Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York;
And all the clouds that low’r'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
S.A.D is sometimes known as ‘winter depression’, because the symptoms are more apparent and tend to be more severe at this time of the year. The symptoms often begin in the Autumn as the days start getting shorter. They are most severe during December, January and February. In most cases, the symptoms of SAD begin to improve in the spring before disappearing.
What causes S.A.D?
The exact cause of S.A.D is not fully understood, but it is thought to be linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter days of the year. Sunlight can affect some of the brain’s chemicals and hormones. However, it is not clear what this effect is. One theory is that light stimulates a part of the brain called the hypothalamus which controls mood, appetite and sleep. These things can affect how you feel. In people with SAD, a lack of sunlight and a problem with certain brain chemicals may stop the hypothalamus working properly. The theory states that the lack of light is thought to affect:
- the production of the hormone melatonin
- the production of the hormone serotonin
- the body’s circadian rhythm (the body’s internal clock, which regulates several biological processes during a 24-hour period)
What you eat however has a direct impact on the way you feel. Aim for a balanced diet of low-fat protein, complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables. Reduce your intake of foods that can adversely affect your brain and mood, such as caffeine, alcohol (a BIG depressor), trans fats, saturated fats, and foods with high levels of chemical preservatives or hormones (such as certain meats).
- Don’t skip meals. Going too long between meals can make you feel irritable and tired, so aim to eat something at least every three to four hours.
- Minimize sugar and refined carbs. You may crave sugary snacks, baked goods, or comfort foods such as pasta or French fries, but these ‘feel-good’ foods quickly lead to a crash in mood and energy.
- Focus on complex carbohydrates. Foods such as baked potatoes, whole-wheat pasta, oatmeal, and whole grain breads can boost serotonin levels without a crash.
- Boost your B vitamins. Deficiencies in B vitamins such as folic acid and B-12 can trigger depression. To get more, take a B-complex vitamin supplement or eat more citrus fruit, leafy greens, beans, chicken, and eggs.
- Try super-foods rich in nutrients that can boost mood, such as bananas (magnesium to decrease anxiety, vitamin B6 to promote alertness, tryptophan to boost feel-good serotonin levels), brown rice (serotonin, thiamine to support sociability), and spinach (magnesium, folate to reduce agitation and improve sleep).
- Consider taking a chromium supplement. Some depression studies show that chromium picolinate reduces carbohydrate cravings, eases mood swings, and boosts energy. Supplementing with chromium picolinate is especially effective for people who tend to overeat and oversleep when depressed.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids Play an Essential Role in Stabilising Mood
- Foods rich in certain omega-3 fats called EPA and DHA can give your mood a
ig boost. The best sources are fatty fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and some cold-water fish oil supplements. Canned albacore tuna and lake trout can also be good sources, depending on how the fish were raised and processed. When cooking fish, grill or bake rather than fry.
- You may hear a lot about getting your omega-3s from foods rich in ALA fatty acids, such as vegetable oils and nuts (especially walnuts), flax, soybeans, and tofu. Be aware, though, our bodies generally convert very little ALA into EPA and DHA, so you may not see as big of a benefit.
- Some people avoid seafood because they worry about mercury or other possible toxins, but most experts agree that the benefits of eating one or two servings a week of cold-water fatty fish outweigh the risks.