The winter blues are undeniable. Sometimes those grey skies and blustery days do not help with your positive ‘go-get-it’ attitude. But are your down days more than just that? Could it be a recognised disorder called SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder?
The Clinical Definition SAD is a form of depression that is brought about by changes in the seasons. This causes changes in mood during the autumn and winter.
Typically, people will brush it off as the winter blues, but it can be treated and your down days will be few and far between.
At this current time, there is a lot of research into SAD but the direct cause is still unknown. However, there are a few areas of interesting research to suggest that a Vitamin D deficiency, poor serotonin production, and increased Melatonin could be involved. Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin. Our body contains an inactive form in our skin that only becomes active in the presence of sunlight. During a bleak UK winter, our body is unable to generate enough Vitamin D for our needs. As for the two hormones, serotonin is known as the ‘happy hormone’. Studies have shown that people diagnosed with SAD typically have lower active serotonin in the body. Therefore it cannot take effect by stimulating a positive mood in the person. Lastly, Melatonin is the sleepy neurotransmitter, excessive amounts of it can cause people to want to sleep more. Melatonin production is stimulated when light becomes dim. In winter, this means we produce melatonin earlier in the day than in the summer. This can cause us to feel sluggish, tired and unmotivated.
Statistics of SAD
Every 3 in 10 people have suffered from SAD in the UK.
SAD can affect anyone, men, women, old or young. Studies have shown that SAD typically affects women more commonly. In fact, SAD affects women three times more than men.
Those who have a history of depression in their family are more likely to experience SAD.
Young adults and even teenagers are more likely to develop SAD over older adults and the elderly.
Symptoms of SAD
● Low Mood
● Poor Energy Levels
● Change in eating patterns
● Avoiding social contact
● Foggy brain and poor concentration
● Feeling lost and without hope
● Increased sleep and difficulty waking up.
What can you do to improve the symptoms?
Supplement or Increase dietary Vitamin D
As mentioned previously, low levels of biological Vitamin D is thought to be associated with SAD.
Supplementing Vitamin D or increasing dietary sources of Vitamin D can improve the shortcomings our body feels during the winter months. In winter there is not enough quality sunshine to convert the inactive vitamin D in our skin to the active form.
Vitamin D has many benefits, studies have shown that vitamin D has an important mechanism in regulating mood. One study states the following ‘ Effective detection and treatment of inadequate vitamin D levels in persons with depression and other mental disorders may be an easy and cost-effective therapy could improve patients long-term health outcomes as well as their quality of life’.
Often you can take supplementation to improve the symptoms of your SAD. For example, taking 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). No, it’s not a tongue twister, nor is it gobbledegook. 5-HTP is a chemical component used within the body. It is converted from dietary tryptophan found in protein sources. The tryptophan undergoes a number of chemical reactions within the body which converts to 5-HTP, then onto serotonin. One potential cause of SAD is reduced serotonin. Therefore by using a dietarysupplement to increase this can lead to really beneficial effects on your mood.
Light Therapy aims to artificially restore the lack of sunshine during the winter months. This treatment must be conducted every day to see results. The light is twenty times stronger than natural light, therefore providing a really intense hit of artificial sunshine and its positive effects.
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Medication is available to treat SAD and other forms of depression. It is really effective but shouldn’t be taken lightly. Always try alternative methods first but speak to your GP or healthcare provider about what is best suited for you and your SAD symptoms.
Don’t feel glum about the winter months, there is so much to look forward. Put your feet up with a hot chocolate and light the fire. Put yourself first and don’t dread the winter blues!
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Written By Harriet Hunter, ANutr. Nutritionist