In the dark days of winter, when the hours of daylight are much reduced, then many women suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.).
You could think of it as the ‘winter blues’ and it is now recognised as a real physiological condition and not just something you can just shake off.
• Depression and/or hopelessness
• Cravings and weight gain
• Difficulty concentrating and processing thoughts/information
All these low mood symptoms are directly associated with low levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter. Good levels of serotonin are created in the brain when there is the proper balance of tryptophan, an amino acid, certain B vitamins, and certain enzymes. It’s creation is also influenced by blood sugars, fatty acids and the proper balance of melatonin – the ‘sleep hormone’.
Top 10 Tips
Dealing with S.A.D. is all about achieving balance and the most effective solutions involve a combination of a wholefood diet and simple strategies that bring your body into a more natural balance.
Tip 1. Eat whole grains
Whole grains have tryptophan in them and their carbohydrate content also allows the tryptophan to be a high enough percentage so it can get to the brain where it is needed. They also contain B vitamins which help the tryptophan to be converted to serotonin.
The grain that already has the highest percentage of tryptophan is buckwheat but most grains work well, particularly brown rice. They are complex enough and have enough fibre that the sugars are released into your blood stream slowly.
Tip 2. The green factor
The University of Kuopio in Finland conducted a study and found that leafy greens are good for your brain. Greens are high in almost all vitamins and minerals but they are particularly high in folate – a B vitamin that has been shown to reduce depression and help with S.A.D.
Tip 3. Eat more fruit
Fruit also contains amino acids and bananas are surprisingly high in tryptophan as are dates and papaya. That along with their natural sugars makes an ideal situation for creating serotonin.
Tip 4. Avoid stimulants & Junk Food
Stimulants like chocolate, coffee and tea do create serotonin for a short time but continued use actually interferes with its production by disrupting your insulin levels.
You may not eat too much of it in winter, and it may not seem like a stimulant, but ice cream has a high concentration of sugar and fats as well as carbohydrates and is not a good combination for maintaining mood.
Tip 5. Eat more nuts and seeds
Most people are low in omega 3 essential fatty acids which have been shown to help increase brain functioning and moods. The brain is after all mostly made of fatty acids. A common way to get omega 3’s is with flax seeds and flax oils. Whole seeds and nuts have the benefit of containing protein and therefore have enough tryptophan to help out.
Tip 6. Add in light sources
People with S.A.D have been found to have higher levels of melatonin than they should during the day. Melatonin’s effects tend to be the exact opposite of serotonin. It causes the body and slow down and prepare for sleep instead of wake up and be happy.
When your body notices there is no sunlight then the pineal gland signals your brain to convert serotonin into melatonin. Normally in the morning the pineal gland then signals for your brain to start making more serotonin. With SAD this cycle has been disrupted because of decreasing daylight hours.
So make sure your home lets in the maximum light – keep the curtains open or use a special S.A.D light which mimics daylight.
Tip 7. Exercise
For a double benefit make sure you go out for a walk as even weak winter sun will be beneficial for better serotonin/melatonin balance. Also walking will increase you dopamine levels, which causes relaxation, and endorphins which take away the pain, so your mood can be lifted.
Tip 8. Talking turkey
No I am not referring to Christmas dinner, but if you want to improve your serotonin and tryptophan levels then turkey has very high levels of it. Turkey and white meats are usually more balancing for your body than beef, pork or other red meats. L
Tip 9. Enjoy your Tea
Not something you have to encourage in the U.K. but apparently it is beneficial in the winter for lifting your mood. A study from Finland reported less incidences of feeling low or depressed in regular tea drinkers compared to those who drank it only occasionally. Tea contains theanine which helps you relax.
Tip 10. Early to bed…
It is not just an old wives tale because a regular bedtime will help restore your serotonin/melatonin balance by encouraging your body into a routine so it knows when you want to go to sleep, and to wake at a regular time. This will start the melatonin cycle early so that it can be finished early and you can enjoy waking up properly the next day.
One of the benefits of progesterone is that it helps you relax, and many women who supplement with it find that it aids sleep. A good night’s sleep will make a lot of difference to how you cope with S.A.D.
Progesterone is a natural mood enhancer, but if you need a little more help then a combined cream with progesterone and a small amount of natural oestrogen has been found to be effective for anxiety and depression.