This is the time of year when some people stop feeling well. They may blame it on the weather but it’s actually the lack of light that is affecting them. The name for this condition is Seasonally Affective Disorder and it can affect people to varying degrees.

Some people may find their mood alters a tiny bit while others have quite severe symptoms like sleeping too much, craving carbohydrates, overeating, low sex drive and fatigue.

SAD is more prevalent in women than men and if it seems we’re hearing more about SAD these days it may well be because we are spending more time indoors. Researchers estimate we spend 85 per cent of our time indoors so we are exposed to very little sunlight.

The theory about SAD used to say that full spectrum lighting could correct this condition. What we know now is that it’s not so much about full spectrum lighting as about light intensity. On a bright sunny day we are exposed to 100,000 lux. An ordinary light bulb emits 750 lux – that’s quite a difference.

Sunlight deprivation triggers biochemical changes in some people. As a result, the body’s seratonin and melatonin levels are lowered. These two brain chemicals regulate your moods. If your seratonin levels are low, you will tend to be more depressed.

The good news is there are two simple and effective treatments for SAD.

First there’s light therapy. The light emits 10,000 lux. All you need to do is sit in front of it every morning for 30 minutes while you sip your tea, eat your breakfast and read the paper. At the end of a half hour, you’re charged up for the day. The light really does make a difference. People notice a dramatic difference within a couple of days of starting treatment. Use the light every day during the winter and there’s nothing wrong with using it on gray overcast spring or summer days either.

The second treatment that has been shown to be effective is St. John’s Wort. St. John’s Wort is a herb that has been used in Europe for hundreds of years. It has been called a herb that brings light into dark places. In a recent double-blind study one group of patients with SAD reduced their symptoms of depression by 60 per cent with St. John’s Wort alone.

By combining St. John’s Wort with light therapy the success rate was over 80 per cent.

If you suspect you are suffering from SAD make sure you get treatment. The ongoing depression can affect your immune system and so lead to other conditions.

It may be winter, but you can still let the sun shine in.

Dr. Paulette Roscoe is a naturopathic physician who practices in Nanaimo. She welcomes your calls at 754-1733.