We’re ahead of the SAD season. However, preparation is key. Humans often end up in a place then think their way out of a sticky wicket – rather than planning ahead and getting some key areas boxed off.
If you are prone to SAD or a shift worker all these strategies will help you. The 2 most effective ones are light boxes and vitamin D supplementation. I was promoted to write this after doing a series of presentations to shift workers about how they can use foods and supplementation to reverse circadian rhythm disruption and also enhance the sympathetic or parasympathetic systems in relation to sleep / wake cycle.
Cold showers are a great way to switch on the nervous system and also have a great anti-depressive effect.
As well as being good for us generally.
It’s leading into that time of year again and worth getting ready if you are prone to lower mood state throughout the winter months. Of course, low vitamin D inhibits optimal serotonin production so be sure to stock up on this. Taking 2000ius is safe, you may need more than this if you are deficient. This is something I test with all clients.
Vitamin D is also one the essential aspects of immune support for the winter months. Washing your hands, taking vitamin D and keeping a pot of immune power handy to avoid taking time off work all sensible ideas.
Quick Take Homes;
Seasonal Depression is linked to lower light and vitamin D amongst other things.
Depressive type symptoms at any time can be improved by;
- Eating more fish / omega 3 fats
- Eating more vegetables
- Exercising at least 30 minutes per day
- Light and sun exposure
- Avoiding shitty foods which cause addictive traits (fast foods)
- Lowering inflammation generally
- Do fun stuff
- Social interaction
- Chilling out and not getting too stressed
- Sleeping properly
- Giving and gratefulness
- Balancing blood glucose
- Improving hormone levels
- Avoiding drinking too much booze
SAD – what is this?
Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D was the 1st person to systemize and report this condition in the early 1980’s after recognizing the symptoms of low mood in himself during the winter months.
SAD is characterised by depressive symptoms in the darker, colder months and can include eating and drinking more, fatigue, malaise, decreased desire to interact and lowered sex drive. Sufferers often find difficulty getting out of bed and lowered mood and motivation.
Theories behind the causes of SAD include a reduction in serotonin production which is possibly related to light exposure, lowered vitamin D levels which are due to lowered sun exposure and increase melatonin which increases as night and during periods of darkness. People also theorize the decreased sex drive and other symptoms may have been survival driven as is was less favourable to reproduce at this time (baby born before the following winter might have meant scarcity in food), as well as some of the symptoms either driving people to consume more calories or slowing them down to slow down calorie burning.
Genetic factors clearly play a role with over 20% of people who get SAD also being bi-polar in nature. Less frequency is noted in Iceland and Japan, but this may be due to higher fish consumption which supports serotonin levels.
As SAD is associated with characteristics of the winter months counteracting these would seem a sensible place to start. Indeed, light therapy with bright lumen lights has been shown to quickly improve symptoms. Resolving vitamin D insufficiency also can bring some individuals relief and supporting serotonin production is an essential part of surviving SAD.
Serotonin can be supported nutritionally which is generally recommended as nutritional interventions have fewer side effects or withdrawal patterns. Examples might include taking magnesium and serotonin supporting nutrients at night or during the day when symptoms are intense. 5HTP a serotonin pre-cursor is also very effective. This can’t be used with St John’s wort or other SSRI’s as they prevent the breakdown in serotonin which can cause other mania to develop. This is sometimes called serotonin sickness.
Doing as much as you can to stay happy will also obviously help. Try to avoid excessive partying which is tempting to nullify the feelings of depression. Alcohol is a known depressant in its own right so moderation and period of detox are essential during the winters months, some of which can be associated with excess. Exercise is probably the best form of habit to adopt to help prevent and elevate depression. This also offers part of the solution to seasonal weight gain.
Some theorists have suggested the lifetime weight gain we generally suffer from as humans occurs around periods of excess like Christmas, Easter and thanksgiving. Our ability to store fat under these conditions is made worse with the additional alcohol and lack of movement.
Most people lose some weight after these times but it tends to be only half what they’ve gained. The average gain at Christmas is 4lb and the average lose in January is only 2lb.
If you can build in some longer runs, some higher intensity gym or home body weight circuits you can really make up for excesses. Taking the time to prime the muscles insulin receptors, drain some of the glycogen to help tap into your fat stores after chowing down on mince pies and a glass of port or two.
Have you burnt off last Christmas excess calories yet?
Some studies show SAD sufferers have higher insulin production in relation to carb feeding, this means the feel good serotonin carb effect is reversed faster. Leading to more cravings and more carbs being consumed. Following insulin stabilizing dietary practices and keeping serotonin and brain chemistry happy with supplementation can help you avoid these terrible feelings of craving. Some examples include;
Eating protein and vegetables before any carbohydrates.
Taking a good multivitamin with zinc, b-vitamins and chromium.
Using botanicals like cinnamon and berberine (golden seal)
For serotonin try;
- Fish Oils
- St John’s Wort (on it’s own).
- ZMA formulas
- All of these (other than St John’s Wort) are included in R5 aminos
Fish oils also can help with stress and low grade depressive symptoms;
- Lemon Balm one of my favourites also great for memory
- Hops (not as too much beer though) Brew Dog 0.5% is a good way to get hops with a minimum amount of alcohol
These can and should all be cycled and used also to aid deep, natural restful sleep.
A high vegetable consumption is associated with positivity also, yet another reason to eat your greens really regularly. It’s a cliché but the rainbow on the plate idea is also an excellent one to aim for.
I’ve also found light boxes really useful. Obviously if you can afford the time and cash you can think about some winter sunshine or warm weather training camps.
Part of the way in which we can improve is through measuring and understanding areas for development. The following questionnaires will be useful to you;
This one looks at potential area of brain chemical imbalance – really good for mood state, sleep and also recovery from an intense Christmas!
Be sure to screen shot your test results after you’ve taken them! When you’ve done this you can tell if you need more serotonin support for example or if you’d get more benefit from higher dose tyrosine.
In general mood state can be assessed here – if you are feeling out of sorts then it’s worth getting some numbers then when you improve things and feel better you can also repeat the test.
SLEEP is one of the kings of mood state and preventing depressive type symptoms, if you think you are struggling with sleep there’s a few ways you can track this;
These are more crude but can identify which types of disorder you may be having and if you are sleeping in meetings or after lunch.
Also, if you get really sleepy driving, Worth doing;
A client asked about links to products including the gymnemma tea (free with all orders over £75) so I thought a quick recap on the range plus links might come in handy for you guys;
Please forward this to anyone who might benefit, and I hope you found this useful.