Seasonal Affective Disorder, aka: “S.A.D.” (not to be confused with, but related to, the Standard American Diet, which also uses the acronym “S.A.D.”) is the term given to the feelings of gloominess, depression, sadness and melancholy when the sun doesn’t shine enough. Very typical for this time of year, winter, when a ceiling of clouds greets us when we arise in the morning and continues throughout the day, for days on end.
It is amazing to me how a single moment of bright, beautiful sunshine, even if short-lived, perks up the spirits of an amazing number of people. Seasonal Affective Disorder can be more than just gloominess or depression. In some, it can become a serious mental condition.
It is thought to be the result of inadequate amounts of serotonins (the “happy hormones” of the brain). An imbalance of these serotonins can not only affect mood and emotions, but your sleep and appetite as well. Like so many other things that can go amiss in our bodies and minds, S.A.D. is increasingly a problem today, and climbing every year. Long, overcast, cloudy days have existed in the Northwest from the beginnings of time (as far as we can tell). So why is it just now a problem, and why are more people suffering the effects of it? And, why do serotonin imbalances exist in the first place?
I alluded to the answer to these questions in the opening sentence. Diet. Our diets are sorely deficient in nutrients, many of which could counteract the feelings of S.A.D., all of which are available in our diets.
First and foremost is Vitamin D. In the Northern latitudes, exposure to enough sun to provide vitamin D is obviously lacking. So, historically, the balance of the needs was provided by the foods eaten – foods rarely consumed today. It is highest in the organ meats, intestines, skin and fat of cattle and other land animals, and from shellfish, oily fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, kippers, herring, catfish and tuna) and insects. However, oily fish need to feed on phytoplankton and other fish (also eating phytoplankton) in order to store Vitamin D (which is found in their fat, flesh, skin and organs). So modern farmed-raised fish is out. The levels of Vitamin D in cattle is dependent upon the amount of time spent in the sunlight, so commercial cattle, raised in enclosed buildings, will be lacking in sufficient amounts of Vitamin D. Pasture-raised cattle is best for this (and other) reasons.
While poultry itself is not a good source of Vitamin D, it is a good source of Tryptophan, needed for the body to make Serotonin. Eggs are good for the protein, fats, Vitamin D and Tryptophan needed to counteract S.A.D. The yolk, by the way, is the most important source. Milk products, bananas, avocados and nuts also contain Tryptophan.
Diets lacking in animal fats, from all sources, tend to have the lowest Vitamin D and lowest Serotonin levels, especially vegans and vegetarians, pre-disposing them to S.A.D.
In the non-meat category there are few sources of Vitamin D. Dried button and shiitake mushrooms contain some Vitamin D and B Vitamins. Of the other sources (cereal, pasteurized, nut and soy milks), it is not naturally occurring – it is “enriched” (artificially added).
From a supplement standpoint, Omega-3 fatty acids, generally found in fish oil are helpful. Cod liver oil is the best source. You also need the range of B-Vitamins to make serotonins, best found in organ meats, brewer’s yeast, and legumes. Supplement forms of B-Vitamins, with extremely few exceptions, are synthetic, and therefore rarely helpful.
Magnesium is also needed for Serotonin, as is protein. Unfortunately, most people suffering from depression tend to do the worst possible – consume large amounts of carbohydrates to stimulate an artificial emotional lift. Excess carbs tend to replace the much needed nutrient dense foods that would actually help, and sugar uses up the B-Vitamins needed for serotonins! Protein is essential in supporting healthy brain chemistry, including serotonin. If that protein comes from organs meats (like liver), well, you have the best of all worlds: Vitamin D, the other fat-soluble vitamins, B-Vitamins, lots of minerals, and the protein!
Eating brightly colored foods, including green leafy vegetables tends to help lift a sagging spirit. Other food helps include eating more fruit and avoiding alcohol, coffee and junk foods. Carbohydrates are not necessarily a no-no, since we also need carbs for the brain, but the right carbohydrates, in small amounts is the key. Getting plenty of exercise and sleep are also very helpful.
Treatment options include acupuncture, herbs, nutritional therapy, essential oils, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and light therapy. Many people have had good results with the simple addition of full spectrum light bulbs installed, replacing traditional light bulbs in the home or work (available at most hardware stores).
The information provided in this article should not be construed as personal medical advice or instruction. No action should be taken based solely on the contents of this article. Readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being. The information and opinions provided here are believed to be accurate and sound, based on the best judgment available to the author, but readers who fail to consult appropriate health authorities assume the risk of any injuries.