Tanning Salons and Seasonal Affective Disorder

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This time of year a significant number of people are plagued by what is called This time of year a significant number of people are plagued by what is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This comes on with the onset of winter and the cold and reduced hours of daylight that accompany it. Even though many sufferers don't talk about it much and it's not well publicized, symptoms can include depression and any number of the symptoms that depression causes, including lack of energy, aches and pain and general malaise.

The science behind the disorder is that the reduced hours of daylight affects the production of melatonin, which regulates sleep. So when days are shorter, the additional melatonin often leaves people sleepy or drowsy. It may not be that severe in our modern culture, however, when many people spend many hours indoors at home or at work and use artificial lights at night,

Unfortunately, drowsiness is not SAD's only symptom. With the extra secretion of melatonin in dark months, there is a proportional reduction in the production of a neurotransmitter (a protein regulating brain function) called serotonin, which has a serious psychological impact. It affects body temperature, blood pressure regulation, memory and mood. Serious lacks of serotonin can cause chronic fatigue syndrome and often depression in some people.

The reason that this is called Seasonal Affective Disorder, as mentioned, is that the problem is largely caused by a lack of adequate sunlight. There are studies that suggest that sunlight increase serotonin and levels of vitamin D in the body. There are many possible benefits of these two chemicals in the body, including their anticarcinogenic, antipsoriatic, antioxidant, anti-osteoporotic, immunomodulatory, properties. And importantly to SAD, vitamin D also regulates mood.

The UV exposure that is experienced by those that frequent tanning salons also increases UV rays and thus the mood enhancement that serotonin can also bring. Some even maintain the habit regularly because of the feeling of well-being that it causes. But it is also well known that the UV rays even in tanning salons cause skin damage, and may even contribute to premature aging and skin cancer.

There may be a solution that deals with both issues, Light therapy may present a way to avoid the consequences of reduced serotonin and the multiple bad consequences with out the negative long-term effects of UV rays. The light that increase serotonin need not be UV rays, they just need to be bright. Spending about an hour a day outdoors is the simplest way to get enough bright light, increasing serotonin levels. Outdoors the light levels range from 1-50 thousand lux, where inside they are only fifty to twenty lux,

Often weather or schedules don't permit spending that kind of time outdoors, and an alternative is to purchase a light therapy machine. For the best effects it has to be quite bright, around 5000 lux, and it has to be in the "blue" spectrum of the light range, or about 460 nanometers. Research has shown that light in the blue spectrum has benefits even at lower levels. Some light bulb companies are even attempting to mimic this, to give people some of the benefits of sunlight.

Though everything seems to have its down sides, as artificial light of all types seems to interfere with things such as sleep habits, especially when they use lots of light at night time, and in some people it even triggers manic depression. While it will certainly be interesting to watch the research on this issue to see what develops, the current best alternative seems to be to get outdoor light when possible, making sure that UV protection in the form of sun block is used.

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