Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a disorder that seems to affect some people through the winter months. It can cause those affected to experience similar feelings to that of depression, such as sad, low mood; overeating; lethargy; sleeping more than usual; craving for carbohydrate rich foods and weight gain. SAD tends to affect women more than men and can be recurring, with up to two thirds of people experiencing these symptoms every winter.
Although it is unclear exactly what causes it, it is thought to have a lot to do with the shorter, darker days and less sunlight. The darker mornings cause a shift or delay in the circadian rhythm, leading to a disruption in melatonin and serotonin metabolism. Melatonin is the hormone that regulates sleep and circadian rhythm, and is also essential for mood and behaviour, while serotonin is a precursor to melatonin production as well as being heavily implicated in a happy mood. Additionally, lower vitamin D levels can contribute to low mood due to a lack of sun exposure. Vitamin D is converted in the brain via the enzyme, 1 alpha-hydroxylase, and with widespread vitamin D receptors found in the brain, it is shown to behave as a neuro-steroid, therefore is thought to be involved in the development of depression. Keeping vitamin D levels above 70 and up to 160 nmol/L is ideal so try to expose your face and arms for around half an hour each day, to ensure you are getting a good daily dose. Magnesium is another important nutrient, it is needed to activate vitamin D but a deficiency of magnesium also reduces serotonin, contributing to or worsening symptoms of low mood, therefore, incorporating plenty of magnesium rich foods into your diet is important. Magnesium rich foods include nuts and seeds, leafy green vegetables, wholegrains, dark chocolate and cacao, oatmeal, tofu and avocado. Betaine, an amino acid derivative found in high quantities in beetroot, has also been recognised to be helpful in depression. It increases s-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) levels which is needed to increase serotonin levels, again enhancing mood in a positive way.
Additionally, with less light and shorter days through winter, there is often less physical activity which can further exacerbate a low mood. So, keeping up with enough daily exercise is important to keep you feeling mentally strong; incorporate at least 30 minutes of daily exercise to boost your endorphins and if you can do it throughout the day, you’ll also benefit from sunlight and fresh air, which is all the better.
So, what can you do to help reduce the incidence of SAD? Light therapy has been the treatment of choice, however, how do we prevent depression and low mood in the first place? Optimise your diet, load it with a range of lean protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates along with a rainbow of fresh, seasonal vegetables, particularly lots of green leafy vegetables as folate is crucial for healthy mood. Sleep hygiene is so important, going to bed and getting up around the same time each night can really help you establish and maintain a healthy functioning circadian rhythm and the healthy production and functioning of hormones. Keep computer’s and other technology out of the bedroom and reduce your exposure to them for at least an hour before bed or with a blue light fitted to minimise bright, white light exposure. Keep your bedroom clean, free of dust, clutter and with a bit of fresh air to enable you to have a good night’s sleep, and remember to remove the TV!
Wonder Foods Beetroot is the perfect addition to your diet, providing you with a rich source of antioxidants and betaine. Add it to a smoothie, Acai bowl, juices, or pancakes! You can use it to add vibrancy to your meals, such as certain Indian and Asian dishes or to colour icings, sponge cake, biscuits or buttercreams.
These are the fundamentals of great health all round but very important in ensuring a healthy mood and particularly through winter when we are faced with shorter, darker days. Get passionate about taking care of your health!