Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
By Valerie Robitaille
The days are getting shorter, and for some of us that brings on symptoms of depression, fatigue, impaired concentration, cravings for sweets and weight gain. Although it is common for anyone to experience a slightly diminished energy level in the winter, individuals with SAD suffer from more than just a prolonged mood swing.
SAD is brought on by the dark winter months when there is a decreased amount of sunlight, (approximately 8 hours compared to 16 hours of sun in summer months) and lifts with the onset of spring. An overwhelming desire to sleep is common, yet sleep is often fitful and rarely refreshing.
What causes these symptoms? Natural sunlight controls a hormone in our bodies called melatonin. As the sun sets, our pineal gland (where melatonin is produced) produces this hormone and prepares us for sleep. When sunlight is decreased in the winter months, melatonin levels may remain high, and it takes all the effort one can muster just to get out of bed in the morning. In addition, because carbohydrates provide the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is also provided by sunlight, cravings for sweets are intensified. Blood sugar imbalances aren’t far behind, and weight gain adds to the lethargy, depression and lack of motivation. It can be a vicious cycle.
It’s not clear why some people are affected so severely by shorter days than others, but there are several simple dietary considerations and other effective therapies proven to alleviate the symptoms of SAD:
– Install full-spectrum lighting. This imitates the effects of the sun by simulating its brilliance
– Eat more protein and eat smaller meals more often to stabilize blood sugar
– Carbohydrates eaten should be high in fiber, slowing the release of sugars in your bloodstream
– Take a high quality multi vitamin/mineral supplement with enough of the B vitamins
– If you tend to rely on caffeine to get you going in the morning, try green tea and drink this throughout the day. Coffee works much like refined sugar giving you a rush that peaks and declines leaving you feeling exhausted. Coffee also depletes several nutrients and tends to throw off the delicate mineral balance of the body.
– Add a “Green Drink” to your diet. This can be purchased at your local health food store.
– Spend plenty of time outdoors, especially when the sun is shining
– St. John’s Wort extract at a dosage of 300 mg three times per day has been shown to relieve SAD, however, don’t take if you are taking pharmaceutical antidepressants or antianxiety medications.
– Melatonin at night may be helpful. Don’t take if you are under 40 years of age and/or taking pharmaceutical antidepressants or antianxiety medications. .
– 5 HTP, the precursor to serotonin may be helpful. Do not take if you are taking pharmaceutical antidepressants or antianxiety medications.
– Fish Oil – highly recommended. A daily dosage of 500-1,000 mg of EPA/DHA essential fatty acids have been shown to improve neurotransmitter/hormone function (serotonin, melatonin).
– S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe) is very helpful, but should only be taken under the supervision of your primary health professional.
– Several Homeopathic and Bach Flower Remedies provide relief and do not interfere with pharmaceuticals. Ask your health practitioner which ones fit your personality and presenting symptoms best.
– Aromatherapy (use of pure essential oils) in a warm bath before bed, in massage or sprayed on linens is very effective.
– Vitamin D has been shown to attenuate symptoms of SAD.
– Get plenty of exercise