Saturday, September 6, 2014

This Winter I'll Try Not to Be SAD

Preface
I'm of Swiss, German, and Swedish ancestry so you'd think I'd be immune to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but come the shorter, colder days and my pineal gland wigs out. I seem to get worse the older I get. Short of blinding my eyes with a lightbulb each day I've started something in the hopes to alleviate the effects of my least favorite seasons of Autumn and Winter (is coming).

What's My Plan?
If I were wealthy I'd merely hemisphere hop from north to south to avoid the shorter, colder days. If I were a genius scientist I'd modify my genes and grow a pair of sturdy wings. Meanwhile as I wait for one or both of these things to transpire, I will avail myself of taking specific dietary vitamins and supplements.

Serotonin: The Happiest Neurotransmitter
I may not be a genius scientist, but I did study biology and earned a bachelor's degree in the subject as well as complete one year of graduate study. Though my education was focused on generalized molecular biology and biochemistry, on my own time I would read about endocrinology and assorted other medically related topics.While I knew of serotonin I never took much interest in it until I started not making enough of it and felt the effects of that deficiency.


Serotonin
Nine years ago I opted to have a permanent ileostomy as a way to treat my ulcerative colitis. What I didn't know at the time is that serotonin is primarily made in the intestines. Though I had my colon removed in 1990, if I had any bouts of depression it was not apparent, yet looking back on it I can now say that I did have issues during the gloomy seasons only it was mild. By the time I had my last surgery in 2005 I had lost additional portions of my small intestine. I don't have exact numbers but I'll assume I have about 90-80% of my small bowel.

I initially tried treating my depression with the standard SSRI medications. It seemed to work at first, but about a year into taking them I realized that I was not getting better and in fact declining. One thing that didn't seem right was that all I wanted to eat was candy. (I went through the usual protocol of trying different SSRIs to "find the right one for me" and realized that none were going to help me. I know they have helped many people so I'm not against them. They just don't work for me.)

When I realized this something in my mind clicked and I thought back to my days studying biology. If serotonin is responsible for mood, particularly associated with depression, why am I eating so much sugar? The first answer I found is that when we eat sugar it creates a burst of serotonin. My next question was, what can I do naturally to replace or create serotonin in my body without eating sugar?

It was then that I learned about 5-HTP a natural precursor that when taken should be turned into serotonin. I began taking it and had a very positive response--so much so that I discontinued taking the SSRI medication. Just some of the immediate effects were an end to the insomnia I had been battling for months and had been treating with Ambien (which is an evil drug). I stopped craving so much sugar and started eating healthier foods. My mood and energy began to return to normal.

I felt so much better that I began to become more physically active. I'm not talking about anything stupendous--I just got outside more and also took up volunteering. Before I had very little interest in being social or leaving the house as I didn't have the energy for it.

Over the course of two years I was able to lose the weight gain caused by the SSRI and the crappy way of eating that it seemed to cause. I also started adding more dietary supplements that help my body create serotonin: Vitamin D, Magnesium; Flax, Fish, & Borage Oil (EPAs); a multi-vitamin; potassium (mostly because I've been having issues with hydration as a result of having an ileostomy).

I'm thinking of adding a Vitamin B complex just to make sure I'm getting enough of them to help as I am not always able to get them from my diet, as well as zinc. I do try to get vitamins and minerals from my diet, yet I'm not sure just how much I absorb as a result of not having a complete set of small bowels.

Sounds Great, but is it Working?
My intention will be to report on how I feel throughout the Autumn and Winter (is coming) seasons along with the exact supplements and amounts I'm taking on a near monthly basis. I've already started taking the above mentioned combination for about a month. The weather is supposed to become cooler and more seasonal next week. It will be the first test to see how well my body handles the change. The days are shorter and so the only effect I've noticed is a reluctance to want to get up too early each morning.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Accidental Lepidopterist: First Brood of Black Swallowtails

On May 2nd we did some volunteer work at the museum cleaning up a patch of overgrown mint on the landscape gardens around the butterfly house. Later on we found some black swallowtail caterpillars munching on some fennel. We brought home six cats to nurse into butterflies.

Adopted caterpillars
About half of them were in late-stage instars. Our parsley patches were mature enough to give them some sprigs once they ate up the fennel I brought with them. Today two of them pupated.

First PupaSecond Pupa
While I was taking pictures of them I made an interesting discovery! I found a bonus baby caterpillar! It's either a first or second instar. There's a possibility it came from the museum's fennel, but it could have also come from our parsley. So I'll be on the look-out for baby cats on our two parlsey patches.

Bonus baby caterpillar with orange aphid
The two caterpillars decided to fasten themselves onto the sides of the container allowing for a good look at how they spin silk to attach themselves.
Attachment silk
By tomorrow the two pupa should shed their final skin and form their chrysalis. It can be either green or brown. While I've not had much data to go on, I've noticed that the first cats to pupate tend to have green chrysalises, but the brown are the more dominate color. In about 7-10 days these guys will emerge so stay tuned.