By: Michela Reinink
As the winter begins to ease up and we get more hours of daylight, some may start to notice that their mood has improved significantly, or that the struggles they faced with mental illness for the past several months begin to relent. This may be an indicator of seasonal affective disorder.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a real mood disorder that affects individuals during the same season each year, which is typically winter. The symptoms of SAD are the same as those of depression, including changes in appetite; trouble sleeping; a sad, despairing mood that persists throughout the day; and lasts more than two weeks. These symptoms impair a person’s day-to-day life by promoting the loss of interest in hobbies; increasing distractibility; and contributing to thoughts of suicide (CAMH, 2020). Research shows that SAD is triggered by changes in the amount of light that a person is exposed to. These changes in light may disturb a person’s biological clock that controls the sleep cycle and may disturb the proper functioning of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine (CAMH, 2020).
There are certain factors that increase chances of developing SAD that are largely out of a person’s control. For example, women are more likely to be diagnosed with SAD than men (CAMH, 2020). Additionally, individuals with a family history of depression and adolescents are more likely to develop the mood disorder (Booker and Hellekson, 1992). Increased distance from the equator can also increase chances of being affected by SAD, as those closer to the equator experience less fluctuations in the amount of daylight they experience from season to season. In the United States, SAD affects only 1.4% of Floridians, but 9.9% of Alaskans (Booker and Hellekson, 1992).
However, this does not mean that those who develop SAD are destined to a life of perpetual winter depression. Some evidence suggests the use of light therapy in reducing SAD symptoms (Terman et al., 1989). Light therapy involves exposing the patient to a lightbox, which emits more lumens than normal indoor lights, mimicking natural light more closely. One study investigated the anti-depressant effects on people with SAD by comparing the photo-effects to a negative control group. It was found that the exposure to bright light positively affected the mood of the group affected by SAD, but not those in the control group (Kasper et al., 1989). Additionally, the beneficial effects on patients depended on the length of exposure time, with a longer period being more effective. Although it is not practical for most people to dedicate a substantial amount of time to light therapy, doctors generally recommend 30-60 minutes daily.
There are several other methods of treatment for SAD. Medication may be prescribed during the winter months as anticipatory treatment. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have been found to be effective in treating SAD (Modell et al., 2005). Physical exercise is recommended to SAD patients, as well as a balanced diet. Furthermore, having a strong support network is important, and speaking to friends, family, colleagues, or a therapist is highly encouraged. Regardless of the seasonality of this mood disorder, SAD is a serious issue, and people who are affected do not have to wait until spring to get better, but are encouraged to reach out and ask for help to find solutions.
Booker, J. M. and C. J. Hellekson. (1992). Prevalence of seasonal affective disorder in Alaska. The American Journal of Psychiatry 149(9): 1176-1182.
Howland RH (January 2009). "Somatic therapies for seasonal affective disorder". Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services 47 (1): 17–20.
Kasper, S., Rogers, S. L., Yancey, A., Schulz, P. M., Skwerer, R. G., & Rosenthal, N. E. (1989). Phototherapy in individuals with and without subsyndromal seasonal affective disorder. Archives of General Psychiatry, 46(9), 837–844.
Modell, J. G., N. E. Rosenthal, A. E. Harriett, A. Krishen, A. Asgharian, V. J. Foster, A. Metz, C. B. Rockett, D. S. Wightman. (2005). Seasonal affective disorder and its prevention by anticipatory treatment with bupropion XL. Biological Psychiatry 58(8):658-667.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). (2020). CAMH. Retrieved from: https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/seasonal-affective-disorder
Terman, M, J. S. Terman, F. M. Quitkin, P. J. McGrath, J. W. Stewart and B. Rafferty. (1989). Light therapy for seasonal affective disorder: a review of efficacy. Neuropsychopharmacology 2(1):1-22.
By: Michela Reinink
Thanks in part to many celebrities, including the likes of Khloe Kardashian, Cardi B, and Iggy Azalea, promoting weight-loss detox teas to their fans in sponsored posts on Instagram, the use of laxatives as a weight loss method is becoming increasingly normalized. Now part of everyday wellness, companies that sell these detox teas package their products nicely, using words such as “cleanse”, all whilst minimizing the reality of the products. The truth is that laxatives cause bowels to empty and frequent urination. Despite some backlash, notably from Jameela Jamil, “feminist-in-training”, these products are continuously promoted for their tummy-flattening results. However, research shows that their effects on long-term health are highly questionable.
Laxatives are commonly used as a part of disordered eating to such a degree that the UK government ordered a review by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency to determine whether or not tighter restrictions are needed on the sale of these products (BBC: Health, 2018). Professor Stephen Powers, NHS medical director said, 'Highly influential celebrities are letting down the very people who look up to them by peddling products which are at best ineffective and at worst harmful,' (Ives, 2019). In Manhattan, councilman Mark Levine is pushing the health department to ban the sale of flat-tummy teas and other products, such as weight loss lollipops (Pazmino, 2019). So how and why are these laxative detox teas harmful to health?
One of the ingredients used in these weight-loss products is senna, an FDA-approved, over-the-counter laxative (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2019) that can be used for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and anal fissures, or to prepare for colonoscopies. However, the U.S. National Library of Medicine warns that it is possibly unsafe to use senna in high-doses and/or over an extended period of time. Long-term use can result in heart function disorders, muscle weakness, liver damage, and colon weakness (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2019). It can also cause dependence on laxatives, wherein bowels cease to function normally. This is a benefit to weight-loss brands, as dependent customers are returning customers.
According to an evidence review of detox diets published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, there is minimal clinical evidence to support the use of such diets (Klein and Kiat, 2014). Clinical studies that have been funded by private commercial companies have been shown to contain flawed methodologies and small sample sizes. Additionally, there have been no randomized controlled trials conducted to determine the effectiveness of commercial detox diets in humans (Klein and Kiat, 2014). Therefore, there is insufficient evidence to properly determine the effectiveness of senna for weight loss purposes.
When it comes to human health, if it seems too good to be true, it usually is. With weight loss quick-fixes, water weight is usually purged first, followed by muscle mass, giving the impression of immediate results. However, experts agree that this is not sustainable, and that for long-term weight loss, there should be a focus on lowering body fat percentage; something that detox teas cannot help to achieve.
The area of laxative detox weight loss products deserves an increase in attention from the scientific community, to ensure that consumers have access to reliable information and can make well-informed decisions surrounding their health. More than just warnings about the potential dangers of these celebrity-endorsed treatments, there is a need for hard data and peer-reviewed experiments. People should turn to experts to answer questions about their health, and refrain from taking advice from celebrities who are being paid to promote a certain product.
BBC: Health. (2018). Laxative sales may be restricted under government review. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-45624471
Ives, L. (2019). Celebrity ads for diet aids should be banned, says top doctor. BBC: Health. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/news/health-47090374
Klein, A. V. and H. Kiat. (2014). Detox diets for toxin elimination and weight management: a critical review of the evidence. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.
Pazmino, G. (2019). Council legislation takes aim at detox tea industry backed by celebrities. Spectrum News. Retrieved from: https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2019/04/10/council-legislation-takes-aim-at-detox-tea-industry-backed-by-celebrities-
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2019). Senna. Retrieved from: https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/652.html