Dec
07
2013

Slow Down Aging And Prevent Disabilities

You have seen it many times before: a man or a woman retires at age 65; for a while you see them around at social functions; then they are not seen any more and they return in a wheel chair only to die prematurely. You ask yourself: what can I do better to avoid this death trap?

There are several aspects to this equation: first, we would like to slow down the aging process. Part of this is to retain our physical functioning. In the following I am discussing the ingredients that are necessary to achieve the goal of aging in dignity, but avoiding disability.

It starts with a healthy mind set

You need to be optimistic and have a mindset of believing in yourself that you can do it. With a negative attitude, you will manage to find something to complain about, no matter how perfect the day has been. Negative thinking is rampant, and depression tends to be higher in the older population. If you suffer from depression or you had negative events such as accidents or abuse in the past, it is important to do some house cleaning. Do not be hesitant seeking professional help and counseling from a health professional to help you build up your self-esteem.

Regular exercise is important

A regular exercise program helps you to get your day organized. If you think that you are too busy to find the time to exercise, you are sacrificing your wellness and in fact you sabotage your health. It’s time to rethink your lifestyle! The reason you need exercise is to set the automatic pilot on staying healthy and active. If you are accustomed to sitting down in front of the computer or television set for hours, your muscles do not get the exercise they need. Fast-forward several decades and you will be one of those who rely on walkers, wheel chairs and assisted living establishments. Without training your muscles you are more prone to falls and injuries. Your balance organ is not getting the impulses it needs on an ongoing basis to prevent you from falls later in life. People in their 80’s are often stable up to the point where they trip and fall. I have seen many patients like this arrive in an ambulance where I was doing my shift as the emergency physician in a community hospital. When I summarize the fate of all of the people in their 80’s who had falls and broke their hips over the years, 50% of them made it through the surgery and went back home (often with a walker or in a wheel chair) or ended up in a nursing home; the other 50% died from complications of the surgery, often from heart attacks during the surgery or from clots in their pelvic veins or in the leg veins that dislodged and turned into pulmonary emboli. A fracture and in particular a hip fracture in your 80’s is a serious, potentially deadly accident. So, you need strong muscles and joints and you need strong bones. All of this comes free to you from years of regular exercise in your 60’s and 70’s.

Slow Down Aging And Prevent Disabilities

Slow Down Aging And Prevent Disabilities

You guessed right: good nutrition is important!

Eat right and your body will function right. This is where a lot of people are sent on the wrong path due to clever advertising from the Agro Industry, Big Pharma, the American Dietetic Association and the United States Department Of Agriculture. So they preach that wheat and wheat products are good for you, but the lab tests show that it induces hyperinsulinemia and leads to diabetes. The genetic changes of wheat (“accomplished” through forced chemical hybridization in the 1970’s) are responsible for the metabolically very active wheat belly (accumulation of visceral fat) that Ref. 1 has described in detail. But others have researched this topic as well. Ref. 2 for instance confirms that gliadin, the glue in wheat, which allows dough to stick and makes it easy to create bread, bagels and pasta, is responsible for neurological issues like numbness of fingers and feet (peripheral neuropathy), balance problems and cognitive decline all the way to Alzheimer’s disease. If you continue to eat wheat and wheat products (all contained in conveniently packaged “processed” foods), you may very well find that your balance and muscle control will deteriorate by the time you are in your eighties. This condition is not new: one of the lecturers I listened to at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario in 1977 referred to those unfortunate individuals who were severely disabled as the “tea and toasters”. The tea in this case was probably the lesser evil, but the wheat induced malabsorption and malnutrition was a reality already in the mid and late 1970’s.

However, if you start eating organic foods to avoid the chemicals and estrogen-like xenoestrogens from pesticides, and you cut out sugar, high-density carbs and wheat products, you will no longer have problems with weight control and you will maintain your muscle, brain and nerve function. This is not what you learn from the regular agencies mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph, but Ref. 1 and 2 will fill you in on the details. Essentially, I follow a Mediterranean diet without sugar, starchy foods and wheat or wheat products. Ref. 2 stressed the importance of enough saturated and healthy fat (omega-3 fatty acid rich oils) in a balanced diet consisting of 20% protein and low carbs. No specific numbers were given regarding the %-age of fat. I would say that a limit of about 25 to 35% for fat would be reasonable except for the Inuit who are used to a fat content in their diet of 80%. The new thinking is that healthy fats are good for your brain and heart. Healthy fats are omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) derived from fish oil as they are very protective (anti-inflammatory) oils, so is olive oil and coconut oil. These latter two are anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fatty acids. Keep in mind that you want to change the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids (the ratio in this link is cited as omega-6 to omega-3) more in the direction of omega-3 fatty acids, so that the ratio will be between 1:1 and 1:3. Most Americans are exposed to ratios of 1:8 to 1:16 (too many omega-6 fatty acids in fast food and processed foods), which leads to inflammation of the arteries as well. Omega-6 fatty acids, found in safflower oil, sun flower oil, grape seed oil and canola oil are bad for you when not balanced by enough omega-3’s (flax seed oil and fish oil) as they lead to inflammation through the arachidonic acid system in the body. It may be a surprise to you that saturated fats are OK: animal fat like butter, lard, cream, ghee (clarified butter), and other animal fats provided they come from clean (not antibiotic or bovine growth hormone treated) animals. Buy organic and buy organic meats as well such as grass fed beef and bison, chicken and turkey.

Here is an example of what a day would look like nutritionally in terms of a breakfast, lunch and dinner (recipes by Christina Schilling):

Breakfast:  Great Greens Omelet

(2 servings)

1 tablespoon olive oil or coconut oil

3 chopped green onions

3 cups spinach leaves or a mix of greens: kale, spinach, Swiss chard

1 red pepper cut into strips

3 eggs and 3 egg whites

2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano

In non-stick pan sauté green onion, greens and pepper strips in oil, stir eggs and egg whites and pour over the vegetables, sprinkle with Parmigiano. Cook on medium heat, till the egg mixture has started to set. Turn over and briefly let cook. Remove from pan, divide into two portions and sprinkle with a bit of salt (optional). Serve with salsa and guacamole.

Lunch: Oriental Salad

(2 portions)

1 small Sui choy cabbage (Napa cabbage)

2 cups mung bean sprouts

1 small daikon radish, shredded to yield 1 cup

1 red pepper, cut into thin slices

3 green onions, chopped

1 medium sized carrot, cut into matchstick size pieces

1 can sliced water chestnuts, rinsed.

Dressing: 2 tablespoons sesame oil,

2 tablespoons rice vinegar,(light balsamic vinegar works too)

1-tablespoon tamari soy sauce

1 tablespoon Thai sweet chilli sauce

1-teaspoon fresh grated ginger

3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Prepare all vegetables and put into salad bowl. Stir all dressing ingredients together and pour over vegetable mix. Stir gently, cover and refrigerate. This salad can be consumed immediately or kept refrigerted for a day. To complete the salad with a protein portion add your choice of 6 oz. cooked shrimp or the same quantity of cubed or sliced grilled chicken.

Dinner:  Florentine Chicken

(2 servings)

1 large boneless chicken breast

1 tablespoon of chopped fresh basil-alternatively use 1 teaspoon dried basil.

1 tablespoon grated Parmigiano

4 thin slices prosciutto

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tomatoes- cut into halves

3 chopped green onions

2 cups baby spinach leaves

pinch of salt

Spread chicken breast flat and top it with the basil, Parmigiano and prosciutto slices. Fold into half an hold the stuffed chicken breast together at the edges with a toothpick or two. Heat olive oil in frying pan, add onion and tomato slices and put the chicken breast on top. Put lid on the pan, and cook at medium heat till the chicken is cooked through. If you test with a fork, the juices will be clear. Remove vegetables and chicken from pan, put on serving plate and keep warm. Remove toothpicks from meat, and cut chicken breast into two portions. Put spinach into pan and let the leaves wilt at medium heat (cover with lid). Put spinach on the side of the chicken and tomatoes, and sprinkle with a bit of salt.

Dessert after dinner: Berry Sorbet

(2 servings)

2 cups of deep frozen berries (strawberries, blueberries or a berry mix, no sugar added)

¾ cup of organic yogourt or goat’s milk yogurt

a few drops of liquid stevia or small amount of powdered stevia-to taste.

Put into blender and process till smooth. You will have to open the blender jar to stir the contents in between. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream,  if desired.

What about the “slow down” of menopause and andropause?

It is a fact that as we age, our hormone glands do not produce as much hormones as when we were in our 20’s and 30’s. But if you find a health care provider who is interested in anti-aging medicine (there are about 26,000 physicians, chiropractors and naturopaths who are members in the A4M), your hormones can be measured accurately from saliva and blood tests. This will tell whether you are hypothyroid, deficient in sex hormones and whether you should be supplemented with the missing hormones in adequate doses through bio-identical hormones. For instance, women are often deficient in progesterone in menopause and men deficient in testosterone. Treatment needs persistence and patience, as it often takes months for the patient to feel better and up to 2 years, to find the exact balance for you where the hormones are re-balanced and your symptoms of tiredness, insomnia, hot flushes etc. disappear. All our body cells have hormone receptors that require stimulation for the cells to function normally. Your health professional needs to pay attention to this and not just treat your symptoms symptomatically. When your hormones are in balance and you take a few supplements, your bones will be strong (no osteoporosis), your brain will be clear, your hearing perfect, and your balance great. You will be much less likely in your eighties to fall and break a bone and your mind will be clear and sharp.

Stress management

As the baby boomers age, they need to be aware of the stress in their lives. You may have been accustomed to having lots of energy when you were in your child rearing years or in your active professional career. Often we do not even notice that there may be stress in our lives. But your adrenal glands know. This is really a subpart of what I said of hormones: they need to be in balance. But cortisol, which is produced in your adrenal glands, is different from the menopause/andropause hormones. Corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) from the hypothalamus and adrenocorticotrophin hormone (ACTH) from the pituitary gland are the rulers of the adrenal glands. And it is how you handle stress when you are in your 40’s, 50’s and 60’s which will determine whether you come down with adrenal fatigue, various degrees of adrenal insufficiency or not. Ref. 3 is a whole book that deals with this topic. Here I like to mention only that the best test to diagnose adrenal problems is a four-point saliva hormone test for cortisol. You connect the four points and get a curve where the cortisol level is expressed as a function of time. If this curve is below the lower normal range, which the laboratory provides for you, you need to be managed by a knowledgeable health care professional in order to build up the reserves of your adrenal glands. Yoga, meditation, deep prayer, self-hypnosis and enough regular sleep are all proven methods to overcome any stress related issues. Sometimes more effort is needed to rebuild the adrenals by specific herbs or porcine adrenal gland cortex extracts. Your health care provider can tell you more regarding this.

Useful supplements

1. On March 17, 2013 I wrote in a blog about prevention of osteoporosis the following summary:

“The best combination is 1000 mg (or 1200 mg as per National Osteoporosis Foundation recommendation) of calcium per day together with 400 to 800 IU of vitamin D3 (for cancer prevention you may want to take 4000 IU to 5000 IU of vitamin D3 per day instead monitored by a 25-hydroxyvitamin D blood level test through your physician) and 100 micrograms of vitamin K2 (also called MK-7). In the age group above 50 missing hormones such as bioidentical testosterone in men and bioidentical progesterone/estrogen combinations in women should be given as well. This works best, if you also watch your weight, cut down your alcohol consumption to a minimum (or better cut alcohol out altogether), exercise regularly (this builds up bone and muscle strength) and stick to a balanced diet resembling a Mediterranean or zone type diet (low-glycemic,  low fat, wheat free and no sugar).” I would add in view of Ref. 1 and 2 that “low fat” should now be replaced by “balanced fat diet”. With this I mean that nuts, almonds, olive oil, unsalted butter are allowed within reason. Lately there have been new insights that some cholesterol is needed for normal hormone production. What needs to be cut out are omega-6 fats and trans fats.

2. Omega-3-fatty acid supplements from molecularly distilled fish oil at a good dosage (3 to 6 capsules a day) will prevent chronic inflammation that often causes arthritis. Chicken cartilage (UC-II) from the health food store will desensitize your system in case you have rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis. This will prevent crippling arthritic disease down the road.

3. Mitochondrial aging (the mitochondria are the energy packages in each body cell) is slowed down by the two supplements ubiquinol (=Co-Q-10, take 400 mg per day) and 20 mg of PQQ (=Pyrroloquinoline quinone). Co-Q-10 repairs DNA damage to your mitochondria and PQQ stimulates your healthy mitochondria to multiply. Between the two supplements you will have more energy.

4. Vitamin C 1000 to 2000 mg per day and a multivitamin supplement help to support the rest of your metabolism. Some may want to add PS (Phosphatylserine) 100 to 200 mg per day, which works together with vitamin D3 for Alzheimer’s prevention.

Conclusion

By now you noticed that nothing comes from ignoring the fact that we are aging. We need to pay attention to our body functions and think about what we can do to make us stronger. In the end we are our own caregivers. When we are in our eighties, we should still be active and our brains should function with a lot more experience than in our past. Our bones will be strong and our balance should prevent us from falling. I do not want to use assisted living and I do not like the confinement of a wheel chair. In the meantime I am going to carry on dancing.

More information on:

1. Fitness: http://nethealthbook.com/health-nutrition-and-fitness/fitness/

2. Nutrition: http://nethealthbook.com/health-nutrition-and-fitness/nutrition/

3. Vitamins, minerals and supplements: http://nethealthbook.com/health-nutrition-and-fitness/nutrition/vitamins-minerals-supplements/

References

1. William Davis, MD: “Wheat Belly. Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health”. HarperCollins Publishers LTD., Toronto, Canada, 2011.

2. David Perlmutter, MD: “Grain Brain. The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, And Sugar-Your Brain’s Silent Killers.” Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2013.

3. James L. Wilson, ND, DC, PhD: “Adrenal Fatigue, the 21sty Century Stress Syndrome – what is it and how you can recover”; Second printing 2002 by Smart Publications, Petaluma, Ca, USA

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014

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Nov
23
2013

Stop Obesity

Introduction

Being obese is not just a problem that is known as “middle age spread’. It has become an alarming condition that affects all age groups, children, adolescents and adults; it has escalated into a health problem that affects a large percentage of the US population. Statistics are hard to ignore: in 2012 one third of adults in the US were overweight. Another third was obese. That means that  two thirds of the population exceeded the upper limit of a normal body weight (a body mass index of less than 25.0). Other countries in the Western world share in the record of being the fattest nations: they are Mexico, New Zealand, Chile, Australia, Canada, The United Kingdom, Ireland and Finland. Not every country with high living standards has high obesity rates. Japan and Korea by comparison have obesity rates of 3 to 4%.

Health consequences

The diseases resulting from obesity as a direct consequence include high blood pressure, cardio-vascular problems (heart attacks and strokes), and type II diabetes. This results in health expenses spiraling upwards. The excessive weight creates additional problems. Not only the heart and blood vessels face an overload, but the joints are also bearing the brunt in the form of joint diseases like arthritis or back pain. These conditions are not fatal, but they account for less productivity at the work place and they create disabilities. In the public sector obesity presents more problems: how can an obese individual be accommodated in a standard airline seat? How can nursing personnel in a hospital manage to lift or transfer a very heavy patient without a mechanical lift?

Obesity can be compared to a snowball that is on a downhill run and if it is not stopped in time, will turn into a deadly avalanche.

Stop Obesity

Stop Obesity

Causes of obesity

In the last few years it has become clearer how obesity was created. It originated from the perfect storm that a number of practices of the food industry brought about:

1. Processed food has become more prominent in the super market, laden with salt (creating high blood pressure) and sugar (causing diabetes).

2. Wheat and wheat products are contained in a lot of processed foods, and if they are not in it directly, food manufacturers add MSG (mono sodium glutamate) to stimulate your taste buds. This leads to food addictions encouraging you to eat bigger portions and to eat more sweet, calorie-laden foods.

3. Wheat has undergone forced hybridization in the 1970’s changing the genetic make-up of wheat significantly. The result is much more gliadin, the gooey substance that stimulates your opiate receptors and makes you addicted to food and sweets (Ref. 1).

4. Sugar and high fructose corn syrup are a huge problem for our bodies: sugar consumption in any form leads to overproduction of insulin, insulin resistance and diabetes. 10 to 15 years of life can be lost from premature death due to sugar overconsumption. The causes are accelerated hardening of the arteries with premature heart attacks, strokes and kidney damage. Alcohol in its many disguises is also a problem. The body metabolizes it similar to sugar, excess calories from alcoholic drinks are stored as fat.

5. The oils that are now used to produce baked goods are the cheaper omega-6-fatty acid containing oils derived from safflower, sunflower, soybean, cottonseed and canola. The result is a disbalance of the omega-3/omega-6 ratio in our diet, which causes inflammation in our bodies. This in turn causes heart attacks, strokes, arthritis, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and Alzheimer’s disease (Ref. 2).

6. In the US there are problems with bovine growth hormone in milk and milk products unless you buy organic milk and milk products. This too causes your fat to accumulate as it blocks your own growth hormone receptors. Antibiotic residuals in beef from feedlots also contribute to obesity in humans.

7. Add to this the fact that we have become more sessile, driving cars, watching games rather than playing games, watching TV and sitting in front of the computer for hours on end. All this burns up less calories than if you work out in a gym.

Knowing the enemy helps us to fight the causes of obesity. Here is my recipe to counter what the agro industry has been doing to us.

What can be done to stop obesity?

1. The biggest factor is to cut out genetically modified wheat that is now the only source of wheat around the world. When you cut out all wheat and wheat products from your diet, you will lose 400 calories every day. Ref. 1 describes this in detail and provides 150 recipes of tasty foods. Dr. Davis allows you a fair amount of monounsaturated fatty acids, which makes dieting a lot easier and you will find that once you have lost the necessary pounds, you will keep your weight down easily. How come I know? Because I have done this myself since 2001. Why does it work? Because gliadin from wheat is an addictive protein that stimulates your opiate receptors in the brain and makes you want to eat more wheat and wheat products, which means taking in more and more calories (Ref.1). It also stimulates your taste buds to eat more sugar and starchy foods. So you need to cut out wheat.

2. Next you need to look at the glycemic index of your foods. Low and medium glycemic foods are OK to eat, but not the high glycemic index foods. It is clear from this link that white bread, pasta, rice, low-fiber cereals and baked goods are not desirable, because they are high glycemic on the index. On the other hand fruit, vegetables and legumes are desirable food choices, as they are low glycemic index foods. Legumes are higher in their carbohydrate content, and a helping of ca. ½ a cup should not be exceeded. Fruit that are high in fruit sugar (grapes, pineapple, mangoes, papayas, bananas) should be consumed in moderation. Fruit juices present an overload of sugar; just remember that it takes several apples to make one serving of apple juice! The same goes for alcoholic drinks. It likely is responsible for much of the obesity wave.

3. Perhaps the most important step is to look at the food that goes into your mouth, eliminate all MSG (monosodium glutamate) and then switch to organic food. I remember that 1/3 of the items on the kitchen shelf and in the fridge had to be thrown out when my wife and I first learnt about this in 2001. We studied the food labels of every food item that was in our kitchen. We added the switch to organic food in the last three years, after hearing about it from Suzanne Somers’ books and at several A4M anti-aging conferences in Las Vegas. Take the time to prepare most of your food that you eat yourself at home from natural, organic  ingredients. This way you can avoid sugar and extra salt, which would be present in processed foods.

4. Watch oils and fat when you cook: extra virgin, cold pressed organic olive oil is your best friend when it comes to cooking Mediterranean type food. Lately there is a trend of cooking with coconut oil, but I think this is a marketing hype (if you decide on coconut oil, make sure it is virgin and fresh pressed, not processed).  Ref. 2 explains that it is important to avoid all polyunsaturated oils as they turn rancid and lead to free radicals in your blood and in your fatty organs like the brain. In order to reintroduce the balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fats, it is useful to take 3 capsules or more (up to 6 or 7 per day in persons with arthritis) of a strong, molecularly distilled EPA/DHA  supplement daily that will restore your prostaglandins. This ensures that no inflammatory reactions take place in your tissues preventing heart attacks, strokes, arthritis, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

Fish has been and still is highly recommended as a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which is also anti-inflammatory. But, unfortunately it is contaminated with various amounts of mercury wherever you are in the world, so I find it difficult to recommend it as healthy unless you are willing to undergo chelation therapy on an ongoing intermittent basis to remove heavy metals and this method may not be perfect either. Fish like sardines or wild salmon are the better choices. Tuna, swordfish or shark should never be consumed as their toxic load is dangerously high.

5. Finally, a word about reintroducing exercise. As kids we were more active. You may have played games as a youth. What our bodies need at all times is movement, walking, dancing, in short some form of activity every day. The easiest is to work out in a gym for 1 hour every day (30 minutes of aerobics like a treadmill or elliptical for 30 minutes and isometric exercises like working with machines or weights). Add on top of this whatever you can. This stimulates your metabolism, your blood circulation and rebalances your hormones.

Conclusion

Obesity is a national concern and a concern that affects nations internationally. Bear in mind that the food processors and the associated industry is not on a mission to increase the well being of the consumer, but is driven by the motivation to increase profits. In the past bad dietary advice added more injury to this situation, when the science behind diets was not yet developed. But now we know that a low fat high carb diet does not work; instead a balanced fat, low glycemic index diet as in a Mediterranean diet is what is beneficial. The large amounts of sugar that are currently added and consumed in many processed foods have no place in sensible human nutrition. The senseless overfeeding with grain has also presented its results: it has fattened up North America and other nations. We need quality fats (olive oil, omega-3-fatty acids and nuts). Organic food whenever possible is important in order to avoid poisoning ourselves with pesticides, antibiotic residues or bovine growth hormone. Add regular exercise to this and your recipe for treating and preventing obesity is complete.

More about metabolic syndrome (the metabolic changes associated with obesity): http://nethealthbook.com/hormones/metabolic-syndrome/

 

References

1. William Davis, MD: “Wheat Belly Cookbook. 150 Recipes to Help You Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health”. HarperCollins Publishers LTD., Toronto, Canada, 2012.

2. David Perlmutter, MD: “Grain Brain. The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, And Sugar-Your Brain’s Silent Killers.” Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2013.

 

Last edited March 4, 2015

Oct
26
2013

Being SAD in Fall (Seasonal Affective Disorders)

Any general practitioner knows that fall and winter are the time when patients come in with a variety of complaints like a lack of energy, problems sleeping, inability to cope with stress, but often there may be non-specific pains like muscle spasm in the back, the shoulders, or indigestion. These symptoms can all be part of seasonal affective disorders (SAD) like depression, the winter blues, often coupled with anxiety.

Emotional health does not fit easily into our health care model. The receptionist will warn the doctor that this is going to be a “difficult” patient. If the doctor has only time for a 5 or 10-minute visit, where only one or two problems can be dealt with, then this does not fit when a patient with SAD has a problem concentrating, falling asleep, and presents with a long list of other complaints. Even 20 minutes or 30 minutes may not be enough to deal with this patient adequately. It is easier to send the patient for tests and to prescribe an antidepressant and a sleeping pill and reschedule for a follow-up appointment. But this likely will result in normal blood tests and investigations, added health care costs, but no solution to the patient’s problem when he  or she simply states “doctor, I feel so sick”.

I thought it would be interesting to review how our emotions can get out of balance and review an integrative approach to SAD.

Definition of SAD

Seasonal depression (also called seasonal affective disorder) occurs during fall (autumn) and winter, but this alternates with no depressive episodes during spring and summer. A person defined to suffer from SAD would have suffered from two major depressive episodes during the past 2 years with no depressive episodes in the intervening seasons of spring and summer (Ref.1). Alternative names for SAD are winter depression and wintertime blues. Typically SAD lasts about 5 months.

Brain hormone disbalance

Around 2002 it was detected that in mice there was a second light sensitive pathway from ganglion cells in the retina that were responsible for circadian hormone rhythms. This was later confirmed to be true also in humans, where photosensitive retinal ganglion cells buried deep in the retina and containing the pigment melanopsin absorb blue light in the visible light spectrum. The electrical signals are sent along the retinohypothalamic tract, so that light from the retina regulates the hormone circadian rhythm (daily hormone fluctuations including the sleep/wake cycle) in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is one of the major hormone centers in the center of the brain. As this publication shows there are minor genetic sequence changes for the retinal photopigment, melanopsin in patients with SAD. This affects about 1 to 2% of the American population. Many more have probably partial defects in the function of this pigment.

Being SAD in Fall (Seasonal Affective Disorders)

Being SAD in Fall (Seasonal Affective Disorders)

Many hormones in our brain experience a circadian rhythm.

When the sun goes down, melatonin is produced making us sleepy. In the morning serotonin production goes up and stays up all day, which normally prevents depression. There are other hormones that cycle during the course of the day. Cortisol is highest in the morning and low in the evening and at night. Growth hormone and prolactin are highest during sleep.

There is a lack of serotonin in the brains of patients with SAD and depression.

Symptoms of SAD

A person affected by SAD or any other patient with ordinary depression will present with symptoms of lack of energy, with tearfulness, negative thought patterns, sleep disturbances, lack of appetite and weight loss and possible suicidal thoughts. On the other hand symptoms may be more atypical presenting with irritability and overindulging in food with weight gain. Some patients somaticize as already mentioned in the beginning of this review experiencing a multitude of functional symptoms without any demonstrable underlying disease. It is estimated that up to 30 to 40% of patients attending a general practitioner’s office have some form of depression and in the fall and winter season a large percentage of them are due to SAD.

Treatment approaches to SAD

There are several natural approaches to SAD. However, before deciding to go this route, a psychiatrist should assess the patient to determine the risk for suicide. When a patient is not suicidal, light therapy can be utilized.

1. Light therapy: According to Ref. 2 a light box from Sun Box or Northern Light Technologies should be used for 30 minutes every morning during the fall and winter months. The box should emit at least 10,000 lux. Improvement can occur within 2 to 4 days of starting light therapy, but often takes up to 4 weeks to reach its full benefit (Ref.2).

2. Exercise reduces the amount of depression. The more exercise is done the less depression remains. A regular gym workout, dancing, walking, aerobics and involvement in sports are all useful.

3. Folate and vitamin B12: Up to 1/3 of depressed people have folate deficiency. Supplementation with 400 mcg to 1 mg of folic acid is recommended. Vitamin B12 should also be taken to not mask a B12 deficiency (Ref.3). Folate and vitamin B12 are methyl donors for several brain neuropeptides.

4. Vitamin D3 supplementation: A large Dutch study showed that a high percentage of depressed patients above the age of 65 were deficient for vitamin D3. Supplementation with vitamin D3 is recommended. (Ref.3). Take 3000 to 4000 IU per day, particularly during the winter time.

5. St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) has been found useful for minor to moderate depression. It is superior in terms of having fewer side effects than standard antidepressant therapy (Ref.3).

6. Standard antidepressants (bupropion, fluoxetine, sertraline and paroxetine) are the treatment of choice by psychiatrists and treating physicians when a faster onset of the antidepressant effect is needed (Ref.3).

7. Electro acupuncture has been shown in many studies to be effective in ameliorating the symptoms of depression and seems to work through the release of neurotransmitters in the brain (Ref.4).

8. A balanced nutrition (Mediterranean type diet) including multiple vitamins and supplements (particularly the vitamin B group and omega-3 fatty acids) also stabilize a person’s mood (Ref.3). Pay particular attention to hidden sugar intake, as sugar consumption is responsible for a lot of depression found in the general population.

9. Restore sleep deprivation by adding melatonin 3 to 6 mg at bedtime. This helps also to restore the circadian hormone rhythm.

Conclusion

Seasonal affective disorder is triggered by a lack of light exposure in a sensitive subpopulation. An integrative approach as described can reduce the amount of antidepressants that would have been used in the past in treating this condition. This will reduce the amount of side effects. The use of a light box can reduce the symptoms of this type of depression within a few days. But the addition of electro acupuncture and St. John’s Wort may be all that is required for treatment of many SAD cases. Regular exercise and a balanced nutrition (with no sugar) and including vitamin supplements complete this treatment. If the depression gets worse, seek the advice of a psychiatrist and make sure your doctor has ordered thyroid tests and hormone tests to rule out other causes where depression is merely a secondary symptom.

More information on depression: http://nethealthbook.com/mental-illness-mental-disorders/mood-disorders/depression/

References

  1. Ferri: Ferri’s Clinical Advisor 2014, 1st ed. © 2013 Mosby.
  2. Cleveland Clinic: Current Clinical Medicine, 2nd ed. © 2010 Saunders.
  3. Rakel: Integrative Medicine, 3rd ed. © 2012 Saunders.
  4. George A. Ulett, M.D., Ph.D. and SongPing Han, B.M., Ph.D.: “The Biology of Acupuncture”, copyright 2002, Warren H. Green Inc., Saint Louis, Missouri, 63132 USA

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014