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Monday, October 29, 2012

When the Lack of Sunlight Is More than a Bummer: Identifying Seasonal Affective Disorder

As published in the Washington Observer-Reporter

With another summer of beach vacations and trips to Kennywood in our rearview mirror, sun worshippers joke of the "depression" this time of year brings. While this is meant in jest for many, up to 10% of Americans have a diagnosable depression whose trigger is the unavoidable flip of a calendar.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD, for short) is the name of this wintertime menace.

As the earth tilts away from the sun – what we commonly call fall and winter – our days shorten. Our bodies are able to sense this decrease in light due to receptors on the top of our heads, in our eyes and on the back of our knees. (Yes, the back of our knees.) This decrease in light can throw off our circadian rhythm (or sleep-wake cycle) and the 24-hour cycle our body is used to, leading to changes in mood, energy, appetite and more.

Apparently, it's like jet lag.

"When people have jet lag it's because their bodies have been operating at a certain circadian rhythm,” said Dr. Michael Franzen, chief psychologist at the West Penn Allegheny Health System with 30 years in practice. “They suddenly go to a different area, the sun is entering receptor areas at a different time than they used to, and they're out of sorts with their circadian rhythm. Those are the same receptors that are probably involved in SAD,"

Dr. Franzen – who, more specifically, is a neurophysiologist and studies the intersection of the psychological with the physiological – explains that the production of chemicals in our bodies such as melatonin and perhaps serotonin and some hormones are dependent upon these light receptors. Ultimately, a change in light means a change in the amount of these chemicals available to our bodies.

Okay, circadian-schmircadian, but what does SAD feel like?

Seasonal Affective Disorder is really just a variant of Major Depressive Disorder and is characterized by sluggishness, loss of interest, lower energy/tiredness, withdrawal from social activities, weight gain (because of carbohydrate cravings), loss of interest in sex, irritability and hopelessness – all symptoms seen in classic depression.

Another similarity between the two disorders: They are both more likely to affect women.

According to Dr. Franzen, "The main thing is, for people who may think they have it, does this tend to increase during the time that the days are shortening – especially mid-to-late fall with peak levels in the dead of winter – and tend to subside as the days get longer?’

“If they have those symptoms, whether they're related to the seasons or not, they should still seek help."

Help in this case isn't a medication you can't pronounce with side-effects you can't tolerate. It's light.

Since a decrease in the shiny rays – as sensed by those eye, head and knee receptors – is the culprit, increasing one's exposure to light is one of the solutions. And, no, you don't have to shine it on the back of your knees.

Sitting two feet in front of a specially made lamp that emits ultraviolet light – called a "light box" – for 20-60 minutes either at the beginning or end of the day is successful treatment for 40% of those suffering from SAD. For the other 60%, a mixture of therapies ranging from light box therapy, to talk therapy to the use of anti-depressants are used to beat the "winter blues".

But that may change.

"Where the research is going now is to try to find the underlying neuro-chemical basis for [SAD] in order to make pharmacological treatment more precise and more effective," said Dr. Franzen.

What might change is the definition of "pharmacological.” As more is discovered about the genetics and naturally-occurring chemicals involved in SAD, don't be surprised if future treatments include vitamins or hormonal supplements.

Bottom line? Be aware. If you recognize these symptoms in yourself or fellow man, remember the importance of seeking treatment from a trained professional.

Also, on a far-less-serious note, be aware that back-of-the-knee light receptor discussions at parties will absolutely label you "quirky.”

Monday, October 1, 2012

Stylish and au Naturale? Bridgeville, PA Salon Fits the Bill

As American women, we often get the short end of the mascara wand when it comes to beauty.

We're bombarded with images of "ideal" women enhanced by time-consuming, expensive and not-so-healthy beauty regimes, but simultaneously we are warned of the cancer-causing and hormone-altering molecules in nearly every beauty product that might elevate all of us to bombshell status.

"Where's the middle ground?" the little voice in our heads might scream.

Newly-remodeled in turquoise and black and celebrating their fifth year in business, Hair 2 Sole Beauty Studio in Bridgeville meets the south-of-Pittsburgh woman right where she is.

With the perfect mixture of traditional beauty services provided with low-toxin and organic products, the mascara wand just got longer.

"We're local, but we're not that stuffy salon where you can't have fun," said salon owner Alana Gibbs, who’s a Chartiers Valley High School graduate

And, it's affordable. While the term "organic" can sometimes imply a devastating price tag, Hair 2 Sole’s prices allow us all to become low-toxin beauties, with women's haircuts starting at $20 and basic facials starting at $35.

While Hair 2 Sole offers services that even the most extreme of earth-lovin'-mothers might seek, Gibbs has created a very accessible atmosphere for the Bridgeville salon. No incense; no PETA advertisements. What you will find, however, are bottles of olive oil, bags of sugar and fresh-ground strawberries--all ingredients for the salon's specialty facials. 

"A lot of the things that are so great for you internally are also great for you externally," says Hair 2 Sole aesthetician and strawberry-grinder, Carrie Sullivan. 

It isn't all fun and games for this civic-minded staff of seven, however. Aside from their environmentally conscious products, the beauty mavens at Hair 2 Sole just spent their fourth year volunteering at Camp Raising Spirits, a retreat for adult cancer patients held each June in Laurelville.

"They do a lot of things to help us out and provide us with their expertise in foot and leg massage,” said Sandra Lee Schafer, Camp Raising Spirits core committee co-chair and H2S open house attendee. “They have the gift to be able to approach people correctly.”

Okay, okay. So they're all-around do-gooders, but what about the quality of these products?

It's definitely time to rid ourselves of the "if it burns, it means it's working" mentality; Hair 2 Sole lacquers nails with Zoya, a non-carcinogenic, low-odor, safe-for-pregnant-women nail polish that’s made in Ohio and usually lasts 7-10 days. At only $8 per bottle, you might consider taking one home with you at the end of your $14 manicure.

That's right, only $14.

And, the hair color is no different. L'Oreal Professional-made Inoa hair color uses an oil delivery system instead of the usual ammonia, which not only pampers your locks but also seals in more of the color.

"Even after the second or third shampoo no color washed out,” said H2S client Randi Kania. “My hair wasn't dry after. I barely need to condition it. It's really nice.”

So, whether you're mainstream and fabulous or a kale-eating queen, Hair 2 Sole on Hickman Street in Bridgeville brings you beauty services conscious of your body, community and wallet.