Light Therapy Review

A few months ago I purchased a dawn simulation / light-therapy lamp. Before this, regardless how early I fell sleep, waking up before sunrise would leave me groggy and slow moving for hours. I even tried moving my bedtime up to 8PM but still woke up wanting more sleep!

The theory behind “light-boxes” is that they produce the same frequency of light as the sun, thereby stimulating serotonin production in the brain. Release of serotonin at the start of the day is one of the primary methods by which our body regulates wakefulness and alertness in the morning.

The specific model I purchased is the BlueMax Sunrise System Model 320. I picked this one because it is the only one that has a built in alarm function AND bulbs capable of reaching 10,000 LUX. The alarm function allows the user to set a wake period so that the light grows gradually brighter. The powerful bulbs emit a level of light that is supposed to be effective in treating S.A.D. (Season Affective Disorder).

Below are the pros and cons I have experienced with my specific light-box.

Pros:

  1. I definitely felt more alert in the morning after a mere 15 minutes of exposure to this light.
  2. It is small and durable enough to move from one room to the other. This allowed me to use it while preparing food in the kitchen and then move it to my dining table during breakfast.
  3. This could entirely be placebo but the notion of having a “serotonin-stimulating” tool available helped get me out of bed immediately upon rising.

Cons:

  1. This model cost $165. The price is justified by the company because it is the only light on the market that offers full spectrum bulbs AND an alarm function.
  2. The time and date settings get erased upon unplugging. This may not be a problem if the light-box is only used as an alarm clock in the bedroom. However, I wanted more exposure time before leaving my apartment, which meant I carried it from one room to another, completely negating the clock functions.
  3. Although I have not had any bulbs die in the 2 months I’ve owned this lamp, I have heard that they cannot be changed. This is a major issue considering the price of the light and the fact that it has over a dozen tiny internal bulbs.

Ultimately, I would not recommend this specific model.

A typical “light-therapy” box can be purchased for as little as $50. The clock and alarm function on this model does not justify the $100 price difference. Plus, if you are like me and want to start your day with as much “blue-light” exposure as possible, the clock will have to be reset every night in order to use the alarm setting the following morning.

I would recommend buying a basic light therapy lamp capable of 10,000 LUX. The exposure to this light has definitely helped improve my morning alertness while reducing the time it takes for me to get moving.

Remember, there will never be a substitute for 8 to 9 hours of quality sleep! But, if you are like me and have trouble getting up before the sun rises, an investment in one of these lights may make your mornings a little bit easier.

320

Seasonal Affective Disorder

For all of my followers in the northeast United States, it’s that time of the year again!

The sun is rising late and setting early, the sky is cloudy, and the temperature is dropping. All this can contribute to a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.).

S.A.D. affects about 6% of the United States every year. Common symptoms may include oversleeping, low energy, carb cravings, poor focus, social withdrawal, lack of pleasure, and hopelessness.

It is believed that S.A.D. is caused by a lack of sunlight, resulting in a skewed circadian rhythm and lowered serotonin levels.

Fortunately, there are many things one can do to combat symptoms and improve their emotions and outlook.

The first step is to purchase a “lightbox” for light therapy. These emit a much brighter and whiter light than typical lamps. Exposure to this bright light, particularly first thing in the morning, will simulate the sunrise, improving serotonin production and establishing a healthy circadian rhythm.

I am in the process of purchasing such a light source and will provide a review of my personal experience with this protocol.

The second recommendation is to stay active. Find 30 to 60 minutes every day for exercise. Exercise is known to improve mood by providing a sense of success as well as releasing endorphins in the brain.

The last recommendation I can make is to eat healthy. This means starting your day with a large serving of protein and ending your day with a moderate serving of carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes or fruits. Adequate protein in the morning, and throughout the day, will provide the body and brain with amino acids necessary for healthy cognitive function and stable emotions. Carbs at night will help induce sleep and up-regulate serotonin production. Eat fewer carbs throughout the day to avoid blood sugar crashes, causing lethargy and furthering negative emotions.

Many people find success with certain supplements. I personally have tried 5-HTP (a serotonin precursor), GABA (a dopamine precursor), and melatonin (the brains natural sleep chemical). Thus far, the melatonin seems to be the most effective, but only at regulating proper sleep-wake cycles. I noticed no results from any other supplement, regardless of timing or dose.

I do increase my supplemental Vitamin D in the winter from 2,000 to 5,000 or 10,000 a day. I don’t notice a direct result from this but I’m lucky if I get 5 minutes of direct sunlight a day when the temperature drops below freezing. Sunlight is our only significant source of vitamin D, and low levels have been linked to depression as well as many physical conditions.

Finally, there is always the option of medications. If feelings of hopelessness or despair become strong enough, visit a doctor to discuss further options.

I will post a follow up after I experiment with light therapy / dawn simulation for a few weeks. Try these tactics and let me know if you have some of your own!

SAD

Ketosis

As I mentioned a few posts ago, some words are met with a great deal of confusion. An example of this, and the topic of today’s post, is the word “ketosis”.

When I use the word ketosis, most people immediately think of “ketoacidosis”.

Ketoacidosis is a condition that occurs in Type 1 diabetics or alcoholics. Simply put, the body becomes dependent upon sugar and loses the ability to use fats or proteins for energy. The energy substrates produced from fat, known as ketones, accumulate in the blood, increasing acidity, and causing a host of health issues, potentially leading to death.

However, ketoacidosis is quite different from ketosis.

Ketosis is the human body’s natural energy state. When an infant is born, it is born in ketosis. When we wake up, we are in ketosis. Whenever we go more than a few hours without sugar, we start producing ketones.

Ketosis is simply the body using fat, instead of sugar, for energy.

Even with regular carbohydrate intake, most of us should be able to go in and out of ketosis frequently. This is because the body’s production of ketones varies based upon activity level and energy sources available.

After a week or two of no sugar, the body will start producing and running exclusively off of ketones (as long as too much protein is not consumed). With regular sugar consumption, the body will have a much more immediate energy source and therefore will not produce as many ketone bodies.

However, the body can still achieve ketosis with a moderate intake of carbs if an individual is eating fewer calories than they need to maintain their weight. In this situation, the body will first use the sugar consumed but, since not enough calories are being consumed, the body will start breaking down its own fat stores for energy.

So, why am I talking about ketosis to begin with?

Well, as I mentioned, it is how the body uses its own fat stores for energy. However, with supermarkets, convenience stores, and fast-food restaurants every few blocks, very few of us ever go long enough without sugar to become as “fat-adapted” as humans were meant to be.

To ensure my body is able to use every fuel efficiently, I spend about 2 months of early spring in ketosis. This means I don’t consume any carbs beyond fibrous vegetables. Also, I don’t over consume protein in an attempt to gain muscle mass, as extra protein will be converted to glucose via gluconeogenesis.

Not only does this help my body run efficiently regardless of my access to sugar, but it is also a very easy way to lean out. In just the first week of lower carb consumption, most people will lose 5 to 10 pounds from depleting their glycogen stores and not holding as much water weight.

Also, it is the constant fluctuation of insulin levels, and leptin signaling, from a short-term energy source such as carbohydrates, that dictates our hunger levels. So, when we are consuming healthy fats, fibrous veggies, and protein, our bodies don’t experience frequent drops in blood sugar and ravenous hunger or cravings for more sugar.

Finally, I find my time spent in ketosis helps improve my mood and energy levels. Usually my mind is racing and I am prone to seeing the negative side of things. However, when I am not regularly running off sugar, my thoughts are a lot more organized and focused while my energy is far more stable. This is because ketones are the most therapeutic fuel for the brain.

Ketosis, or limiting sugar intake, is becoming more commonly understood as doctors learn it is an effective way to prevent seizures in epileptics, reverse certain forms of cancer, or treat other conditions.

However, I feel the need to remind all my readers that I am not a doctor. I am not recommending a ketogenic diet for everyone. As with anything pertaining to the human body, if done incorrectly, it can be quite dangerous.

But, if you would like to try something a little different, and more natural than crash-diets and weight loss supplements, please contact me directly via e-mail or phone.

Remember – I’m here for you!

Prehab – Scapula & Rotator Cuff

Hello everyone! I hope you all enjoyed the recipe last week and were able to indulge in a pizza night without the negative health consequences.

This week, I wanted to discuss one topic that I am beginning to find more and more important during my fitness endeavors – prehab movements.

We probably all know that rehab, or rehabilitation, is necessary after certain injuries or imbalances are discovered. Physical therapists are some of the best trained individuals to help with these issues. However, why wait until an issue occurs to correct a problem in the body?

A few months ago, as the weight on my presses increased, I started to have some discomfort in my rear shoulder. After some consideration, I added in more shoulder and scapular stability work using simple bodyweight or elastic band movements. My scapular stability, and rotator cuff strength, has definitely improved, and there’s no way I’m skipping these movements in the future.

Just to review, the scapula is the shoulder blade, and the strength of the upper back muscles, particularly between the scapulae, will dictate not only shoulder and back health, but also posture.

I cycle regular scapular stability and rotator cuff exercises into my client’s routines but, a useful way to determine your own scapular stability is as follows. Stand straight and hold a pencil in each hand. Let your arms rest naturally at your sides. Now look down.

If the pencil tips are pointed in, focus on strengthening the muscles between the shoulder blades, using motions that involve pinching the shoulder blades back and down, known as scapular retraction and depression.

If the pencils are pointed out, work on flexibility and mobility of the upper back, specifically the thoracic spine. Foam rolling, or rolling on a lacrosse ball, can be very effective, yet slightly painful in the beginning. Just stick with it!

Finally, if the tips are straight, you are either one of the lucky ones that have perfect posture, or you’ve kept up with your scapular stability work!

As people age, we tend to develop a rounded upper back with our shoulder blades spreading apart. This is referred to as kyphosis. The main causes of this condition are: lack of upper back strength, forcing individuals to rely upon their upper shoulder and neck muscles (that have far less strength potential); as well as improper posture and muscle tightness, particularly common when seated at a desk or doing chores.

Some of the best exercises for shoulder health and scapular stability would be internal and external rotations with elastic bands, or light dumbbell’s, as well as rowing movements and face-pulls. Some slightly more difficult options would be ITYW’s, lat-shrugs, and scap-pushups. (Feel free to click any of these individual exercises to navigate to a page that describes the movement and has a helpful image.)

I will continue this theme of prehab movements in future posts, focusing on other common areas of injury or imbalance in the human body. Please feel free to post questions in the comment section, or contact me directly, if you’d like any more information for your specific situations!