If you suffer with episodes of recurring low moods or depression during winter months, you may be suffering with Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD. Classical symptoms of SAD include needing more sleep than usual, low mood, lethargy and a general lack of interest in ordinary things.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is usually worsened during winter months due to the lack of natural daylight. According to information on the NHS website, it is thought that SAD affects around 7% of people in the UK and predominantly women. According to Family Doctor.org between 4% and 6% of people in the United States suffer from SAD. Another 10% to 20% may experience a mild form of winter-onset SAD. It seems that SAD is becoming more prevalent the world over.
If you are considering alternative treatments to deal with SAD, it is important to understand the reasons why the disorder affects humans so much. Natural daylight passes through the eyes and is processed by the brain, which then releases the feel good, mood enhancing ‘happiness’ neurotransmitter, serotonin. A lack of exposure to natural daylight during winter months can lead to low levels of serotonin, which in turn is associated with low mood and depressive states of mind – both symptomatic of SAD.
It is not uncommon for low serotonin levels to appear hand in hand with low levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. Interestingly, those people who are most likely to have low levels of neurotransmitters may also have levels of Vitamin D. Increasing your levels of vitamin D, either through diet or supplementation, offers a good way to help boost your serotonin levels.
Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, helps your body to make serotonin. B6, available through diet and also supplementation, helping aid the biosynthesis of the four main neurotransmitters. Taking a vitamin B Complex can help to improve serotonin levels.
5-HTP, a derivative of the amino acid tryptophan has been found safe in treating SAD in patients using it alone as a dietary supplement (Das 2004). 5-HTP acts directly on the brain, elevating mood. 5-HTP enters the brain and there it is converted into serotonin. 5-HTP can be purchased in capsule and tablet form but it’s important to check the ingredients list as this may include ingredients that your body does not need.
If you would prefer not to take supplements, seaweed and spirulina are good dietary sources of the amino acid tryptophan and if you are vegan, be sure that your diet includes the minimum recommendations for grains, legumes, nuts and vegetables.
If you are limited due to the lack of natural daylight that you have access to during the day, it’s worth investing in a good quality natural daylight lamp to increase your natural daylight exposure . If you budget is low, buying a single full spectrum bulb may also be a good option. In the UK, sad.co.uk stock an excellent range of natural light lamps.
To find out more about Seasonal Affective Disorder click here.