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NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine, Trusted Health Information from the National Institutes of Health


By Shana Potash, NLM Staff Writer

Seasons Change, Moods Change

A woman sitting with a laptop

For some people, changes of the seasons can trigger a change in mood, including the onset of a form of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Most commonly, SAD usually occurs during the fall and winter, when the days are shorter, and usually goes away in the spring and summer, when the days get longer. Some experts think the shorter days, with less sunlight, upset the body's internal clock. Symptoms can include:

  • loss of energy
  • sleeping too much
  • lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • craving for sweet or starchy foods

Among the therapies used to treat SAD is light therapy, which involves sitting in front of a "light box" for periods of time. Others include: medicines, changes in diet, and stress management. If you think SAD has you down, contact your healthcare provider. (Read more on depression, starting on page 16).

What, Me Worried?

Researchers at Purdue University have found that people who are extremely worried and anxious may be shortening their lives, in part because they are more likely to smoke. Analyzing the records of nearly 1,800 men who were part of a long-term Veterans Administration study, they established that smoking explains part of the connection between a neurotic personality and shorter life. A better understanding of how personality impacts engagement in poor health behaviors could help improve the design of smoking cessation and prevention programs, say the researchers, who were funded by the NIH National Institute on Aging.

Is Your Drinking Water Well?

a glass of water being filled up

If your water comes from a private well, and children drink it, you should have the water tested every year, recommends the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Children are especially vulnerable to the illnesses that stem from contaminated wells. Water from a properly maintained well is safe. But wells can become contaminated, most commonly by nitrate from either fertilizer or sewage. About one in six U.S. households draws its water from a private well; which is typically the responsibility of the owner. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) at NIH worked with the AAP to develop the new well testing recommendations.

Experimental HIV/AIDS Vaccine Shows Encouraging Results

An investigational vaccine tested in Thailand is the first to show some ability to protect people from the HIV virus that causes AIDS. The vaccine is safe and reduced the risk of infection by almost one-third. According to Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), while modest, the results are an important step forward in HIV vaccine research. He says more research is needed to discover why this vaccine worked to some extent, while others have not.

The Thai study involved more than 16,000 men and women between the ages of 18 and 30. It was sponsored by the U.S. Army, in collaboration with NIAID and two companies that make the vaccines that were tested.

Palliative Care Eases Pain, Improves Quality of Life

If you or a loved one has a serious illness, a special type of care known as palliative (PAL-ee-uh-tiv) can help. Serious illnesses and their treatments can cause pain, nausea, fatigue, trouble sleeping, anxiety, and depression. Palliative care seeks to relieve these symptoms, making patients more comfortable and improving their quality of life. It is available at any age and at any time during an illness.

A new brochure, called Palliative Care: The Relief You Need When You're Experiencing the Symptoms of Serious Illness, has been developed by the NIH National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR). It explores the multiple benefits of palliative care, noting how it differs from hospice care, and explains how to request palliative care during a hospital stay. To download an electronic version of the brochure, visit To order free print copies (up to 25), email or call 301-496-0207.

Fall 2009 Issue: Volume 4 Number 4 Pages 27 - 28