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Seasonal Affective Disorder: Don't Let Winter Win!

Seasonal Affective Disorder: Don't Let Winter Win!

By Andrea Bartels CNP NNCP RNT
Registered Nutritional Therapist

03 Dec 2019

Seasonal Affective Disorder: Don't Let Winter Win!

With the abundance of warmth and sunshine now behind us, it’s normal to find ourselves feeling a brief transitional period of the blues. But if you continue to experience apathy, fatigue, listlessness, irritability, over-sleeping, over-eating, loss of interest in activities once enjoyed and/or sadness, it’s time to do something about it.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of clinical depression that’s associated with a change of seasons, most commonly starting in Autumn and lasting through Winter. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association some degree of SAD is experienced by about 18% of Canadians, with the occurrence being four times higher in women than in men. Why it affects only a minority of the population is unknown as of yet, but researchers believe SAD is associated with the reduction in natural light exposure experienced during colder months of the year. Fortunately, there are a number of proven, natural ways to improve your experience of SAD.

Natural help for SAD

Get regular exercise. Physical activity not only relaxes our muscles, it boosts levels of serotonin—the neurotransmitter than gives us that feeling of satisfaction and contentment. According to Dr. Andrew Weil MD of the Center for Integrative Medicine at The University of Arizona, exercise may be the single most effective way to beat the blues. Actually, getting outside in the daytime triples the benefits by exposing you to fresh air and natural light!

Get natural light, or its closest imitation. Exposure to natural light will help you reset your circadian rhythm to one that comes naturally in summer months. Invest in a pair of modern under-layers from a camping gear store to keep you well-insulated against the cold. When you’re warm, you can focus more easily on making that snowman with the kids, skating, or simply sitting outside in a comfortable chair. You can also invest in a lighting system that emits full-spectrum lighting, which mimics natural light, for your office or living space.

Eat nutrient-dense meals and snacks. If you find you tend to over-eat in winter months, make sure you have healthy choices on hand. Healthier carbohydrates, like those found in squash, sweet potato, quinoa and other whole grains can be even tastier and more satisfying when accompanied by healthy fats. Choose from coconut, olives, avocadoes, nuts and seeds. Lastly, remember to include a protein source with your meals and snacks. Doing so will provide longer-lasting, balanced energy levels, as well as give you the building blocks for dopamine---the motivating neurotransmitter. Nuts, eggs, beans, lentils, grass-fed meats, fish and organic dairy products are the highest sources of protein.

All of those lifestyle choices sound great, right? However, we can agree that it’s easier said than done. So why not give yourself some extra support while you ease into those lifestyle modifications?

Supplements to Support SAD: A Checklist

If you see the signs of SAD in yourself, definitely communicate with your primary healthcare practitioner. Also, consider adding extra nutrients to your regime by way of supplementation. They’ll enhance your health in other ways, too. Here are three key supplements that may be taken as a SAD prevention/management protocol:

Vitamin D

This is perhaps the most common nutrient deficiency in Canada during the winter months, because there isn’t enough daylight, let alone sunshine for us to make adequate amounts of it in the skin. Vitamin D influences our skeletal, immune, as well as mental health---with a meta-analyses of the published research showing that D deficiency is certainly associated with depression. Don’t be deficient. PLV Vitamin D contains 1,000 i.u. of vitamin D per capsule, may be taken on a daily basis, and at any time. (To optimize levels, you may ask your primary healthcare provider for a blood test to assess your vitamin D status.)

Activated B Vitamins

Is your B complex body-ready? Several studies have shown that supplementation of methylated/phosphorylated B vitamins may improve symptoms of those diagnosed with SAD. This may be due to the fact that these nutrients support the production of serotonin—a neurotransmitter that can be deficient in those with depressive disorders. Taking methylated/phosphorylated forms of major B vitamins---such as B-6, folate and B-12—saves the body the steps it takes to convert the vitamins to their useable versions. These same nutrients also protect the heart and brain from dangerous levels of homocysteine, which rises under perceived stress.
PLV Bio Active B complex is best taken with a meal, once or twice daily to support healthy levels of serotonin.

Magnesium + Melatonin

The effects of reduction in daylight levels become more apparent by November, and this may be when sleeping problems and resulting mood changes take a center seat. With melatonin secreted only with the visual perception of decreased light, artificial lighting means the eyes cannot signal to the pineal gland when day changes to night, and vis-versa. This can play havoc with our sleep-wake cycles at this time of year. In order to stabilize melatonin levels, taking a melatonin supplement may help ensure a better night’s sleep and ward off the irritability, carbohydrate cravings and general moodiness that comes with sleep deprivation.

PLV Magnesium+Melatonin Night-time is intended for use within 1 hour of retiring for bed. It works quickly, creating a sensation of sleepiness and promotes a more solid sleep through the night. Remember, the goal of using melatonin is sleep induction, so don’t use it during the hours that you plan to be productive! Finally, speak with your pharmacist to find out if melatonin is appropriate to combine with your mood-altering medications, especially SSRI Antidepressants.

Don’t let SAD determine the fate of your winter. Try these simple dietary, lifestyle and supplement tips to improve your experience.

References

Alston M, Cain SW, Rajaratnam SMW. Advances of Melatonin-Based Therapies in the Treatment of Disturbed Sleep and Mood. Handb Exp Pharmacol. 2019;253:305-319.

Anglin RE, Samaan Z, Walter SD, McDonald SD. Review: Vitamin D deficiency and depression in adults: systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Psychiatry. 2013 Feb; 202():100-7.

Canadian Mental Health Association. https://cmha.bc.ca. Seasonal Affective Disorder. Accessed October 23, 2019.

Lewis JE et al. The effect of methylated vitamin B complex on depressive and anxiety symptoms and quality of life in adults with depression. ISRN Psychiatry. 2013 Jan 21;2013: 621453.

Sherri Melrose.. Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches. Depress Res Treat. 2015; 2015: 178564.

Webb AR, Kline L, Holick MF. Influence of season and latitude on the cutaneous synthesis of vitamin D3: exposure to winter sunlight in Boston and Edmonton will not promote vitamin D3 synthesis in human skin. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1988 Aug; 67(2):373-8.

Weil, Andrew. Seasonal Affective Disorder. https://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/body-mind-spirit/mental-health/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/ Accessed October 23, 2019.


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