The Winter Blues
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Do you feel miserable as soon as summer has gone? Do rainy days bring you down? Do you loose energy over winter and seem more fatigued?
Perhaps you suffer from SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder, yes this is a real disorder.
Onset usually begins in Autumn and will continue through winter until early spring. Sufferers experience feelings of sadness and loss of energy with most people at risk being female, younger and with a family history of depression or psychological disorders.
SAD is not considered to be a unique diagnosis but rather a type of reoccuring depression with a seasonal pattern.
It is believed that people who suffer from SAD have difficulty regulating the neurotransmitter, serotonin which is your happy hormone. It is also thought that sufferers may also experience an overproduction of melatonin, which is a hormone that regulates sleep.
Both of these hormones are altered by the amount of sunlight we are exposed to. Receptors which transport serotonin around the body decrease when light decreases and melatonin increases when light decreases making us more sleepy and lethargic.
The combination of low serotnin and increased melatonin impacts on our circadian rythym, which is our internal 24 hour clock. The circadian rythm responds to light-dark changes that occur throughout the year and people with SAD find it difficult to adjust to the changing day length. On top of this we are less likely to be outside in any form of sunshine so this impacts on our vitamin D levels. Vitamin D also plays a role in serotonin levels so a deficiency in vitamin D is clinically linked to mood changes and depressive symptoms.
Symptoms experienced by sufferers include sadness, irritability, crying more frequently, fatigue, lethargy, difficulty concentrating and craving more sleep. They will withdraw from social situations, crave carbs and sugars and put on weight over winter. It is important to note that if you experience this all year round this is completely different from SAD.
What can we do?
If your symptoms are overwhelming and impacting on your daily life please visit a health professional to get guidance on managing. If you only experience some of the symptoms or are only lightly affected listed below are some idesa!
Exercise outside - Take a one hour walk in sunlight daily, even if overcast - this has shown to significantly reduce the symptoms of SAD.
Light therapy - This involves exposure of the eyes to bright light from a light box. This process usuallly filters out UV light but you still have to be careful if you are on certain medications.
Increase Vitamin D levels - Vitamin D is sold by health food shops and all naturopathic practitioners. It is important to have optimal vitamin D levels but I would suggest you consult a health practitioner before treating yourself as there are interactions with other medications that need to be considered. It is also necessecary to establish wether or not you need it in the first place.
Herbs and Supplements - There are many herbs and supplements which may help support mood via increasing the production of serotonin, melatonin, reducing inflammation and supporting the cricadian rythym such as L-tryptophan, SAMe, Omega-3 fatty acids, St Johns Wort, B vitamins, and amino acids. Consult a health practitioner to receive therapeutic advice.
Look after our gut health - It is important to acknowledge the gut-brain axis communication system where serotonin functions as a neurotransmitter at both ends. Gut microbiota can control the tryptophan enzyme pathway with serotonin being manufactured from tryptophan. It is estimated that over 90% of your serotonin is made in the digestive tract. If there is dysbiosis in the gut then tryptophan levels decrease, decreasing serotonin, altering gut function and mood.
Eat for a high nutrition intake - Increase your antioxidant rich foods such as leafy greens and brassica veg (broccoli, cauli, brussel sprouts). Basically increase all vegetable intake and also protein intake. When we eat more protein we feel full longer and it stops us for reaching for the sweet treats. Winter soups, casseroles and curries warm our bodies and our souls.
Everyone can get a little down in winter and it does not mean you have SAD but if you find it happens year after year and you can not seem to get on top of things, consult a health practitioner. Do not keep suffering as there is so much you can do to improve your health and wellbeing