SAD stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder – also known as “winter depression” because it typically begins to manifest as the days become shorter, and the winter months descend. It is estimated that 24% of the UK population are affected by this disorder! Symptoms can include feeling lethargic, low in mood, irritable, depressed, sleepy and can impact our appetite and cravings.
So how do we combat SAD as we enter the cosy, yet dark and cold winter months…?
As we enter winter, the lack of sunlight here in the UK can impact the Hypothalamus, a part of the brain that is responsible for creating many of our hormones and neurotransmitters. Two of the crucial hormones that are impacted are MELATONIN (our sleepy hormone) and SEROTONIN (our happy hormone).
Melatonin is secreted in the body naturally as part of our circadian rhythm – the body’s internal clock that manages our sleep. Melatonin is produced when it is dark, to send us to sleep, and stops being produced when the sun comes up (or when we see the sun through our eyes!). So, if we have less sunlight during winter, our bodies secrete more Melatonin – and hence, we feel more sleepy and lethargic than usual.
Serotonin is a hormone that impacts our happiness, mood, sleep and appetite and a lack of sunlight can impact the level of serotonin that is utilised in the body, and thus this can impact our mood, leading to that “depressed”/down feeling.
SO HOW DO WE FIX THIS?
GET YOUR VITAMIN D
Vitamin D is crucial for our immune system, energy and mood. The recommended daily intake of Vitamin D is 10mcg. Our major source of Vitamin D comes from the sunlight, as when we get sunlight on our skin, we synthesise vitamin D. In the summer months this is fantastic, but if we live in the northern hemisphere, we can end up getting little vitamin D from the months of October – March.
So increase your Vitamin D through:
- Get outside if the sun comes out! Regardless of the temperature, try to get 15 minutes of sunlight on any part of the body to get a satisfactory intake.
- Increase consumption of Vitamin D rich foods such as egg yolks, mushrooms, oily fish such as salmon and sardines and red meat.
- Opt for a good quality Vitamin D supplement in the winter months
INVEST IN A LIGHTBOX
There are many lightboxes now on the market that emit light that replicates natural light that we don’t get enough of in the winter months.
My favourite is the Lumie lightbox, that you can set on a timer to emit light that will help you naturally manage your melatonin secretion.
BOOST YOUR SEROTONIN
Serotonin is our happy hormone which is crucial for our mood, libido, appetite, sleep and more. 90% of our serotonin is actually created in our guts, so investing in the health of our gut can help with the production of serotonin and therefore our mood!
Look after your microbiome and gut by:
- Increase your intake of PRObiotic rich foods – kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, miso, apple cider vinegar with the mother, live yoghurt.
- Increase your intake of PREbiotic rich foods that feed the existing gut bacteria – raw garlic, onions, asparagus, legumes, bananas and artichoke.
- Take a good quality prebiotic if you think you need an additional helping hand – I suggest Symprove or Biokult multi-strain as a starting point.
Exercise is a powerful way to reduce depression or increase your mood. Try to exercise outdoors to get that natural light. Among the vast amount of research on depression and exercise is a recent study, published in The Cochrane Review, that reviewed 30 clinical trials on exercise and depression and concluded that exercise improves symptoms of depression.
Making sure you get the right nutrients in your body to help support it through the winter months is crucial. If you don’t feed your body properly, you are only more likely to feel lethargic, down and lacking in energy.
Those who suffer from SAD tend to crave carbohydrates and sugars to fuel their low energy and mood. This can actually result in a cycle that leads to constant lower energy and mood, as the carbohydrates and sugar will only result in quick fix energy, and ultimately decrease overall energy and vitality in the long run.
Increase your intake of:
- Omega 3 fatty acids as they contribute to your mood – One study from the University of Pittsburgh found that people with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids were less likely to experience moderate or mild symptoms of depression. Omega 3 rich foods include oily fish such as mackerel, herring, salmon or vegan alternatives such as walnuts and flaxseeds.
- Typtophan rich foods – tryptophan is an amino acid that comes from certain foods and 5-HTP ( a pre-cursor to Serotonin our happy hormone) is a by-product of Tryptophan. So to increase our serotonin production increase consumption of these foods including: Turkey, bananas, wild caught fish, eggs, cashews, sesame seeds, tofu, legumes, whole grains, organic dairy
- Complex Carbohydrates – opt for wholegrain, wholefood complex carbohydrates over refined carbohydrates. These will give you a more sustained energy release and fibre which will keep you fuelled for longer. Complex carbohydrates to choose include brown rice, rye bread, whole wheat pasta, quinoa, oats, starchy root veggies.
- Reduce sugar consumption – Sugar may give you a little happy boost at first, but research from UCLA suggests that too much sugar can functionally change your brain and slow it down. Research on how the brain works is always ongoing. But it’s a safe bet to stay away from sugar — especially if you’re feeling depressed. The crash after a sugar high can easily make you feel worse than before. Opt for naturally sweet foods instead such as berries (high in antioxidants), nut butters with fruit, spice flavoured drinks.
If you are interested in working on your health and wellbeing in the winter months and looking for a personalised nutrition protocol to achieve this, please get in touch with me here