December 14, 2022

Staying Merry & Bright: There’s More to Seasonal Affective Disorder than the SAD Light

Winter is coming, and though the holiday lights have begun to shine bright, the daylight hours are continuing to shorten. The sun is distant, the leaves have fallen, and those somber winter blues may be starting to set in for many of us.

The symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, may be familiar to you: feeling gloomy, lonely, lost, hopeless, depressed, or devastated for no obvious reason. Some of us may feel tired or sluggish, while others face extreme fatigue, lack of focus, aches, pains, and even weight gain. Perhaps these symptoms haven’t emerged out of nowhere– perhaps you can pinpoint a cause or two of that pervasive fatigue and anxiety. We are living in a time of fear and uncertainty, particularly as the pandemic presses on, and the media perpetuates a fear-based narrative. Our external reality can absolutely exacerbate our symptoms.

Believed to be a result of decreased melatonin and serotonin levels, paired with a lack of Vitamin D in winter, doctors have come to realize that the symptoms associated with SAD can surface at any time. Of course, seasonal changes affect our health. As winter approaches we go outside less, move our bodies less and spend less time in the fresh air. We tend to eat more sweets and ingest more caffeine. We celebrate the holidays with high-fat foods and, perhaps, a little too much wine. While the time of year certainly plays a role in SAD symptoms, the seasonal shift is actually a trigger, not the cause.

Liver as Protector

Patients have come to me with myriad symptoms that were diagnosed as SAD but were offered few treatments and tools to combat their discomfort. I began years ago digging deeper into the world of chronic illness in order to discover the root cause of the symptoms I continued to see. Medical Medium, Anthony William helped me to understand not only the causes for SAD symptoms but also potential triggers. He explains that depression, anxiety, sadness, nervousness, fatigue, aches, and pains associated with SAD are all neurological symptoms stemming from one of the herpetic viruses known as Epstein-Barr. Headaches, migraines, tingles, and numbness are caused by the effects on the trigeminal, phrenic, and vagus nerves. Concentration issues arise from weakened neurotransmitters. When the liver becomes viral and releases toxins known as neurotoxins, it can lead to anxiety and depression typically attributed to seasonal change. When the liver is overloaded by prescription drugs and starts releasing oxidized heavy metals, those heavy metals move to the brain and short-circuit neurotransmitter activity, worsening our neurological symptoms, heightening anxiety, depression, and feelings of anger, frustration, and abandonment.

One of the most incredible functions of the liver is its drive to protect us. In moments of emotional hardship, through trials and tribulations, during breakups, betrayals, losses, and letdowns, adrenaline ( your fight or flight hormone) is released in the body from your adrenal glands. In these times of trauma, the excess adrenaline is drawn to and held in the liver in an attempt to prevent our bodies from burning out. As the adrenaline works its way through the kidneys and intestinal tract, the emotional information imprinted on it from the trauma will begin to resurface, which can explain seemingly random bouts of anger and frustration. This is wonderful news— as old, latent feelings come to the surface, we are given the opportunity to feel and heal as they clear.

The Ghosts of Toxins Past and Present

The liver tends to release excess adrenaline in seasonal patterns. It dispenses a little bit in the fall, and an extra helping to detox for winter, before releasing a large amount in the spring, sometimes through to summer.

We tend to notice SAD symptoms around the holidays due to obvious dietary changes— the cookies, the candy, the cocktails, the charcuterie— the extra toxins build up in the liver and are forced out, much like the adrenaline stored from trauma. Anthony William offers the example of eating a ham sandwich as a coping mechanism after a funeral. The emotional information of that eating experience, those deep feelings of sadness and loss, is then stored with the nutritional information, and wrapped up in the toxins of the ham’s ammonia, nitrates, and preservatives. As the nitrates are expelled from the liver, the grief is re-experienced in the body. Because of the toxins we take in during the winter, especially over the holidays, the liver must release some of the old adrenaline to make room for the new.

Our livers are able to anticipate our emotional patterns. If the holidays were challenging during childhood, or if something traumatic happened in the colder months, your liver holds onto those feelings and will re-experience them on a loop at the same time each year, even if your external reality has changed.

Live(r) Well

None of this is cause for stress or fear. Knowing and understanding the way our bodies work allows us to make informed choices and improve our health from the inside out. Have the slice of cake or the Christmas cookie in moderation, but be mindful of intake.

To give ourselves the best chance to feel merry and light, we must create an optimal environment for our livers to release what no longer serves us, and make room for what does. This holiday season let us laugh away, and keep the SAD at bay:

  • Meditate or just quiet time to reduce stress
  • Prioritize movement in some form
  • Utilize SAD lamps or light therapy to treat symptoms
  • Eat mindfully and include lots of leafy greens, veggies and fruit!

Supplements to Combat SAD:

  • 5-MTHF (methylated folate)
  • Ashwagandha
  • B-complex
  • Barley grass juice extract powder
  • Fish free EPA and DHA
  • Lemon balm
  • Melatonin
  • Red clover
  • Spirulina
  • Turmeric
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin C
  • nascent iodine
  • Vitamin D3
  • Liquid Zinc sulfate