Is spring fever a real illness or just a quaint way to excuse the atypical behavior we find ourselves doing in April or May? While scientists have not yet officially labeled it a disease, spring fever, in several forms, has been a human ailment for centuries.
In the 1700s, people suffered with what they called spring disease, a condition also known as scurvy. Scurvy was worse among people who lived in cities and sailors who spent winter months at sea. Spring disease sufferers struggled in March and April with bone pain, bleeding gums, fatigue, and generalized malaise. In the mid-1700s, a Scottish physician and Navy surgeon named James Lind determined that citrus fruits would cure spring disease, though he did not know the reason this was so. Dr. Lind’s cure was so effective that British ships routinely carried limes and lemons to provide sailors with a mandatory daily ration of citrus juice. Thus, the origins of “Limey,” the slang term for a British sailor, lies in spring disease.
In 1932, the connection between spring and scurvy was made when ascorbic acid (vitamin C) was discovered. What city dwellers and sailors of the 18th and 19th centuries had in common were long winters with an absence of fresh fruit and vegetables. By spring, malnutrition would show its effects.
Modern day spring fever is less about scurvy and more about mood changes, restlessness, and thoughts of love. People find it hard to be indoors. They want to be outside, sitting in the sun, walking, and laughing. Is this type of spring fever physiologic? Well, yes, it seems it is.
Just as the absence of fresh fruit and vegetables reduces vitamin C levels, the absence of sunlight in the winter reduces certain compounds in our bodies. Research indicates that levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that reduces anxiety and improves sleep, go up as daily sunlight increases. Sunlight also increases testosterone production in men and luteinizing hormone in women, hormones responsible in part for sexual connection and the desire to reproduce.
What, then, are the health tips about spring fever? There are several:
If you suffer with anxiety or depression but, like many of the patients I see, want to reduce or eliminate prescription medications for these conditions, spring is a great time to try. The enhanced serotonin that spring allows may help you succeed in managing anxiety or depression without prescription drugs. NOTE: If you are on medications, you MUST work with a health-care provider to reduce or discontinue those prescriptions. Do not do this on your own.
If spring finds you restless and longing to get moving, channel that energy. Don’t wait until summer, when the long sun and high temperatures of July and August will slow your momentum. Instead, use the vitality of spring fever to complete a project, take on a new challenge, get in shape, plant a garden, or maybe fall in love.