Most of us have experienced some degree of winter blues, and as many as 10 million Americans suffer a more severe form of the seasonal depression now known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The predominant theory as to the cause of SAD is absence of sunlight during the winter months, which causes hormonal imbalances, in particular an excess of the pineal secretion, melatonin. Although there is no definitive test for SAD, most SAD patients have high levels of melatonin in their blood. About 75% of SAD sufferers are women, which confirms a link to hormonal fluctuations. There also appears to be a genetic component, with entire families being prone to deep winter melancholia, particularly those living far enough north to experience lengthy periods of darkness for many months of the year. Artificial indoor light is not a protective or therapeutic measure to combat SAD, although high-intensity fluorescent light therapy may be curative. Light treatment has been shown to improve SAD in children also diagnosed with ADHD to the extent of allowing the kids to get off Ritalin (J Am Acad...

A Reuter’s news item appeared mid April this year in time for some tax-season levity: Lizard saliva may save your brain! No kidding. Apparently, a New-York-based biotechnology company has decided that ingesting the drool of the scary-looking southwest desert Gila monster may free the mind from the grip of Alzheimer’s disease (proceedings from the 7th International Geneva/Springfield Symposium on Advances in Alzheimer’s Therapy, Switzerland, April 8, 2002). Stay tuned! Meanwhile, other natural nootropic substances, with research behind them, hold promise for keeping mental functions sharp. (For more tips on how to enhance your memory, see the Brain-Booster Checklist below.)

Clinical depression affects 15 million Americans yearly, and countless more suffer from milder versions of this illness. Antidepressants are among the most commonly prescribed drugs. By the end of 1995, 12 million people around the world (half in the U.S.) were taking Prozac, despite the high side-effect profile of this, and most other, antidepressant drugs, notably headaches, drowsiness, dry mouth, sexual dysfunctions and insomnia. Like most other disease, depression can be largely relieved by lifestyle and nutrition changes. Addiction and depression interface to a large extent. Many people claim that they smoke, drink alcohol, or take drugs because it calms them down. In reality, the “high” is very short term; these addictions ultimately add more stress to the system because of obsession with the next “fix.” (Please read Lifestyle Factors In Reducing Depression at the bottom of this post, for a list of changes you can make in your lifestyle that will have a direct impact on alleviating depression).