Tuesday, December 4, 2012

how diet affects winter seasonal affective disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD for short, is a common mood disorder where people experience depressive symptoms in the winter or anxiety in the summer consistently every year, but maintain a healthy mental state during other seasons. Symptoms of SAD include:
  • Fatigue 
  • Increased need for sleep 
  • Decreased levels of energy 
  • Weight gain or loss 
  • Increase or decrease in appetite 
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Trouble sleeping 
  • Sadness 
  • Anxiety 
  • Irritability 
  • Antisocial behavior,  and 
  • Craving carbohydrates 
Seasonal Affective Disorder, also called winter blues, summer blues, or seasonal depression affects about four to six percent of Americans severely. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, SAD is four times more likely in women than in men, ten to twenty percent of Americans may have a mild case of SAD, and it usually isn’t found in people younger than the age of twenty.

If you suffer from the above symptoms, you may have Seasonal Affective Disorder; however, there must to be a history of these symptoms for a couple years before it can be correctly diagnosed. According to Clinical Psychologist Kathy Hogan Bruen: "There's a difference between feeling down and being depressed. Being clinically depressed means you have more than just a couple of symptoms and they've lasted for more than a couple of days. Before someone receives a diagnosis of SAD, they must experience this consecutively for two years. It's not just 'I feel bad one winter, therefore I must have SAD.' There has to be a history there." If you suspect you have SAD, seek a professional opinion. Self diagnosis is never a good idea.

The exact cause of SAD is unknown. Medical professionals attribute it to any of the following:

  • Lack of sunlight 
  • Increase in melatonin levels 
  •  hormone levels 
  • Irregular brain chemistry 
  • Lack of serotonin 
  • Disruption of our circadian rhythm, or
  • Lack of vitamin D 
Research on Winter Seasonal Affective Disorder continues, but thus far the lack of sun is the most compelling cause since lacking sunlight affects the brain by increasing melatonin while decreasing serotonin and vitamin D levels in the body. When exposed to sunlight, your optic nerve sends a message to your brain to produce less melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that calms the body and allows you to sleep. When the sun comes up your brain produces serotonin, a hormone that induces feelings of wakefulness. When the sun's ultraviolet rays touch your skin, your body produces vitamin D. Vitamin D also helps the body maintain proper serotonin levels. So during the dark winter months you could have insufficient amounts of vitamin D and serotonin, but overly sufficient amounts of melatonin thus the depressive state.

A research project done at the University of Alaska, Anchorage found that “as serum vitamin D decreased, symptoms of SAD increased.” Winter Seasonal Affective Disorder and the Mediterranean Diet Studies such as that of the University of Alaska, Anchorage lead us to believe that SAD can be controlled through diet. More specifically through a diet high in vitamin D which aids in the production of serotonin in the body. Psychiatrist David Mrazek on MayoClinic.com, claims that eating a Mediterranean diet can help.

A Mediterranean diet is a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables. With the Mediterranean diet whole grains, healthy fats, fish, and lower amounts of meats can help reduce depression. According to Mrazek this diet can reduce depression by up to one-third. Dietary supplements also help with Seasonal Affective Disorder. In addition to vitamin D, supplements to add into your diet include: omega-3 vitamin B3 vitamin B12 and folate. Fish, and nuts contain high amounts of omega-3 while B-complex vitamins come from oily fish, beans, nuts, and whole grains. Herring, mackerel, salmon and flaxseed are the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Key components of the Mediterranean Diet include exercise, eating whole grains, using olive oil, eating plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts. The diet also calls for the use of herbs rather than salt to flavor foods, enjoying meals with family and friends, limiting red meat consumption while increasing fish and poultry, and drinking red wine in moderation.

In a study by R. J. Wurtman and J. J. Wurtman published in Obesity Research, it was found that consuming foods high in carbohydrates increases serotonin in the brain, which alleviates the symptoms of depression involved with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Excess carbohydrates may; however, cause unwanted weight gain and worsen depression. A study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders supported eliminating simple carbohydrates from the diet of individuals with SAD, claiming this helped control the depression for a longer period. The consumption of carbohydrates and its effect on Seasonal Affective Disorder continues to be a controversial issue and the center of more studies; however, the Mediterranean diet in considered a low-carb diet, balancing the amount of carbohydrates with a variety of other nutritious foods and is highly recommended.

Kate Hunter is a writer at Everlasting Health Center, Reno’s best vitamin, supplement, herb and health food store since 1995. She enjoys organic gardening, whole food cooking, and following up on the latest health food news. Katie obtained B.A. in English with an emphasis on writing from Southern Oregon University and has been writing about nutrition, healthy living, cooking, and gardening for over nine years. She is a mother of three and spends her time baking, canning, growing and drying herbs, and reading food labels of course.

1 comment:

Sam said...

A friend in Northern VT swears by lots of Vitamin D, like double the usual dose. Helped him.