"It's sad, so sad. Why can't we talk it over?" croons Elton John in the sappy breakup song -- but while two people might have a chance to patch up their relationship, the lovers of the sun know that pleading won't make a difference. Old Sol won't return till the spring, just like every other year.
Winter's shorter days leave about 5 per cent of us with full-blown S.A.D. -- seasonal affective disorder. Another 10 to 15 per cent have a milder form sometimes called the winter blues. S.A.D. is a bit like a human version of hibernation. Sufferers have low energy, want to sleep a lot, feel depressed and crave carbos and put on weight.
In fact, some scientists speculate that S.A.D. may once have been a survival mechanism for getting through the winter, and the genetic predisposition to it is still among us. On the other hand, some northern landscapes made such demands on us that they have apparently weeded out S.A.D.: rates are very low in Iceland and among descendants of Icelanders.
If you're feeling low this fall, don't be too quick to assume that it's just a light fix you're needing. Other conditions can mimic S.A.D. -- nutritional imbalances, low blood sugar, aspartame consumption, hormone imbalances, allergies, hidden infections or poor indoor air quality. S.A.D. is diagnosed if you've developed clinical depression at least three times at the same time of year.
If you've got a mild winter lull happening, one holistic approach is to take a teaspoon of liquid chlorophyll every day. Plants use chlorophyll to catch the sun's energy, so it's like taking liquid sunlight.
Full-blown S.A.D. often responds to natural treatments like light therapy, the amino acid tryptophan and the herb St. John's wort. You'll still need a doctor's watchful eye, though. Any anti-depressant agent can trigger hyper states in susceptible people. St. John's wort interacts with many drugs, and tryptophan needs a prescription.
"A half-hour walk outside goes an especially long way. Morning appears to be the most potent time to be exposed to light. The dawn simulator is an electronic device that attaches to your bedside lamp and slowly turns the light on in the morning, simulating the summer dawn. One potential problem occurs when you mix St. John's wort with light therapy, because it sensitizes tissues to light.'
NORMAN ROSENTHAL, psychiatrist, author of Winter Blues
"One study shows that a high-density negative ionizer can work for some milder cases. Studies show that Saint John's wort is not as effective as people thought and that tryptophan works quite well for S.A.D. We recommend that people use only commercially available light units so they get the proper brightness and filtering of ultraviolet rays."
ROBERT LEVITAN, department of psychiatry, U of T
"Winter is the worst time for most people because Mother Earth is at her rest time. In traditional times (pre-contact), it was a storytelling time. In winter we begin to wear light- and bright-coloured clothes -- yellows, light blues and greens -- to help compensate for the shorter days. Full-moon ceremonies provide a source of re-energizing. The moon is the sun of the night, it lights up the darkness."
WANDA WHITEBIRD, Bear Clan spiritual adviser (Mi'kmaq)
"Get full-spectrum lighting in at least one room of the house and spend time there. Take a vitamin B50 complex, with an additional 250 mg daily of vitamins B5 and B6. Take a couple of tablespoons of flax or hemp oil every day. Lipotropic factors like choline and inositol, found naturally in soy lecithin, help stabilize the neuron cells. I recommend a couple of tablespoons of lecithin granules a day, sprinkled on cereals and salads."
ARVIN JENAB, naturopath
"Treatment for S.A.D. should begin in late summer to help the body adapt to the changing light. The kidneys undergo a period of stress during the cold weather, and when destabilized can have an adverse effect on their diametrically opposed organ, the heart. One way to lift your mood is to lift the heart spirit by strengthening the kidneys. We recommend herbs, acupuncture and chi gung exercises.
DAVID BRAY, doctor of traditional Chinese medicine