This time of year brings shorter days, plummeting temperatures, and a bleakness that can often be matched by our mood. We may all fall victim to the winter blues every now and again, but for some this can develop into something much more serious. Seasonal Affective Disorder (appropriately abbreviated SAD) is a form of depression that affects as many as 1 in 20 of the population in the UK. Rather like how stress can be casually branded as a state of mind, sufferers of SAD are often dismissed by others as being just a bit “down in the dumps”. However the reality is a condition that can be extremely debilitating. Symptoms include low mood, poor concentration, unexplained fatigue, low self-esteem, over-eating and binging on carbs and sugary foods.
What causes SAD?
The causes of SAD are still not fully understood. However, research points towards a malfunction in our circadian rhythm or ‘body clock’, linked to changes in light and the length of the day during the winter months. One theory suggests that the decreased hours of daylight may adversely affect the brain’s neurotransmitter chemicals including serotonin, melatonin and dopamine; which regulate mood, sleep and appetite. It is also thought that low levels of vitamin D, linked to a lack of sunshine, may play a significant role in this condition.
Could the prescription for SAD be at the end of our fork?
Our levels of “feel good” serotonin can be naturally boosted by the foods we eat. Tryptophan is an amino acid converted in the body to serotonin, and can be gained through our diet in bananas, poultry, eggs and dairy products. To get the full benefits of these foods, they should be eaten alongside a small helping of carbohydrates, which help to transport the tryptophan into the brain. Choose complex carbs such as brown rice, lentils, sweet potatoes and oats. Refined carbs and sugars should be avoided- they can cause a spike a blood sugar and then a crash, which may actually exacerbate the symptoms of SAD.
Essential fatty acids (especially omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish) have been linked to healthy brain activity, and are recommended to those contending with SAD. Studies have demonstrated that individuals who consumed fish frequently exhibited fewer depressive symptoms than those who didn’t. In further support of this is evidence that shows SAD to be less common among populations who consume more omega-3 fatty acids in the form of fish, such as the Icelandic people.
Supplement a bit of happiness
It may be that in addition to a good diet, a few supplements could help to keep your spirits raised.
5-HTP is involved in the production of serotonin, and as a supplement easily crosses the blood-brain barrier where it can boost serotonin levels.
Magnesium and vitamin B6 are both vital for the conversion of 5-HTP and tryptophan to serotonin.
Vitamin D has effects on both the brain and hormone-producing tissues of the body, and is increasingly being implicated for its role in mood. There is growing evidence to suggest that SAD sufferers with low levels of vitamin D may benefit from supplementation.
And finally, even though it may be tough, fight the urge to hibernate. Social interaction, winter sunshine (in its rarity!) and exercise are all wonderful mood boosters, and will really help you to get through the next few months until Spring comes around again!
“Naomi Mead is a passionate Nutritional Therapist. She writes for Healthspan’s Nutrition Expert on various topics such as weight management, female health, sports nutrition and digestive disorders as she acknowledges the role of nutrition in health and the therapeutic power of good food.”
Disclosure: This post has been supplied prewritten as a promoted post and I have received compensation for publishing it.