ad info




CNN.com
 MAIN PAGE
 WORLD
 U.S.
 LOCAL
 POLITICS
 WEATHER
 BUSINESS
 SPORTS
 TECHNOLOGY
 SPACE
* HEALTH
 AIDS
 Aging
 Alternative
 Cancer
 Children
 Diet & Fitness
 Men
 Women
 ENTERTAINMENT
 BOOKS
 TRAVEL
 FOOD
 ARTS & STYLE
 NATURE
 IN-DEPTH
 ANALYSIS
 myCNN

 Headline News brief
 news quiz
 daily almanac

  MULTIMEDIA:
 video
 video archive
 audio
 multimedia showcase
 more services

  E-MAIL:
Subscribe to one of our news e-mail lists.
Enter your address:
Or:
Get a free e-mail account

 DISCUSSION:
 message boards
 chat
 feedback

  CNN WEB SITES:
CNN Websites
 AsiaNow
 En Español
 Em Português
 Svenska
 Norge
 Danmark
 Italian

 FASTER ACCESS:
 europe
 japan

 TIME INC. SITES:
 CNN NETWORKS:
Networks image
 more networks
 transcripts

 SITE INFO:
 help
 contents
 search
 ad info
 jobs

 WEB SERVICES:

  health > alternative > story pageAIDSAlternative MedicineCancerDiet & FitnessHeartMenSeniorsWomen

Summer sun for winter blues

Sunny

July 12, 1999
Web posted at: 12:54 p.m. EDT (1654 GMT)


In this story:

A delicate balance

Light therapy: Better than SSRIs?

The summer-winter connection

What you can do

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



By William Collinge, M.P.H., Ph.D.

(WebMD) -- Spending time basking in the sun may be more important than you think. Sure, it's a sensual pleasure and brightens your day. But far beyond that, the summer sun may help you avoid winter depression.

Called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), seasonal depression and mood variation is known to be related to how much sunlight you receive. Now some researchers are concluding that greater exposure to summer sun may help reduce mood problems during the winter months that follow.

A delicate balance

Your mood is influenced by a complex web of relationships between sunlight, melatonin (the sleep hormone) and serotonin (the hormone associated with wakefulness and elevated mood). As darkness falls, your melatonin levels naturally increase. And as the morning light emerges, melatonin levels decrease.

Serotonin levels increase when you're exposed to bright light -- a major reason why moods tend to be more elevated during the summer. This hormone is the basis of today's most popular and successful antidepressant drugs, called selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These drugs work by helping naturally produced serotonin stay in the bloodstream longer, keeping your mood and energy levels higher.

Light therapy: Better than SSRIs?

It is well known that bright-light therapy can bring quick benefits to people with depression or SAD, because light affects the melatonin-serotonin system and elevates mood.

In fact, some researchers are concluding that light therapy may help to alleviate SAD symptoms faster than antidepressant drugs. In a recent review of clinical trials of light therapy, Dr. Daniel Kripke and his colleagues at the Circadian Pacemaker Laboratory at the University of California, San Diego reported that light therapy benefits not only SAD patients but also people suffering from other forms of depression.

The study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, also concluded that patients who undergo both light and drug therapy could get the greatest benefits because the two therapies may enhance each other.

The summer-winter connection

However, few doctors have considered the possibility that sunlight exposure in the summer could impact how you feel months later. This is the subject of research by Dr. Timo Partonen and his colleagues at the University of Helsinki's National Public Health Institute in Finland.

The critical link seems to be the relationship between summer light and winter levels of vitamin D. Light stimulates the production of cholecalciferol, which the body eventually transforms into vitamin D. The vitamin then helps the body maintain higher levels of serotonin during the winter.

Partonen's team has found that blood levels of cholecalciferol naturally peak in the fall months. So getting more exposure to sunlight during the summer may help you build up a store of cholecalciferol that lasts through the fall. All this cholecalciferol apparently spurs your body to produce more vitamin D during the darker winter months, which leads to higher serotonin levels.

Partonen contends that the amount of serotonin you have in the winter is determined by your exposure to light the previous summer -- and that soaking up more sunlight in the summer will increase your chances of preventing or reducing depression during the winter.

What you can do

Next winter doesn't have to be all gloom. It depends on what you do this summer. While simply slathering on the sunscreen and heading outdoors may be fine, try the following strategies to take best advantage of the summer sun:

  • Dose up: Get up and out early to enjoy the added hours of morning sunlight. These are also the hours in which the risk of sunburn is lowest. (Avoid dosing up on the midday sun.)

  • Ritual: Practice some form of ritual, meditation, or exercise outdoors for at least 20 minutes each morning. One practice is to face the sun and imagine you are inhaling its light with each in-breath, and that the light is being absorbed throughout your body.

  • Sun breaks: During your workday, spend coffee breaks or lunch breaks outdoors to increase your exposure each day.

    Copyright 1999 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.



    RELATEDS AT WebMD:
    Treatment of Depression
    Depression


    RELATED SITES:
    National Mental Health Association Fact Sheets
    American Medical Association: Depression
    Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
    External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.

    LATEST HEALTH STORIES:
    China SARS numbers pass 5,000
    Report: Form of HIV in humans by 1940
    Fewer infections for back-sleeping babies
    Pneumonia vaccine may help heart, too
     LATEST HEADLINES:
    SEARCH CNN.com
    Enter keyword(s)   go    help

  • Back to the top   © 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.
    Terms under which this service is provided to you.
    Read our privacy guidelines.