Fibromyalgia and Seasonal Affective Disorder


Do you start feeling rundown, and have an increase in fibromyalgia symptoms every Year around late October and do not feel better until the following April or May?

You are not alone in this problem, more than 50% of fibromyalgia sufferers report symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Your dilemma probably has more than just one cause, so we are going to discuss the more obvious causes, such as shorter daylight hours, colder weather and, if you live in a northern climate, lots of ice, snow and overcast skies.

Circadian Rhythm

Our bodies have an internal clock that is set to the rise and fall of the sun; this is called the circadian rhythm. The normal workings of this “clock” can be disrupted by the fewer hours of sunlight that occur in the winter months…and seem to be worse the further away from the equator you live.

This decrease in daylight hours can also create a kind of chemical imbalance in the brain causing an imbalance in the hormones serotonin, melatonin and dopamine. This can cause symptoms such as:

  • Excessive Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of libido
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Food cravings (especially carbohydrates and sugars)
  • Weight gain
  • Depression, feeling of hopelessness and despair

If you have fibromyalgia, you can also experience multiple increases in symptoms such as:

  • Muscle stiffness and pain
  • Insomnia
  • Inability to stay asleep
  • Anxiety (like everything is closing in and you don’t know what to do)
  • Sadness
  • Tendency to withdraw socially
  • Mental fogginess
  • Memory problems
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Debilitating stress

“Stop the world and let me get off until springtime!!”

Be sure to discuss any supplements or therapies you are considering as a way of dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder with your nutritionist or naturopathic doctor.  Your nutritionist or naturopathic doctor knows what medications and supplements you are presently taking. Some supplements, though safe, could have serious reactions to some medications, other supplements or even present health concerns.

Below, is a listing of the supplements and therapies most effectively used to combat seasonal affective disorder:
  • Magnesium (supports a balanced manufacturing of serotonin and melatonin)
  • Malic acid (malic acid supports the mitochondria and works with magnesium to reduce pain)
  • Tryptophan (a precursor of serotonin)
  • Vitamin D3 (Vitamin D3 activates the genes that release dopamine and serotonin.)
  • Omega-3s (have a role in the synthesis of serotonin, and are thought to elevate mood)
  • Vitamin B (needed to synthesize serotonin)
  • Sublingual B12 and folic acid and B6 (known to be effective for many symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder).
  • Light therapy boxes. (You do not stare into the light, you just sit in front of the light for the recommended amount of time as you read, sew, knit etc.) Not everyone finds this light therapy to be beneficial, but it does seem to help some people.
  • Getting out in the sunshine when there is a nice sunshiny day can increase serotonin levels.
  • An increase in exercise can help increase dopamine levels.

If you are suffering from the effects of Seasonal Effective Disorder, keep in mind that increasing D3 decreases magnesium levels; so you must increase magnesium also. Insufficient levels of magnesium can increase your symptoms by preventing the production of serotonin and melatonin.

To boost magnesium levels, take a good form of magnesium (such as magnesium glycinate or magnesium citrate) at bedtime. If you take other supplements or medications before bedtime, take them one hour before taking magnesium as it may reduce their benefits.

Effects caused by Cold Weather

Cold weather does not necessarily cause you to be deficient in thyroid hormones, but your thyroid gland will find it very difficult, during colder weather, to circulate thyroid hormones to the many parts of the body where they are needed.

For example, when your brain is low on needed thyroid hormones, you can experience fatigue, fuzzy-headedness, confusion and many other symptoms of a brain deficient in thyroid hormones.

In the Antarctic, Dr. Lester Reed conducted a study in which he concluded that living in cold climates may cause the muscles to hoard thyroid hormone in an attempt to increase body heat.

In this instance, increasing serotonin levels is not the solution so much as keeping toasty warm and supplying the thyroid with much needed nutrients like the omega 3 fatty acids,  DHA, EPA and vitamin D3.

I do hope this will be a much easier winter for you. Drop me a line and share your story if you have found relief from the winter doldrums using these suggestions.

Take care of yourself and have a healthy warmer winter.