Women’s Feet Are Paying a High Price for Fashion

Fashion before comfort… and health! That seems to be a prevailing attitude in the United States, particularly among women out shopping for new shoes. And while there are a number of shoe styles that can cause foot problems, the high heel (especially the ultra-high heel) is by far the biggest culprit. According the American Podiatric Medical Association:??????????

  • 72% of women wear high-heeled shoes (39% wear heels daily, while 33% wear them less often).
  • 59% report toe pain as a result of wearing uncomfortable shoes; 54% report pain in the ball of the foot.
  • 58% of women purchased new high-heeled shoes in the last year.
  • Younger women are more likely to experience blisters and pain in the arches of their feet than older women. Older women are more likely to experience corns, calluses, and bunions.

Ultra high-heels have many podiatrists concerned: According to Hillary Brenner, DPM, a spokeswoman for the American Podiatric Medical Association, “Heels are getting higher and higher,” she says. “We podiatrists like to call it shoe-icide.” Ultra-high heels often result in an array of injuries, short- and long-term, from ankle sprains to chronic pain and many issues in-between.

“Ultra-high heels force the feet into a position that puts stress on the ball of the foot,” continues Brenner. “At this critical joint, the long metatarsal bones meet the pea-shaped sesamoid bones, and the toe bones (phalanges). Too much pressure can inflame these bones or the nerves that surround them. Chronic stress to the foot bones can even lead to hairline fractures.”

However, heels in general, whether they’re stilettos or mid-heels, are hobbling women all around the country. High heels are known for producing a tender knot on the back of the heel, called the “pump bump” by some. This is a result of the pressure from the stiff, unyielding high-heel on the back of the foot. Blisters, swelling, bursitis, and even discomfort in the Achilles tendon can follow.

Additionally, all high heels increase the danger of an ankle sprain. The issue most seen by podiatrists is a lateral sprain, which occurs when a walker rolls onto the outside of their foot, stretching the ankle ligaments beyond their usual length. A serious sprain may even tear the ligaments and increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis.

In podiatrists’ and other medical professionals’ offices across the country, women are presenting with mild to severe foot problems due to wearing the wrong shoes. Other shoes that can cause foot pain and other issues include:

  • Ballet flats, which provide no support whatsoever.
  • Flip-flops, which provide almost no protection from splinters and other injuries.
  • Platform shoes, which often have rigid foot beds, putting unnecessary pressure on the foot.
  • Pointy-toed shoes, which can result in nerve pain, bunions, blisters, and hammertoes.

So what can a woman do to stay fashionable and keep her feet healthy and pain-free? For those who love high heels, consider performance pumps, which most often come with reinforced heels, athletic shoe construction, and more wiggle room for the toes.

Another solution for the pump enthusiast is a chunky-heeled shoe. Chunky heels allow better balance with a wider surface area, which gives the foot much more stability thereby diminishing the risk of ankle sprains.

For other shoes such as ballet flats, orthotic inserts can offer the support that the shoes lack. If you’re unsure about what kind of insert is best for your feet, talk to your podiatrist to get an informed opinion on how to best take care of your feet—and look good doing it.

A Brief History of Physical Education in America’s Schools

School-based physical education’s history goes all the way back to Greece in 386 B.C. at Plato’s school, named simply Akademia, or “The Academy.” The Greek philosopher well understood the importance of physical fitness. He was, after all, an athlete, particularly skilled as a wrestler. In fact, he is quoted as once saying, “In order for man to succeed in life, God provided him with two means, education and physical activity. Not separately, one for the soul and the other for the body, but for the two together. With these two means, man can attain perfection.”

??????????Of course, American physical education has come a long way since—but we owe our physical education system to Greece and many other countries, from which we’ve derived the system we use now. According to the official United States government website, Fitness.gov, the goal of physical education in American schools is “to develop physically educated individuals who have the knowledge, skills, and confidence to enjoy a lifetime of healthful physical activity.”

Interestingly, the driver behind the establishment of the physical education system in America was war—in short, the fitness of soldiers in combat became a country-wide priority. After the end of the American Civil War, school systems implemented physical education programs and enacted laws that would make the inclusion of physical education programs compulsory in all public schools.

After World War I ended, distressing overall health statistics revealed that one-third of all drafted recruits in the U.S military were not physically fit for combat. The government interceded and passed legislation intended to advance the quality of physical education classes throughout the country. During World War II physical education programs became more common for men and women due to the physical fitness that was required in military service and for manual labor jobs.

Following World War II, as a response to an inquiry that concluded that the men rejected from the American military draft during World War II were unfit for service due to childhood malnutrition, the Roosevelt administration introduced the National School Lunch Program, intended to improve the nutrition of American school children.

In 1975, the United States House of Representatives amended the Federal Education Act in order to lift gender discrimination in school physical education programs. This granted girls and women new opportunities to participate and compete in athletic programs in high school and college.

Currently, according to the United States President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, 95% of high schools and 84% of middle schools require physical education. However, only 69% of elementary schools do so. 38 of 50 states now require or encourage districts and schools to follow physical education standards based on the National Standards for Physical Education.

The current standards of U.S. physical education involve:

  1. Competency in motor skills and movement patterns
  2. Understanding of movement concepts
  3. Participates regularly in physical activity
  4. Achieves and maintains health‐related fitness
  5. Responsible behavior in physical activity settings
  6. Values physical activity

The success key factor of any physical education program is ensuring that adequate time is devoted to physical education. Current recommendations are at least 150 minutes/week for elementary school and 225 minutes/week for middle school and high school.

How to Improve Your Bone Health at Any Age

Childhood is the ideal time to build strong bones. However, there are always things you can do—even as an adult—to help keep your bones healthy. And it’s particularly important to do these things as you age.

????????????????Our bones are in a constant state of being broken down and rebuilt. Until the age of about 30, bone buildup exceeds bone loss. Then bone density slowly begins to decline. If you’re a woman, the reduction in estrogen that comes with menopause can accelerate this bone loss, sometimes dramatically. But no matter how old you are, there are four simple things to keep in mind if you’re interested in maintaining higher levels of bone density into older age: calcium, vitamin K, vitamin D and exercise. Let’s look at how these four are related.

Calcium is integral to maintaining bone strength. However, the number one source of calcium is not what most people believe it is. Dark green leafy vegetables are the single best source of this mineral. Ounce for ounce, they’re even better than dairy products (which are also good). So the key to feeding your bones is to incorporate more spinach, collard greens, broccoli and bok choy into your diet in addition to dairy (milk, yogurt and cheese). Tofu is often fortified with calcium as well, so a quick stir-fry including tofu, bok choy and sesame seeds (another great source of calcium) makes an excellent bone-healthy meal.

In addition to being a great source of calcium, dark green leafy vegetables are also high in vitamin K, a vitamin key to the production of osteocalcin, a bone protein. Vitamin K is needed to bind calcium to the bones and reduces the amount of calcium that is excreted in the urine. It has been shown to promote higher bone density and reduce the risk of fractures. For maintaining bone health, the best supplement to take is a form of vitamin K2 called MK-7 (menaquinone).

In order for your bones to make the most of all that calcium, you also need an adequate supply of vitamin D, which is critical to calcium absorption. However, vitamin D deficiency can be very common in people who live far from the equator and may not benefit from much sunlight during certain times of the year. Dr. Michael Holick, a leading vitamin D expert, believes that most Americans do not get nearly enough it. “We want everyone to be above 30 nanograms per milliliter,” Holick says, “but currently in the United States, Caucasians average 18 to 22 nanograms and African-Americans average 13 to 15 nanograms.”

Most vitamin D is produced from our skin’s exposure to the sun. But even when the sun is shining strongly in the summer months, we are still unlikely to get sufficient exposure. Many people sit in an office all day and rarely get outside. When they do, they are admonished to cover themselves with sunscreen. Sunscreen is good at helping to prevent UV damage, but it is those same UV rays that spur vitamin D production. Experts advise that you get outdoors in the summer months with minimal clothing and no sunscreen two to three times a week for 5 or 10 minutes between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Equally important in maintaining bone density is performing sufficient amounts of weight-bearing exercise. Even if you get adequate amounts of the necessary vitamins, you will still lose bone mass if you become a couch potato. As your muscles and bones work against gravity, it stimulates bone formation and lowers the rate of calcium loss. You can help to increase bone density at any age by practicing weight-bearing exercise for 20 to 30 minutes three times a week. This can include activities such as lifting weights, walking or running, dancing, playing tennis, climbing stairs or jumping rope.

With just a little extra attention to your diet and some regular exercise, you can significantly reduce your risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures and maintain good bone density into old age.

What is the New Presidential Youth Fitness Program and How Has it Changed?

Many of us may remember the physical education classes we were required to take when we were in elementary school. It was a familiar sight to pass by the gym door and see students doing sit-ups, push-ups and squat-thrusts. Things are changing.

presidential-fitness-200-300First implemented in 1966, the Youth Fitness Test given to each student was meant to measure physical ability relative to his or her peers. Shellie Pfohl is the executive director of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. According to Ms. Pfohl, “By design, the old test compared kids against each other, so by design 50% failed.” In addition, the test provided little information on the student’s actual level of health.

The test has recently been given a major overhaul, and the new Presidential Youth Fitness Program has been revised to promote exercise as a means of achieving good overall health. Why the change? Rates of chronic disease are growing rapidly, and lack of exercise is a major contributor to the problem. “What is really apparent is that we have an obesity epidemic in our country, so we feel like we now need to focus on health versus athletic performance,” says Pfohl. Under the new program, youth are now evaluated by taking the Fitnessgram® test. The test is scored according to five criteria: body composition, muscle strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular fitness or aerobic capacity and flexibility.

The new Presidential Youth Fitness Program encourages students to develop personal fitness goals that will hopefully remain with them throughout their lifetime. First Lady Michelle Obama launched the “Let’s Move!” initiative in order to help solve the growing problem of childhood obesity. She said of the revised youth fitness program, “One of the reasons I’m excited about the new program is because kids won’t be measured on how fast they can run compared to their classmates, it’ll be based on what they can do and what their own goal is. This is important because we want physical activity to be a lifelong habit.”

The Fitnessgram® uses a skin-fold test to measure body composition (the amount of body fat in relation to weight and height, also referred to as BMI). It uses push-ups, modified pull-ups and curl-ups to measure muscle strength. Aerobic capacity is measured by a PACER (Progressive Aerobic Cardiovascular Endurance Run) test. Finally, the sit-and-reach test measures flexibility.

When students score within the Fitnessgram® Healthy Fitness Standards in five out of six events, they are eligible for a Presidential Youth Fitness award. Those who score below these standards will be given information about the health risks associated with scoring low in the designated areas and will be instructed on ways to achieve better physical fitness.

This program is voluntary for schools, and experts stress that it is just as important to encourage physical activity at home. As Dr. Kent Adams, professor of kinesiology at California State University at Monterey Bay notes, “Schools are important, yes. But we have an obligation in our homes and communities to be partners in promoting a healthy lifestyle in our daily lives.”

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Symptoms and Treatment Options

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), also known as Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS) in the US and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) in the UK, is a disease characterized by persistent, disabling fatigue, often made worse by exercise. CFS sufferers also commonly complain of muscle and joint pain.

man-with-laptop-sleeping-200-300CFS is believed to affect between two and four people in every thousand, and has been responsible for many hours of lost workplace productivity. It has even resulted in the premature end of promising professional careers. The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies CFS as a disease of the neurological system. However, it is also typical for CFS patients to display symptoms of endocrine disturbances, including a form of adrenal fatigue. The medical community is uncertain about the precise cause of the disease, and many believe that CFS will eventually be viewed as a number of distinct conditions with similar symptomology rather than as a single illness.

There are several criteria employed for the diagnosis of CFS, but the most commonly used is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 1994 definition, which sets out the following conditions for confirmation of the illness:

  1. Ongoing severe fatigue for more than six months that is not the result of another medical condition and which significantly affects work and daily life.
  1.  The presence of at least four of the following eight symptoms:
    • post-exertion malaise lasting more than 24 hours
    • unrefreshing sleep
    • short-term memory or concentration problems
    • muscle pain (myalgia)
    • joint pain
    • headaches
    • tender lymph nodes
    • frequent or recurring sore throat

Other commonly observed symptoms that are not included in the diagnostic criteria include digestive disturbances (constipation and diarrhea), chest pain, bloating, nausea, weight loss, night sweats, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, anxiety, panic attacks and depression.

Some CFS patients go on to make a full recovery, although many never retain their previous level of wellness and experience some or all of the symptoms for the remainder of their lives. Age at onset and time until diagnosis are believed to be key indicators of recovery success.

Mainstream treatments tend to focus on the management of behavior and negative thinking to assist recovery. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Graded Exercise Therapy (GET), consisting of controlled, gradually increasing levels of activity, are examples of this kind of approach, both of which have also been subject to a large amount of scientific research.

Given the lack of conventional treatment options, many CFS patients turn to complementary health therapies for help with both individual symptoms and overall recovery. Widely used treatments include herbal medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture, nutritional advice, gentle yoga, meditation, massage and chiropractic manipulation. None of these is believed to provide an outright cure, but can help the body to effect its own healing. The UK physician, Paul Sherwood, author of the book “Your Back, Your Health”, has suggested that some cases of CFS may result from poor spinal health, which can be successfully treated using spinal manipulation techniques. Since there are many anecdotal accounts of CFS onset following physical trauma such as that resulting from traffic accidents, this is not an outlandish proposal.

Recently, a series of related mind-body treatments such as Reverse Therapy, The Lighting Process and the Amygdala Retraining Technique have been developed with promising results. Since CFS is known to affect both mind and body, it would not be surprising to learn that these therapies can be effective.

For most patients suffering from CFS, the best treatment options are still those that provide their bodies with the best possible conditions for recovery to occur, including healthy eating, gentle exercise and maintaining good posture and movement.

How to Turn Raking Leaves into a Healthy Workout

One of the most effective ways to get and keep getting physical exercise is to make it an enjoyable job. While raking leaves may not be at the top of your list of fun tasks, that attitude can change with a few tips. Fall is here, and for many people, that means lots of leaves in the yard. They aren’t going to rake themselves—so why not make this seemingly dull chore into a fun, healthy workout? Here are a few tips that can make raking leaves into a workout you can be proud of.

rake-in-leaves-200-300

  1. Chart Your Fitness Progress. “Raking leaves is considered moderate physical activity, similar to a brisk walk”, according to Barbara Ainsworth, an exercise epidemiologist at San Diego State University. “It helps build upper-body strength, as well as core strength. As you’re raking, your core (or trunk) is working to stabilize your body while your arms are moving, says Ainsworth. A 135-pound person could burn about 240 calories raking leaves for an hour.” Keep track of your workout time so you can be proud of how many calories you’ve burned—not to mention how many bags of leaves you raked.
  2. Enjoy the Outdoors. Autumn is a wonderful time to exercise outdoors—the air is crisp, the leaves are turning lovely colors, and the smell of chimney smoke can be almost intoxicating. Take the time to enjoy your surroundings by noticing the movements of birds, squirrels, and other animals gathering food for the winter. Enjoying nature can be extremely beneficial for your mental health as well as your physical health, so give it a shot—you may end up loving it.
  3. Listen to Music. Bring a radio, CD player, or digital music player and listen to some of your favorite music. For a more rigorous workout, chose fast-paced music with a beat you can rake to. After a while, if you really get into the music, it won’t even feel like exercise—and don’t forget that endorphin rush. Try doing 20 minutes of moderate raking, then take a break and drink some water. Then continue raking. If you feel your enthusiasm start to flag, try switching the song—sometimes that’s all you need to boost your workout.
  4. Take Before and After Pictures. Studies suggest that it is very mentally beneficial to see the product of work you’ve done with your own hands, so why not take before and after pictures of your yard to remind you of the good work you’ve done? It may inspire you to rake your lawn regularly—at least until winter comes along.
  5. Have a Little Childhood Fun. There’s nothing wrong with making your rake workout a little fun—so why not jump into a big pile of leaves or toss them overhead? If you have children, definitely include them in the fun.

In order for you to have a successful workout raking leaves, make sure to wear appropriate clothing. Depending on the weather, you’ll usually need long pants, thick socks, sturdy shoes, a long-sleeved shirt with something under it (as you will undoubtedly become hot as the workout continues), and gloves to protect your hands. As with any workout, bring water and hydrate frequently. You might even consider bringing along a healthy snack, such as a crisp apple, to eat while you take your break.

You never know how much you might enjoy raking leaves as a workout, so give it a shot and get some fresh air while you’re at it.

Do Cold and Flu Prevention Products Really Work?

Every pharmacy has a range of products on sale for preventing colds and flu. And every year, people who are hoping to avoid the sore throat, stuffy nose and general achiness buy them. Actually, they buy lots of them–$4.6 billion worth in 2008 alone. But is this money well-spent? Is there any evidence that popular remedies such as Airborne™, Zicam™, vitamin C and Echinacea really work?

cold-flu-prevention-200-300AIRBORNE

Airborne™ is a dietary supplement marketed to support the immune system. It contains vitamins (A, C and E), minerals (zinc, magnesium, selenium and manganese) and herbs (echinacea and forsythia). While many people use it to try to prevent the onset of colds and/or to shorten their duration, evidence that it actually works is in very short supply. The company that markets the product was forced to settle a court case in 2008 in which it was found guilty of using false advertising without credible scientific evidence to support its claims. Based on the list of ingredients and recommended dosage, there have also been concerns raised about potential vitamin overdose, especially with respect to vitamins A and C.

ZICAM

Zicam™ is a homeopathic remedy for preventing colds that contains zinc acetate and zinc gluconate. It is currently available in tablet, lozenge and throat spray form. A nasal spray was also originally available, but was removed from the market after some users reported damage to their sense of smell. Zinc has been shown to have a significant positive impact on reducing the length and severity of cold symptoms if it is taken within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms. However, whether Zican contains sufficient quantities of the mineral to be effective is open to debate. Homeopathic treatments remain unproven, although many people believe them to be effective.

VITAMIN C

A 1995 review of the effectiveness of vitamin C for preventing cold symptoms found that doses exceeding 50mg daily were effective, but that they only reduced the duration of the virus by 20% on average. Daily doses of 1g are thought to be of greater effectiveness, but little research has been performed to establish this.

ECHINACEA

Echinacea-based products have grown in popularity during the past two decades. Echinacea is an herb that is thought by some to stimulate the immune system, and there is some evidence to support that claim. However, findings are complicated by the use of different species of the plant in research, which has led to conflicting results. At present, the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) suggests that there is sufficient evidence to approve the use of juice extracted from Echinacea to prevent and shorten the duration of colds in those over 12 years old.

SUMMARY

The best advice for people who want to avoid colds and flu is tried and true, and it doesn’t involve a trip to the pharmacist:

  • Avoid contact with people with cold and flu symptoms
  • Keep your hands away from your nose, mouth and eyes
  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Don’t share drinking glasses or eating utensils
  • Keep surfaces clean

While some over-the-counter remedies may be helpful, common sense and hygiene are still your best bet.

Walking Your Way to Fitness: The Latest Research

You do not need to join a gym to increase fitness. Walking is one type of exercise that is free and available to anyone possessing a sturdy pair of shoes. It is a low-impact form of exercise that is appropriate for all age groups and levels of fitness. Whether you’ve been a couch potato for years or are the fittest person on your block, walking for 30 minutes a day can provide you with a wide range of health benefits.

????????????????????????Research has shown that those who walk regularly have reduced rates of heart disease, asthma, osteoporosis, obesity, type 2 diabetes, stroke and some cancers. It also improves circulation, increases bone strength and reduces cholesterol. Walking can also be one of the easiest forms of exercise to fit into your day for those who are pressed for time.

Julia Valentour, MS, an exercise physiologist and program coordinator at the American Council on Exercise (ACE) says, “Exercise doesn’t have to be hard to be effective. The recommended 30 minutes can be broken up into two 15-minute sessions or even three 10-minute sessions, making it easy to weave into a busy lifestyle.” One of the many benefits of walking is that it can be done nearly anywhere. Whether you live in the country or the city, you can always find places to walk.

Experts suggest you start slowly and gradually build up to walking farther and faster. If you have been inactive for a while, start walking three times a week at a strolling speed for 20 minutes. Slowly work your way up to five times a week for 30 minutes. You will have to walk at more than strolling speed to begin receiving health benefits. Walk fast enough to raise your heart rate, to the point where you can say a few words comfortably without gasping but are not able to sing a song.

Walking is great for overall health, but those who want to lose some weight can benefit too. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, walking at a reasonable rate of three miles per hour burns 221 calories an hour, and walking at a brisk four miles an hour burns 334 calories per hour.

There are a number of things you can do to help motivate yourself to walk regularly:

Buy a pedometer — You should aim to walk a total of 10,000 steps a day, and a pedometer can help you keep track of exactly how many steps you have taken. Most people normally walk between 3,000 and 4,000 steps a day. You’ll be amazed at how many more steps you can add to your total by adopting some simple practices to increase the amount you walk. For instance, take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk the kids to school and park farther from the entrance to shops. Compete with yourself each day to see if you can improve your performance of the day before.

Listen to music or podcasts as you walk — It’s a great way of helping the time fly and it provides a nice soundtrack to the things you pass along the way. You can even learn a new language as you walk!

Enlist a walking buddy — When two people commit to a walking regimen, neither person wants to let the other down, so it’s more difficult to skip that day’s exercise.

Find online support — StartWalkingNow.org is a free program designed by the American Heart Association to help people get started on a walking program. Their online offerings include activity and nutrition tracking, a monthly newsletter with recipes and health tips and a way of connecting with others doing the same thing.

Walking is fun and it has many health benefits and no drawbacks, so get started today on the path to better health!

Chiropractic Care Improves Pregnancy-Related Pelvic Pain

Symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD), commonly referred to as pelvic pain, is a condition that is growing more common among pregnant women, either due to increasing maternal age or to the condition simply being diagnosed more frequently. The pain is due to excessive movement of the bones that make up the pubic symphysis, which are the two bones that meet at the front of the pelvic girdle and are connected by a joint made of cartilage and supported by ligaments.

????????????????????????????????????During pregnancy, a woman’s body secretes increased amounts of the hormone relaxin, which makes cartilage, ligaments and other soft tissues more flexible in preparation for childbirth. There is normally a 4-5 mm gap between the bones of the pubic symphysis. However, that space can increase another 2-3 mm during pregnancy, often causing both pelvic pain and pain in the lower back and sacroiliac. Over 30 percent of women are reported as suffering from some form of SPD during pregnancy, with approximately 7 percent continuing to experience pain post-partum.

Symptoms of SPD include shooting pain in the pubic symphysis area (which often radiates to the abdomen, lower back and upper leg), pain on movement, a waddling gait and swelling in the pubic area. The pain can range from mild to debilitating, and the condition can interfere with normal daily activities such as bending, lifting the leg and getting up from a chair.

A recent study published in The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association has reported that conservative chiropractic care can reduce pain from pregnancy-related SPD, increase mobility and improve function.

Dr. Emily R. Howell of Ashbridge’s Health Center in Toronto studied two cases of women at 30 weeks of pregnancy (35 and 33 years of age) who reported severe SPD (including pain in the lower back and sacroiliac, respectively) and who received conservative chiropractic management. Treatment included side-lying mobilizations, instrument-assisted adjustments to the pubic symphysis, pelvic blocks, use of a pregnancy support belt and soft tissue therapy. Both patients were also given tips and exercises they could perform at home, which included stretches, pelvic floor exercises, using a pillow between the knees during sleep and getting up and moving around periodically. Post-partum exercises were suggested to help restore muscular strength, improve control and encourage pelvic stability.

Both women reported relief from chiropractic treatment during their pregnancy and the tips they used at home. Long-term follow-up evaluation post-partum found that the patient with SPD and low back pain had no more pain from SPD, with some low back pain related to a subsequent knee injury. The second woman reported being nearly pain-free, apart from a rare re-occurrence of some mild pelvic pain.

Chiropractic care is a safe and effective treatment option for dealing with pelvic pain during pregnancy that is drug-free and has been proven to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life both during and after pregnancy.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Warning Signs and Treatment Options

If you find yourself becoming depressed, increasingly irritable and suffering from more bouts of insomnia as winter approaches, you may have seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Your risk of having this condition increases the further you get from the equator. The prevalence of SAD is estimated to be only 1.4 percent in Florida, but jumps to 9.7 percent in New Hampshire. Although it is not listed as a mental disorder in itself, it is categorized as a specific type of depression.

woman-park-benchDr. Norman Rosenthal was the first researcher to study and name this phenomenon, motivated by his desire to understand what caused his depression in the long dark days of the northern winters. Rosenthal and colleagues conducted a placebo-controlled study of SAD that used light therapy, which was found to be effective in alleviating some of the symptoms of SAD.

Although the exact cause of SAD is not fully understood, scientists believe that the hypothalamus is negatively affected by the relative lack of sunlight in more northern latitudes (or more southern latitudes for people in the southern hemisphere). The hypothalamus regulates our circadian rhythm and produces the hormones that influence sleep, mood and appetite.

Some of the most common warning signs of seasonal affective disorder include:

  • Depression (primarily between September and April, peaking in December through February)
  • Irritability and/or anxiety
  • Sleeping more than usual and feeling drowsy during the day
  • Cravings for carbohydrates such as bread and pasta
  • Eating more (and gaining weight)
  • Lack of energy
  • Inability to concentrate

There are a few different treatments for SAD, most of which are effective. The most common form of treatment (with no adverse side effects) is light therapy. For this treatment, you have to sit in front of a special light box for a minimum of half an hour every day. The light box features a bright full-spectrum bulb that simulates the wavelengths of sunlight and is far brighter than any incandescent bulb. It’s a simple treatment, but it’s not convenient for many people, as you must do it every day until the season changes, or you risk the return of your depression.

Here are some other treatment options:

  • Antidepressants, typically serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are effective but can have side effects such as insomnia, nausea, diarrhea and decreased libido
  • Cognitive behavior therapy, which trains people to become aware of their negative thought patterns and teaches them how to replace them with more positive ones
  • Exercising for as little as 20 minutes, which has been shown to significantly boost mood
  • Getting outside more often, since the fresh air and sunlight can make a positive difference in how you feel