Well, there is a very good reason this is happening and its pretty simple – your body and your cells need light to produce energy.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is in fact a very real thing, and if you have noticed yourself feeling a bit lackluster there is a chance the change in seasons is having this affect on you.
To avoid the anxiety of thinking there is something “wrong” with you, we are here to reassure you there is not and to inform you of its causes, while also providing some useful tips to help counterbalance the effects it might be having on you.
So how is the metabolism affected by the short days and long winter nights?
In our last blog Fatigue, Exhaustion and Muscle Weakness, we talked about a special enzyme in your mitochondria that relies on light for energy production, cytochrome oxidase. Cytochrome oxidase contains copper, which is essential for the absorption of red light. Red light or sunlight is essential for optimal oxidative metabolism.
Cells thrive on light as the body thrives on food. Cells actually produce much more efficient energy in the presence of light by stimulating the mitochondria to produce more energy. This is why most people feel better in the summer vs. winter.
Sunlight or Red Light:
- Influences the production of progesterone
- Protects against free radicals
- Stimulates cellular energy production
- Decreases food cravings
- Increases immunity
- Down regulates aldosterone, melatonin and adrenaline.
The cumulative effects of darkness over an extended period of time reduces our ability to handle stress and can lead to depression and season affective disorder.
People who live in places with long winter nights are at greater risk for SAD.
Some of the symptoms of SAD include: hopelessness, increased sleep, less energy and ability to concentrate, loss of interest in work or other activities, sluggish movements, social withdrawal, unhappiness and irritability. Does any of this sound common to you?
According to Ray Peat PhD, “it has been shown that people with depression have high nighttime levels of aldosterone. Darkness stimulates melatonin and suppresses mitochondrial respiration. Darkness is stressful and catabolic. For example, in aging people, the morning urine contains nearly all of the calcium lost during the 24-hour period, and mitochondria are especially sensitive to the destructive effects of darkness. Sleep reduces the destructive catabolic effects of darkness. During the rapid-eye-movement (dreaming) phase of sleep, breathing is inhibited, and the level of carbon dioxide in the tissue accumulates. In restful sleep, the oxygen tension is frequently low enough, and the carbon dioxide tension high enough, to trigger the multiplication of stem cells and mitochondria.”
In winter months we rapidly lose close to 3 hours of daylight. This sudden change in available daylight slows the metabolism further influencing the release of inflammatory and stress substances. Lower body temperatures in the evening vs. mid-day are associated with this shift in hormones. Darkness can damage the energy producing parts of our cells, the mitochondria, while bright full spectrum light can restore them.
If you are someone who already struggles with low body temperature and other symptoms associated with altered energy production and thyroid health, you may find yourself heavily impacted by this change.
How to protect yourself against the effects of SAD
Body temperatures typically rise in warm weather and decrease in cold temperatures. In a hypometabolic state or low thyroid function, retaining and maintaining body heat can become somewhat of a challenge. Eating sustainable, heat inducing foods, in the proper amounts for you body are key components in supporting your metabolic needs under these conditions.
Warm epsom salt baths are also very helpful in restoring magnesium deficiencies while also boosting metabolic processes and heat in the body.
Wearing warm clothing to bed. Depending on the region in which you live, sometimes even wearing a beanie and socks to bed can be very effective in retaining body heat.
One last great tool to use during the winter months of darkness is light therapy. You do not need to spend lots of money on a light box. All you need is a chicken light and a 250 watt incandescent bulb (red or white). We recommend you begin introducing light therapy in slowly. You can begin using light therapy 1x per day for 15min and increasing it to 30min over a couple months period of time. The key is exposing your skin to the light, while making sure you are not too close or too far away. The best time to use light therapy is when the sun goes down.
1. Rubin, Joshua and Jeanne. The Metabolic Blueprint: How to use light therapy for healing. 2012
2. Peat, Ray PhD. Diagnosing Porphyria for Labor and Industrial Claims. Townsend Newsletter. April 1996
3. Peat, Ray PhD. Darkness, Water, Osteoporosis. Ray Peat Newsletter
4. Pasquali R, et al. “Seasonal variations of total and free thyroid hormones in healthy men.” Journal of Endocrinology. 1984
5. Liberman, Jacob PhD, O.D. Light: Medicine of the future. 1991
6. Rubin, Joshua. Light Therapy: Amp up your life.
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Josh and Jeanne Rubin