Don’t be SAD this winter
SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), sometimes known as the ‘winter blues’, is a mood disorder characterised by mild to moderate depression that follows a seasonal pattern usually starting in autumn, running right through winter and eventually subsiding in spring. Shorter days and less sunshine can lead to lowered mood, less energy and the need to spend more time indoors resting.
Symptoms of SAD
While most of us can adapt to these seasonal changes, others find it difficult. SAD is generally diagnosed if you have had the same symptoms for two or more years during the winter months including:
- Loss of energy
- Heavy, "leaden" feeling in the arms or legs
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Craving foods high in carbohydrates
- Difficulty concentrating
- Weight gain
Causes of SAD
The causes of SAD are not fully understood, however the main concepts include:
- Low levels of sun exposure through the winter months can alter certain brain chemicals such as serotonin leading to mood disturbances. Vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin) levels are affected by reduced sun exposure and deficiency is linked with the onset of SAD.
- Dysfunction of neurotransmittersserotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline imbalances occur due to low levels of sunshine causing mood disturbances.
- Serotonin deficiency symptoms: depression, anxiety, insomnia, carbohydrate cravings, increased appetite, anger, sleep disturbances.
- Dopamine deficiency symptoms: depression, poor motivation, cravings, poor focus and attention.
- Noradrenaline deficiency symptoms: low energy, poor motivation & lack of interest in daily activities.
- Melatonin excess is triggered with shorter daylight hours and is responsible for your sleep response whereas daylight switches off melatonin production, which may impact those susceptible to SAD.
Herbal & nutritional support for SAD
St John’s wort
There has been considerable attention in clinical trials for the treatment of mild to moderate depression. St John’s wort supports the nervous system and healthy neurotransmitter function, including serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline and is used for mild to moderate depression, mild anxiety and nervous tension, mood swings, irritability, inability to cope, restlessness, stress and insomnia.
Naturally produced when your skin is exposed to sunlight. Even in sunny Australia, around 25% of people are thought to be vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D3 is important for neurotransmitter production and modulation, and a deficiency may result in depression, moodiness and anxiety.
People at high risk of a vitamin D deficiency include the elderly, those confined indoors or who have naturally dark skin, wear clothing that covers up most of the body for religious or cultural reasons, avoiding time spent in the sun, health conditions such as Crohn’s or coeliac disease and some medications.
B Vitamin Complex
A B vitamin complex typically includes all eight B vitamins including B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, biotin and folic acid, as well as choline and inositol. B1 is involved in the metabolism of serotonin, B6 is essential for the formation of dopamine and choline is required for synthesis of acetylcholine. Deficiency of B vitamins are linked to nervous and psychological issues such as anxiety and mild depression.