Blue Light May be Key to Fighting Winter Blues

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Lack of sunlight
during winter can lead to the condition known as seasonal affective
disorder (SAD).

This can make
you feel lethargic, gloomy, and irritable. However, while daylight
as a whole is beneficial to fight off the syndrome, different colors
of light seem to affect your body in different ways.

Blue light
can affect your mind, including mood. And according to a new study,
blue light might play a key role in your brain’s ability to process
emotions. The study results suggest that spending more time in blue-enriched
light could help prevent SAD.

CNN reports:

“Studies
have shown that blue light improves alertness and mental performance
… [T]he researchers discovered that blue light, more so than the
green light, seemed to stimulate and strengthen connections between
areas of the brain involved in processing emotion and language.”

Sources:

Dr. Mercola’s
Comments:

Light has a
major impact on your health, influencing your vitamin
D status
, mood, weight,
and even your risk
of cancer
. But now research is showing that different colors
of light impact your body in different ways.

Emerging as
one of the key players in your body’s ability to process emotions
is blue light, which researchers suggest may help stave off Seasonal
Affective Disorder (SAD), or the winter blues.

Why You Might
Feel Down in the Winter Months

The short days
and long nights of fall and winter can trigger feelings of depression,
lethargy, fatigue and other problems. About 20
percent of Americans
are affected each winter, suffering from
the blues and, in some cases, more serious depression as sunlight
grows scarce.

Symptoms may
include:

  • Extreme
    fatigue
  • Getting
    too much sleep
  • Difficulty
    concentrating
  • Cravings
    for sugary/starchy foods
  • Weight gain

In the more
serious SAD, you may also experience tension, inability to tolerate
stress, decreased interest in sex and physical contact, and a loss
of self-esteem. But what differentiates SAD from regular depression
is that a full remission occurs in the spring and summer months.

The fact that
SAD and the winter blues occur when the days begin to darken and
sunlight is at a minimum is not a coincidence. This occurs because
you simply are not getting enough exposure to natural light and
as a result your mood and physical health will suffer.

More specifically,
your serotonin levels (the hormone typically associated with elevating
your mood) rise when you’re exposed to bright light. You may have
experienced this “high” feeling after spending some time on a sunny
beach, for example.

Similarly,
the sleep hormone melatonin also rises and falls (inversely) with
light and darkness. When it’s dark, your melatonin levels increase,
which is why you may feel naturally tired when it begins to get
dark outside (even when, in the heart of winter, this may be at
only 4:00 p.m.).

Light and darkness
also control your biological clock, or circadian rhythm, which impacts
hormones that regulate your appetite and metabolism.

But the manipulation
of hormone levels and your circadian rhythm are only two ways that
light impacts your mood; it can also impact your emotions directly.

Blue Light
May be Among the Best for Your Emotions

The latest
study from researchers of the Light Research Program at Thomas Jefferson
University in Philadelphia has shown that blue light strengthens
and stimulates connections between areas of your brain that process
emotion and language – and it does so better than green light.

The researchers
suspect that blue light may, in turn, help people to better handle
emotional challenges and regulate mood over time.

Blue light
may be even more effective than the bright white light currently
used in light boxes to treat SAD and other forms of depression.
As CNN
reported
, a 2006 study found that blue light also worked better
than red light in treating SAD symptoms.

Blue light
is prevalent in outdoor light, so your body absorbs the most during
the summer and much less in the winter. Because of this, the researchers
suggested that adding blue light to indoor atmospheres, as opposed
to the standard yellow lights typically used, may help boost mood
and productivity year-round, and especially during the winter.

How to Use
Light to Relieve Winter Blues

If you feel
down in the winter months, first try brightening your environment
naturally – open your blinds and take a walk in the sun at lunchtime.
Spend as much time outdoors in the sun as possible.

If you have
the resources, taking a vacation to a tropical or subtropical environment,
or even relocating there for the winter, is also an excellent option,
but this is unfortunately not a viable option for most.

The next step
would be to address the lighting in your home and office environments.
Most people use incandescent lighting in their homes, but this is
not a high-quality light, nor one that is recommended if you suffer
from the winter blues.

Ideally, you’ll
want to use only high-quality full-spectrum light bulbs in your
home and workspace. This is the type of lighting I personally use
at home and in my office.

Full-spectrum
lighting is one of the most cost-effective ways to treat the winter
blues, and in my experience patients tend to feel a profound increase
in energy and improvement in mood and sense of well-being quite
quickly – oftentimes within two to three days after exposure.

There’s some
confusion on this issue, but currently full-spectrum light bulbs
are only available as fluorescent bulbs. There are some LED’s available
— and in time they will likely become the standard — but at the
present time full-spectrum LED’s are simply not cost effective for
the majority of us.

Please recognize
that incandescent neodymium lights are claimed to be full spectrum
but they aren’t and they don’t have the important blue wavelengths
you need.

A full-spectrum
light box can also be used during the winter months, and while most
use white light you can find them with blue light instead. While
the blue light is thought to be more effective at relieving SAD
symptoms, there is some research that shows blue light may have
a slightly
greater risk of harming your eyes
, so avoid looking directly
at the light source (with either a blue or white light box).

You can actually
get many of the same benefits of a light box by replacing the regular
light bulbs in your home and office with full-spectrum lighting.
I can honestly say that these lights have provided an enormous boost
in my ability to tolerate the often-gloomy days where I live near
Chicago.

Full-spectrum
lights and blue light are not a replacement for real sunlight, but
they are the next best thing when it’s grey and cloudy, or when
it’s too cold to spend time outdoors.

Three More
Tips for Beating the Winter Blues

Light is a
major factor in overcoming SAD, but you can also help boost your
mood naturally during the dark, cold winter by:

  1. Exercising:
    Regular physical activity works better
    than antidepressant drugs
    to improve your mood. In fact, it's
    one of the most powerful strategies you can take to prevent and
    treat depression and boost
    your mood
    .
  2. Going
    to sleep early. You were designed to go to sleep when
    the sun sets and wake up when the sun rises. If you stray too
    far from this biological pattern you will disrupt delicate hormonal
    cycles in your body. In the winter, this may mean that you'll
    want to go to sleep a couple of hours earlier than in the summer.
  3. Avoiding
    sugar and increasing high-quality animal-based omega-3 fats.
    Your brain consists of about 60 percent fat, DHA specifically,
    so you need a constant input of essential omega-3 fats like krill
    oil
    for your brain to work properly.

In fact, one
study showed that people with lower blood levels of omega-3s were
more
likely to have symptoms of depression
and a more negative outlook
while those with higher blood levels demonstrated the opposite emotional
states.

Sugar (including
high-fructose corn syrup in soda) also has a seriously detrimental
impact on your brain function. There’s a great book on this subject,
The
Sugar Blues
written by William Dufty more than 30 years
ago, that delves into this topic in great detail.

Last but certainly
not least, the lack of sunlight during the winter months will also
take a toll on your vitamin D levels, and vitamin D deficiency is
also linked
to depression
.

So in addition
to installing full-spectrum lighting and using the tips above, I
can’t stress enough, especially during the dark, cold days of winter,
how vitally important it is for you to keep on top of your vitamin
D intake.

If you are
new to my newsletter or want to learn more about vitamin D and what
it means to your health, visit my Vitamin
D Resource Page
. Here you’ll find a wealth of breaking news
on the latest vitamin D studies and the best way to test and optimize
your own vitamin D levels.

December
15, 2010

The
Best of Joseph Mercola

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