• Depression – low self-esteem, misery, despair, hopelessness, numbness,apathy
• Constant fatigue
• Disturbed sleep patterns with early morning waking
• Lack of energy
• Craving for sweet foods and carbohydrates – consequent weight gain
• Mood swings
• Anxiety and inability to cope with stress
• Loss of libido
• Lowered immune system so more prone to colds
• Bursts of activity in spring and autumn
People who get SAD tend to live far north of the equator (Britain, Scandinavia, Alaska, Iceland), because of the long nights and short days. They are more likely to be pre-menopausal women than anyone else.
Why it happens
Light deprivation is the main cause of SAD and in some people it causes a deficiency in serotonin and dopamine – chemicals the brain needs to control mood, appetite, sleep and sexuality.
The main cause of SAD is believed to be a drop in levels of serotonin, a brain chemical or neurotransmitter, responsible for:
• hunger • thirst • sexual activity • sleep patterns • moods • body temperature • (indirectly) the production of hormones.
Daylight triggers the hypothalamus gland in the brain to produce serotonin, so lack of daylight leads to reduced levels.At night the pineal gland which is attached to the brain releases the hormone melatonin (a derivative of serotonin) giving the signal to the brain that it is night time and that it is time to sleep. Similarly, during the day when light hits the retina in the eye signals are sent to the brain to bring about change in the pineal, adrenal, pituitary and thyroid glands.
However, if it is dark more often than it is light there is too much melatonin being released and may account for tiredness, lethargy and fatigue in SAD sufferers.
One of the best ways of dealing with SAD is to use a light box, which can be rigged up in the workplace with a minimum of half an hour recommended twice a day. Dawn simulator alarm clocks also help people to wake up with a ‘natural’ dawn when the mornings are dark.
Doctors and complementary therapists alike recommend light therapy.
How SAD affects our appetite
Comfort eating helps to relieve depression and many people with SAD crave sugary snacks and stimulants like caffeine. These give a temporary lift but blood sugar levels plummet afterwards and cravings become worse. When someone gets trapped into a low blood sugar cycle they tend to put on weight because they are constantly craving and consuming foods and drinks which are high in sugar.
Change of diet
A change of diet to boost serotonin levels, cut down cravings for sugary foods, and eat more healthily is the best way to lose weight and gain confidence to try and avoid getting SAD every winter. A diet high in proteins helps to boost serotonin levels because proteins contain tryptophan, an amino acid, which is converted by the body firstly into 5HTP and then into serotonin.
High protein foods include:
- Fish, turkey, chicken
- Beans – kidney, borlotti, lima and aduki, lentils,
- Cottage cheese
- Wheatgerm, oats, quinoa.
Herbal medicine: St John’s Wort (use the code HSoul1 for 5% discount) has been proven to improve some symptoms – 900 mcg a day is recommended from mid-October through the winter. It is essential to consult a GP or registered medical herbalist before taking St John’s Wort because it contra-indicates some medicines and can cause side-effects when used at the same time as light therapy.
One natural remedy that can be very good for SAD is a type of algae, Blue Green Organic Klamath Algae, (use the code HSoul1 for 5% discount) which is abundant in minerals and contains a natural (feel-good) endorphin and plenty of antioxidants.
If in doubt contact: The National Institute of Medical Herbalists, www.nimh.org.uk
Other recommended therapies:
• Nutritional therapy
See Complementary Therapies for more information.
*According to an ICM Online Omnibus Survey conducted for Lumie of 2,000 people in the UK.