Don’t get SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

moon winterIt happens so suddenly that the dark nights draw in and only a short while ago we were sitting in the garden.  Winter blues affect some 17 per cent of Britons*, while 7 per cent experience  SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).   Winter blues can mean feeling extra tired, lacking in energy and feeling low.
 
Symptoms of SAD include:

• 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.

Light boxes

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,
  • Eggs
  • Cottage cheese
  • Bananas
  • Avocados
  • 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:

• Acupuncture
• Reflexology
• Homeopathy
• Nutritional therapy
• Yoga
• Counselling
• Hypnotherapy

See Complementary Therapies for more information.

*According to an ICM Online Omnibus Survey conducted for Lumie of 2,000 people in the UK.

Autumn health tips

gingerAyurvedic and Chinese medicine put a lot of emphasis on the change of seasons and how it affects the body.   For instance, eating right for the time of year is very important so that you eat salads in summer and soups and stews in winter to warm up your body.

Other issues at this time of year: 

  • Lack of exposure to the sun leads to Vitamin D. deficiency as the winter goes on.
  • Darker days can mean that people feel depressed or get SAD – see Winter blues or SAD?
  • Colds and flu are most prevalent before Christmas.  Read Prevent Colds.
  • Sleep can also become disrupted – see Sleep problems and it’s often hard to get up in the morning!

Winter tips:

Vitamin C will help you to stave off colds – a good dose is 1,000mg and any excess is peed out.  Try Cherry Active or Viridian Ester C.

Warming foods such as stews casseroles and home-made soups help to keep the body warm in cold weather.  Include plenty of herbs and spices to keep the digestive system healthy –- ginger, cumin, basil, mustard, cardamom, black pepper, basil, turmeric, and of course garlic!

Exercise outside when it’s sunny and dry so that you get some exposure to sunlight.   According to Mind, the mental health charity, what they call ‘ecotherapy’ can positively affect your mood.

Take plenty of Vitamin D – there isn’t  enough sun in the UK in winter for your body to make Vitamin D.  So try taking a supplement such as Viridian’s Vitamin D, or Better You’s D-Lux spray.

Sleep well – sleep is as vital as exercise and healthy eating for our wellbeing. To see some tips for sleeping well in winter read: Sleep problems.

Drink spicy teas that are cleansing and warming – those containing cardamom, cinnamon and ginger are particularly good.

Hot water with lemon a slice of lemon first thing in the morning is very cleansing to the liver.

Tip from Sebastian Pole of Pukka Herbs: if the change of season affects your digestion, gives you insomnia, constipation or anxiety, try the Ayurvedic remedy: Ashwaganda ((Withania somnifera). He also suggests a delicious cup of milk simmered with a pinch of nutmeg and cardamom to settle in for a blissful night’s sleep!

You can buy these products at www.superfooduk.com  and get 5% discount by putting in the promotion code: HSoul1 .