Dr. JoAnn Yanez, AANMC executive director, joins KCAA’s NBC LA affiliate On the Brink to discuss naturopathic approaches to seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
 

 

 

 

Full Transcript of Interview Below.

Topics Include:

  • Circadian rhythm and hormonal regulation of mood
  • SAD diagnoses
  • Naturopathic treatment of SAD
  • Physiological responses to SAD
  • And More…

Erin Brinker: Welcome back, I’m Erin Brinker.

Toby Brinker: And I’m Tobin Brinker.

Erin Brinker: And we are On the Brink, the morning show on KCAA, AM 1050 FM 106.5 and FM 102.3. I’m so pleased to welcome back to the show Dr. JoAnn Yanez. She is a doctor of naturopathic medicine and the executive director for the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges. She travels the country and joins us once a month to talk about the importance of naturopathic medicine, the approach, this kind of holistic, whole body, whole person approach to health and wellness. She joins us once a month to talk about wellness and health issues. So, Dr. Yanez, welcome back to the show.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Thank you so much for having me, good morning folks.

Erin Brinker: So, have you completed all of your Christmas shopping?

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: I am happy to say I’m done.

Erin Brinker: Awesome, so do you all celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas, I know Hanukkah is past now, or-

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Yeah, we do a little bit of both. I call it religious hors d’evoursism, and-

Erin Brinker: It’s a fun way to celebrate, you’ve got the eight crazy nights and you have the Christmas Day and Christmas Eve. It’s just a big party.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: It is a big party month.

Erin Brinker: And it’s a month for over-eating. You know Tobin and I have been talking about, and I said this at work too, you know, it reminds me of that, there was a commercial for a gym and I think it was 24-Hour Fitness or Bally’s back in the day where they show these people, what did you get for Christmas? “I got a big butt, love handles.” You know, “spare tire.” And we have been feeling that, it’s just been a food fest.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Yeah, it’s really tough to keep your eating at bay and make sure that you keep up your exercise but it’s even more important now to be able to do that.

Erin Brinker: So, one of the things, and we have this to a lesser extent in Southern California, but in places where the sun is a little bit more shy in the winter, there’s a real risk of people becoming depressed.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: There is and there’s a name for it. It’s called seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and actually Friday is going to be the shortest day of the year, December 21 is our Solstice this year and really what it means, it’s not a shorter day, there’s still 24 hours, I always find that funny. But there is less sunlight. The lowest amount of sunlight during the year. And really what we see in folks, you know so much of our body and our hormones and such are regulated by something that’s called the Circadian Rhythm. The Circadian Rhythm is triggered by sunlight and so many of our hormonal processes in our body hormones like melatonin and serotonin have ups and downs based on the amount of sunlight that our body is exposed to. And so, January and February are the most common months to see seasonal affective disorder because as you know as those shorter days have worn on us, folks start to get depleted in some of the areas that lead them to become sad or more depressed in the wintertime.

Erin Brinker: So, you know it’s interesting with that, I think that the vitamin D, our bodies certainly need that as well and that comes from the sun and having insufficient vitamin D can lead to you feeling down so I’m sure that’s a part of it as well, am I correct?

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Yeah, well there are a few theories behind SAD and you know when diagnosis is made its kind of a diagnosis of exclusion and it’s one that’s made by journaling over like a couple of years so, you know, if after two years of being sad in the wintertime, that’s typically when the diagnosis will be made. But there are a number of approaches to treating seasonal affective disorder. And so, one of those-

Erin Brinker: Oops sorry, I was asking the question what can people do to combat that in themselves?

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: You know, so it’s really funny, there are a few things that folks can do. They actually make light boxes and one of the therapies is light therapy. It’s literally exposing yourself for about 30 minutes of full spectrum light per day. There’s another that’s a light alarm clock. So, they have alarm clocks that will mimic the sun in the morning and gradually expose you to increasing increments of light. They’re called dawn simulators. Things like minimizing your screen time and your exposure to light at nighttime so that you have your melatonin regulated and you increase your melatonin naturally. There are a number of other things that can be done for some of the depressive symptoms like essential oils of lavender, exercise which is by far one of the cheapest and easiest ways. Especially exercising outside if possible and I know some folks, in colder climates, will have a hard time exercising outside in the cold. But really if you can get that exposure of any sunlight on your skin. I live, you may remember this, I lived for four years in South Dakota and during certain points in the winter it actually started getting dark around 4:00.

Erin Brinker: Wow, wow, that’s really early.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: It is, yeah, so sunset would be starting, you would start to see twilight at about 4:00 or 4:30 or so. And so, it was definitely dark as far as you know, trying to get out in the sun. But I will say that if you can exercise, go for a walk outside, get as much sun exposure on some skin, any skin, doing the types of things that help folks manage their moods is really important. Vitamin D is another thing that is generally good, for most people to get their levels checked and supplement when appropriate in the wintertime. And there are other nutrients that can be helpful like essential omega 3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and possibly supplementing with melatonin. There are a number of things that can be potentially helpful for folks.

Erin Brinker: Now, one of the things that makes the holidays really festive is all the rituals that we do and so, you know, we’re very deliberate about getting together, we’re very deliberate about having parties here and there. And not that we should be partying all year long but, you know, does-

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Why not?

Erin Brinker: Okay, maybe why not, okay, and I guess that’s my question. Is being deliberate being intentional about creating spaces for people to be together, does that lift your mood?

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: It depends on the people you’re around.

Erin Brinker: Oh, I suppose that’s true. That’s true.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: I think for each person it’s very individual as to the types of things that improve their mood but specifically for seasonal affective disorder, sunlight is really the therapy and so as much as a person can get exposure to sunlight, you know, if you’re truly diagnosed you can have a sun box prescribed for you. Getting out, getting exercise outside, those things all have been shown to be helpful. You know again, I think that, you know, if there’s journaling or cognitive behavioral therapy there are a number of things that can help people manage depressive symptoms better. And one thing that I will say just as a Naturopathic Physician, when folks are down it’s very common to crave carbohydrates. And in craving carbohydrates that gives you a temporary boost and then you get a crash afterwards and so just being mindful if there is a craving for extra carbohydrates that you’re balancing that with protein and that you’re recognizing, one thing that I always have patients ask is, “Am I truly hungry and is the food choice I am about to make going to move me in the direction of health or in the other way? You know just being mindful of those food choices as they’re making them throughout the year and so that carb craving can also happen with folks who are a bit down. Just be mindful that can actually worsen symptoms.

Erin Brinker: That’s so me. When I’m tired, when I’m overwhelmed, when I’m down, when I’m feeling depressed, I crave carbs like there’s no tomorrow. And yeah there’s a physiological reason for it, doesn’t make an excuse, but at least I feel a little validated because I sit there and eat the carbs and say, “What the heck is wrong with me?”

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Right, it’s actually a body’s kind of coping mechanism to increase some of the happy hormones that get released when you have those carbs. So again, trying substituting protein for that carb snack instead of the carbs. Go and grab a meat stick, or-

Erin Brinker: Almonds.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Almonds. You know something full fat and high in protein, or drinking water. You know, before you go and reach for the carbs go grab a glass of water. Grab a glass of unsweetened tea, you know, and try and curb it. Most of those cravings actually will go away within 30 seconds to a minute if you distract yourself. And so those are the types of things you can do. Get up and go for a walk. Do a couple of squats. Go do a couple of pushups against the counter, you know something to kind of break that, you know, it’s very similar advice to what we tell folks when they’re quitting smoking or quitting other things that they are addicted to, is to go and do something else besides the thing they want to do.

Erin Brinker: Great advice for whatever it is, whatever monkey is on your back.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Yes.

Erin Brinker: So how do people find out more about the Association for Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Well we’re all over the Interweb, AANMC.org, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc. You can find us all over. We host free monthly webinars. Next month’s webinar is on career changers. So, we have two medical doctors who changed gears and became naturopathic physicians and they are both going to be talking about their journey’s as well as other folks who may be interested in changing a career to become a naturopathic doctor. And I know a lot of times around the holidays and around the New Year, people are contemplating what they are doing in their lives and changing careers can be one of those.

Erin Brinker: We had that conversation as we were getting ready for work this morning. We were getting ready to come to our show. Tobin and I did, you’re right, people start, you know you kind of evaluate, am I doing what I want to be doing? Am I heading in the right direction? And the best way to make the right decision is to find out as much as you can about your options.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Exactly, yeah, that’s it.

Erin Brinker: Dr. Yanez, thank you so much JoAnn, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s always enlightening and it’s always a treat. How do people find you on social media?

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: I’ve got my own handle on Twitter as well it’s @DrJoAnnYanez, you can find me there.

Erin Brinker: Well thank you so much. Happy Holidays and Happy New Year and we will talk to you again in January.

Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Sounds good, Happy New Year.

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