It's that time of year again!
The days are shorter. Sunlight is hard to find. We bundle up against the cold. We also put on the extra winter pounds, sleep more and move less. For those who live in the northern latitudes, the shorter days of winter are a reality. And this can affect our mood and general health. As we exercise less, our blood flow slows down. We feel more fatigued, more hopeless. The risk of cardiovascular disease increases.
There is a syndrome doctors know about---called "seasonal affective disorder" or SAD. It is very prevelant in northern latitudes. Most of the association is with mood, or levels of depression. But it is also linked to cardiovascular disease.
What connection does this have with MS?
MS is a disease linked to northern latitudes, lack of vitamin D and lack of ultraviolet rays. And we are learning more about the vascular risk.
For 68 years latitude has been identified as an important risk factor in the occurrence of multiple sclerosis (MS), but not satisfactory explanation has been offered for this relationship. Epidemiological studies of MS, however, have failed to take into account the degree of change in the amount of ambient light over the course of the year, a variable which is closely related to photoperiod and latitude. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), another illness for which latitude is a risk factor, appears to be related to the decrease in ambient light during the winter months, and offers some relevant insights into the geographical distribution of risk for developing MS.
There is a very strong correlation between UV rays, photorelaxation and cardiovascular disease.
Here's a small sampling on this research.
Dr. Furchgott and the Discovery of Photorelaxation
I've been reading up on the effect of UV rays on the body, and I came back to the research of Nobel prize winning researcher, Dr. Robert F. Furchgott. He passed away in 2009, and his university keeps his web page online. Dr. Furchgott was a professor at SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn, NY---the same place where Dr. Sal Sclafani recently retired and where the first CCSVI conference was held in the US! Here's Dr. Furchgott's page--
Dr. Furchgott discovered the process of photorelaxation over 40 years ago. What he noted in the lab was that exposure to UV rays changed the endothelium, encouraging nitric oxide production and vasodilation of arteries.
In 2009, before he passed, he stated the current working hypothesis--
The present working hypothesis is that light photoactivates some material in the vascular smooth muscle, causing the release of some product which stimulates the guanylyl cyclase to produce cGMP. We are planning experiments to test this hypothesis. One possibility is that the vascular smooth muscle in vivo accumulates some "end pro" formed from the endothelium-derived nitric oxide, and that this product releases NO intracellularly when exposed to the proper wavelengths of light.
Photorelaxation and the Cardiovascular system
Research into the connection of blood pressure and cardiovascular disease in northern latitudes continues....and the connection appears to be that of nitric oxide and UV rays.
Interestingly, mean systolic and diastolic pressures and the prevalence of hypertension vary throughout the world. Many data suggest a linear rise in blood pressure at increasing distances from the equator. Similarly, blood pressure is higher in winter than summer.3
What can we do about this?
How can we alleviate SAD, and maybe lessen MS symptoms during the winter months?
I'm going to suggest that for those in the northern latitudes, you might want to look into treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Talk to you doctor about this, especially before beginning a new exercise program or diet.
Do all you can to keep your vitamin D level optimized, but also look into UV treatment with an approved light box.
Move as much as you are able. Keep exercising, keep the body in motion.
Stick to your healthy diet. Lots of fresh greens and fruits. Yes, produce is harder to find. Move to frozen veggies and fruits- if you're unable to find fresh produce.
If you're feeling depressed, please talk to family members, friends and your doctor. The "winter blues" are not normal, and could be sign of other issues, like SAD. There is no need for you to suffer in silence.
MS is difficult enough. If the winter months are bringing a worsening of your symptoms, and a change in your mood---please look for help.
You are not alone.