The human body uses light cues, such as those provided by the sun, to time certain functions. When natural light exposure is minimal it can have a dramatic effect on our circadian rhythms (circadian rhythms regulate mood, sleep, wake, appetite, digestion and energy). The days of many of the population carrying out manual work out of doors are long gone, meaning when the hours of sunlight decrease between September to April people tend to go to, and come home from, work in the dark.
When we miss daytime light, it affects the nerve messages sent from our eyes to certain points in our brain which affect chemicals and hormones, particularly serotonin and melatonin which govern our mood.
SAD is usually diagnosed after suffering from a depression for two consecutive years which lifts in the spring. Your doctor may choose to treat you with anti-depressants once diagnosed.
With an estimated 10% of the population suffering and a great deal more affected by ‘winter blues’ (a milder form of SAD), it is a good time to look at how we can bring our body back into balance. Thankfully there are many natural ways of doing just that.
Fabulous Foods – A healthy, balanced diet is essential to regulate our hormones and avoid blood sugar crashes. Eat natural, non-processed food and include regular snacks to avoid hypoglycaemic episodes. If your diet needs an overhaul consult a nutritionist.
Amazing Amino Acids - The carbohydrate craving common in people with this disorder is thought to be caused by decreased levels of the brain neurotransmitter serotonin. Increasing intake of the amino acid Tryptophan may increase the body's production of serotonin thus improving your mood. Tryptophan-rich foods are fish, poultry, milk, and egg whites.
As above L-Tryptophan can be supplemented. Vitamin B12is instrumental in the production of serotonin which elevates mood. Vitamin B6 enables the conversion of tryptophan to 5-HTP. 5-HTP is precursor in the biosynthesis of serotonin from tryptophan. Magnesium is also needed for the conversion of tryptophan to 5-HTP.St Johns Wort has been shown to be as effective in treating depressive disorders as an orthodox anti-depressant. Omega 3 fatty acids role in the synthesis of serotonin and has been successfully used in the treatment of depression. It is recommended you talk to your doctor before starting a supplement plan as there can be contraindications with any pre-existing conditions and medication currently being taken.
Curb Coffee - Caffeine may give you a brief lift, but it can also cause anxiety, muscle tension, and gastrointestinal problems. Alcohol, on the other hand, is a depressant, which can further exacerbate your low mood.
Maintain Movement - Exercise releases feel good endorphins, which lift mood and alleviate anxiety.
Sync your Schedule - Keep your body's clock in sync by rising and retiring at the same time each day, even on weekends or days off from work.
Mindfully Meditate - Regular meditation practice will curb the negative voices in your head and help instil feelings of peace and tranquillity. Meditate each day preferably out of doors or by a window to increase your natural light intake. Two birds, one stone – what’s not to love?
Love the Light-box - Lack of light causes an increase in the production of melatonin (the hormone that makes us sleepy at night), and a reduction of serotonin, (the lack of which causes depression). The exposure to bright light therapy reverses the process, with the additional benefit of being drug free. Light boxes are available in many forms including a ‘dawn simulator’ which simulates sunrise by switching on as you wake and gradually growing brighter and brighter. Light boxes need to be at least ten times the intensity of regular lighting. There are situations where light-boxes should be avoided, e.g. if have an eye problem or if you are particularly sensitive to light; or if you are (or have been) taking antidepressants or medication against epilepsy. For that reason please consult your doctor before undertaking any form of light therapy.