Although January is officially the saddest month of the year, the seasonal dip in our wellbeing starts much earlier. This is the time when the over-indulgence combines with the lack of sunlight and warmth to create a perfect storm on both mind and body. Up to 29% of the population will suffer the symptoms of S.A.D., or Seasonal Affective Disorder, with women 40% more likely to have symptoms than men. If all this sounds too depressing then read on because nutritional research is offering new lights at the end of this tunnel.
Mainstream medicine is often slow to adopt new research and treatment options. There is also insufficient knowledge and training of medical professionals on the health benefits of nutrition. The awareness of S.A.D. is well established but our healthcare which now needs to integrate evidence-based 'functional foods' into its programs.
What is S.A.D.?
S.A.D. is a depressive illness caused by shortened daylight hours and a lack of sunlight
How many people suffer from S.A.D.?
For about 21% of the UK population, some of the symptoms of SAD cause discomfort and a noticeable change in mood. This is called "Sub-syndromal S.A.D." or "Winter Blues". For a further 8%, S.A.D. is a much more serious illness which prevents normal function without appropriate treatment.
What are the symptoms of S.A.D.?
• a persistent low mood
• a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
• feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
• feeling lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day
• sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning
• craving carbohydrates and gaining weight
What Causes S.A.D.?
The increased hours of darkness disrupt the brain chemicals that affect mood, such as serotonin and melatonin. Reduced sunlight does cause vitamin D deficiencies, but whether that translates into depression is not entirely clear. There have been conflicting studies on whether there's a causal connection between low vitamin D levels and depression. While light therapy appears to be one of the most effective treatments for S.A.D., what you eat along with good quality supplements can also play a role in alleviating its symptoms. Of course, as with any medical issue, talk with your doctor about treatments if you're dealing with any kind of depression.
How can S.A.D. be treated?
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that S.A.D. should be treated in the same way as other types of depression. The symptoms of S.A.D. can be improved through a combination of different techniques including light therapy, psychosocial treatments including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and counselling, and lastly, antidepressants. Steps you can take yourself include regularly exercising and consuming a healthy, balanced diet.
'Superfood' Supplements - Saffron and Turmeric
Recent clinical research in Spain and Australia has shown that taking 30mg a day of 3.5% strength saffron extract (Saffrosun) can help with mood, nervousness and improve sleep patterns. The is also a significant amount of research supporting the benefits of turmeric on mood. A daily supplement intake of turmeric high in curcuminoids (95%, minimum 350mg), that contains black pepper extract or a healthy fat such as coconut butter to improve absorption.
Modern lifestyles and farming practices are contributing to significant deficiencies in important vitamins and minerals. Research at the University of Surrey has shown that over 50% of the population have insufficient intake of vitamin D, so choosing the most effective version, vitamin D3, in a supplement can have significant health benefits.
Low levels of some B vitamins are associated with depression. Vitamin B12 is one of the most important of these and can be obtained from taking a good quality vitamin B complex supplement.
Foods rich in Omega 3
A large Norwegian study of nearly 22,000 participants revealed that those who regularly took cod liver oil, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, were about 30% less likely to have symptoms of depression than those who did not. High levels of omega-3- fatty acids are found in flax seeds, walnuts, hemp, chia and seaweed.
Foods rich in Folic acid
Folic acid can boost our moods by helping our bodies create serotonin. High amounts of folic acid can be found in sunflower seeds, oranges, oats, lentils and beans. Dark green, leafy veggies such as asparagus, arugula and spinach are also high in folate.
So, enjoying the fresher air, exercising regularly, eating more pulses and fresh vegetables plus choosing the right, high quality supplements are the ways to be more jolly this season!