures that tend to significantly limit sunlight exposure.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is often referred to as seasonal depression or the winter blues. Individuals tend to experience the symptoms each year around the same time usually during the fall or winter. SAD has many of the signs of depression. The American Medial Association and the American Psychiatric Association attribute the following possible symptoms to SAD: feeling sad, extreme fatigue, low energy levels, difficulty concentrating, carbohydrate or sugar carvings, weight gain, difficulty waking up, sleep disturbance, social isolation, reduced productivity, and irritability.

Many SAD symptoms are the same for depression. This makes it difficult to assess the difference. Consequently, it's important to seek diagnosis and treatment from a reputable physician. That being said, there is some interesting information that everyone can learn from this disorder. This includes exploring the possibility of elevating one's overall wellbeing with natural lighting.

Lesson 1: The Absence of Natural Light Can Significantly Disrupt Biological Functions

In 1980 the National institute of Mental Health conducted a study that revealed that high-intensity light affects the natural release of melatonin by the pineal gland in the brain. This evidence proved to the scientific world that sunlight does in fact impact human biological functions.

Causes for Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms are not completely known. However, one theory suggests sunlight is necessary for our biological clock. Getting sufficient sunlight may contribute to the proper regulation of hormones, sleep, and moods. Without proper sunlight "signals", biological clocks might not work correctly. Another SAD theory proposes that sunlight has a role in how brain chemicals transmit information between nerves called neurotransmitters (serotonin). The theory suggests that chemicals are released when sunlight hits the retina in our eyes.

In short, when day light is shortened or absent, biological chemical processes can get knocked off kilter. Conversely, when exposed to similar lighting, such as full spectrum natural lighting, balance can be reestablished. If you are feeling "out of sorts" it might just be a matter of getting more natural lighting.

Lesson 2: Natural Light Plays a Vital Role in Overall Health and Wellbeing

The most common and effective treatment for SAD is light therapy, sometimes called phototherapy. This form of therapy usually involves sitting near a light box that emits a bright light, at a close distance, for at least 30 minutes. In general, studies indicate that most patients show some improvement within 2-4 days and realize full benefits within 2 to 4 weeks. If sitting near a light box can have these results, imagine the results of replacing traditional lighting with full spectrum lighting!

Lesson 3: Don't Just Depend on Natural Light from a Box

Why not think outside the box? Full spectrum lighting, such as OttLite technology, mimics sunlight but is not as intense or bright as what is used for most SAD light therapy boxes. However, sufficient evidence suggests that full spectrum light lamps and bulbs do have related benefits. Dr. John Ott pioneered the research and worked for the company that developed the first light therapy units with physicians at John Hopkins School of Medicine to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder. From this has come a unique product line of natural lighting systems that offer great benefits. OttLites help people see better and more clearly with less strain. Also, OttLites carries a line of lamps and bulbs that even allows for growing plants indoors without a drop of sunlight, try that with a SAD light therapy box!

Lesson 4: You Do Not Need SAD to Experience the Benefits of Natural Lighting

For those people living in mid to high latitudes, including Alaska, using OttLite as part of your home lighting system is a sensible idea regardless if someone has been diagnosed with SAD or not. Research suggests that many people unknowingly suffer symptoms from a lack of exposure to natural lighting. In some cases, people have been very surprised by the difference natural lighting can make to their overall sense of wellbeing. Don't believe it, try it for yourself!

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