Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a condition that causes depressive periods during the winter months.
SAD affects both sexes, but it can affect women more than men. It’s also more prevalent for those who live further away from the equator.
People who suffer from this type of depression in the winter months can lose their energy, suffer anxiety attacks, feel tired and oversleep, feel sluggish and find they gain weight, often as a result of craving the wrong food.
Other symptoms of SAD include irritability, hypersensitivity, losing interest in activities you love, feeling socially withdrawn, suffering with a low/no sex drive and feeling an inability to focus and think clearly.
Whilst it can be normal to feel a little down in the winter months and feel as if you have less energy; SAD is much more than just the “winter blues.” It’s a seasonal subtype of depression that affects many people.
Here are 4 steps you can take to help decrease the effects of SAD naturally with food, supplements, improved sleeping habits, and a bit of light!
No. 1 – Boost your Nutritional Profile
Foods greatly influence the brain’s behaviour. A poor diet that’s filled with sugar, processed junk food and low nutrition is actually a common cause of depression.
The levels of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters which regulate our behaviour are controlled by what we eat, and these neurotransmitters are very closely linked to mood.
Neurotransmitters most commonly associated with mood are dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine.
When the brain produces serotonin, also known as the feel good neurotransmitter, we feel happy.
When the brain produces dopamine or norepinephrine, we become more alert and act more quickly.
Serotonin is made in the body by an amino acid called tryptophan. This Tryptophan is converted into another amino acid called 5-hydroxytryptophan (5 HTP) which is then turned into serotonin.
Serotonin plays a large role in our mood, sleep and appetite.
When you fail to eat enough tryptophan containing foods, you are more likely to become depressed or suffer from anxiety or sleep disorders.
Plant based foods to focus on include: nuts (almonds, cashews, pistachios), seeds (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower, chia, flax), tofu, oats, beans, lentils, spinach, asparagus, wheat germ; and animal sources cheese, eggs, red meat, chicken, turkey and fish.
And don’t forget your protein. High protein foods help to promote the production of dopamine and norepinephrine, helping to boost your alertness.
Vitamin D, AKA the Sunshine vitamin, has long been association with depression when levels are low.
About 90% of the body’s vitamin D is synthesized in the skin by the action of sunlight.
By the time winter has come along, levels have often plummeted.
Those most at risk from deficiency include:
Elderly people (because the ability to make it in the skin reduces with age)
Overweight people (because vitamin D stores are hidden away in fat tissue)
Dark skinned people (because they require up to 6x as much sunlight as a light skinned person to make the same amount of vitamin D)
Those who cover up and use sunblock a lot (because the sun’s ability to reach the skin is blocked)
Those who don’t get outside often (for a matter of reasons e.g being inside at work, being in a room/office with no natural light etc.)
The answer to low vitamin D levels = get sufficient sun exposure (a good healthy 5-15 minutes of sunblock free time in the sun), eating a healthy vitamin D filled diet, and supplementing in the winter. See my blog, What’s the Scoop on: Vitamin D here.
Vitamin D can be found in foods such as oily fish, mushrooms and fortified foods.
Check your levels with your doctor to see if you’re in need of some vitamin D boosting!
Various B vitamins play a major role in maintaining proper brain chemistry, particularly relating to the activity and metabolism of neurotransmitters.
Deficiencies in certain B vitamins are common in depression, with B6, folic acid and B12 being the key ones.
B Vitamins work synergistically, so it is important to ensure adequate intake of all the B complex vitamins, which is why you’ll often find them available as supplements combined with one another.
Eat a whole food diet filled with fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and pseudo grains like quinoa and amaranth.
They’re all choc-full of your essential B vitamins, alongside other key nutrients to help beat depression like zinc, magnesium and healthy fats.
For a real therapeutic dose, try opting for a B Complex vitamin like Solgar Vitamin B Complex 100, Nourish Balanced B50or Viridian High Five B Complex.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are essential for a healthy brain. There have been various studies carried out over many years with results all coming to the same conclusion.
Higher consumption of omega 3 fatty acids correlates with a decreased incidence of depression.
There are two key types of omega 3 fats known as EPA and DHA.
According to Patrick Holford, evidence suggests that EPA seems to be the most potent natural antidepressant and is thought to boost serotonin.
Pass the EPA thank you very much!
Increase your intake of omega oils by eating plenty of the following: flax seeds (and their oil), chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, green leafy veg, oily fish and/or supplement with fish oil, krill oil or omega filled algae.
No. 2 – Maximize your exposure to daylight
Make your house as bright as you can. Trim the bushes back around your windows, keep your blinds and curtains open during the day and get up early to take advantage of as much daylight as possible.
Alternatively, splurge on a Light Therapy
Lack of sunlight primarily triggers SAD, and with that, an avalanche of hormonal problems. When sunlight enters our eyes, it activates the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, our feel-good hormones. Less sunlight means less feel-good!
With the short days and cold weather, it can be difficult to get enough time out in the sun. Serotonin and melatonin are two of the main chemicals and hormones that help stabilize your mood, and are the two hormones that are most affected by reduced sunlight.
This change in your body’s hormonal balance can then trigger depression. It’s believed that by using light therapy for approximately 30 minutes a day, you can restore the balance and thus reduce symptoms of SAD. There are a wide variety of light boxes available so check them out.
No. 3 – Sleep
Maintaining good sleep habits is highly important if you’re suffering from SAD. One of the hallmark characteristics of SAD is poor sleep quality, due to decreases in serotonin levels and disruptions in melatonin levels.
It’s crucial to create a sleep routine in order to allow yourself to see as much sun as possible.
Here are some tips for better sleep:
Keep a regular schedule: Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day, and try to avoid napping.
Avoid caffeine after 2pm: Caffeine can stay in your system for hours and truly effect your ability to sleep.
If you must consume caffeine, chose to do so in the hours before and up to 2pm so lessen the chances of sleep disruption.
Set up a night time routine: Setting up a night time routine will help signal to your body that it’s time for bed. Perhaps try a slow yoga practice or meditation an hour or so before you plan to sleep; maybe a warm bath with lavender oil or curling up with a good book.
Avoid sleeping with your phone/tablet/laptop in your room and definitely don’t use them just before bed: The light they emit sends signals to your brain that interrupt your circadian rhythms and wake you up—not what you need when you’re trying to promote healthy sleep!
Make sure your bedroom is prepped for sleeping: A dark, quiet, cool room is key to restful sleep.
No. 4 – Exercise more to release natural endorphins
Regular exercise is considered an excellent form of natural medication for all types of depression, including SAD, as it improves mood and lowers stress levels.
This is because exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, which can help combat feelings of depression.
I would recommend getting outside and going for a brisk walk in the fresh air first thing in the morning. It’s a good way to wake your body up, get some natural light, and get your blood pumping.
However there’s many ways to get moving – maybe you like to kick box it out or have a major sweat sesh at the gym.
Maybe you prefer the pilates or yoga route.
Whatever your choice, exercising can help ease stress and promote relaxation, which can be particularly helpful for individuals who struggle with sleep disturbances.
If you have any questions or comments feel free to contact us via our Facebook page!
Twitter – @nourishstores
*Please note that while we are knowledgeable about our products and nutrition, this blog should never be a substitute for medical advice and attention
Please remember that you should always obtain the all-clear from your doctor before starting any new supplement plan or diet if you’re on any medication
This article is not intended to treat or diagnose.
There are many factors that can contribute to the development of depression and it would be wise to talk to a professional if you think you may be struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder to find out the right treatment for you.
These are simply tips that may help lessen the effects of SAD and help you have a better day.