Don’t Suffer With SAD, Natural Medicine Can Help!
As the leaves start to fall, so does our mood.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD for short, is a type of depression that is brought on by a change in the seasons. SAD begins around the same time each year. It starts in the fall as the days start getting shorter, and it is alleviated in the spring when the sun shines longer during the day.
WHAT ARE COMMON SYMPTOMS?
- Low mood/symptoms of depression most of the day
- Losing interest in your favourite activities
- Low energy and fatigue on a daily basis
- Feeling sluggish, moody, or agitated
- Difficulty concentrating and brain fog
- Increased appetite, sugar and carbohydrate cravings
- Weight gain
SAD is a very common clinical issue. However, people don’t seek support for it often enough. You don’t have to experience these symptoms year in and year out! There are things we can do to ease the discomfort that comes with Season Affective Disorder.
VITAMIN D & SUNLIGHT
I want to focus on Vitamin D’s role in SAD since we live in North America. The northern hemisphere gets significantly less sunshine than the Southern hemisphere. Many Canadians are deficient in Vitamin D and they experience Seasonal Affective Disorder when daylight hours decrease. Our skin produces Vitamin D through synthesis when it’s exposed to the sun, but without adequate sun exposure we are left deficient.
Vitamin D is an essential vitamin for overall health, specifically our mental health. Although it is named a vitamin, it acts as a neurohormone with multiple functions in the body. It impacts immune modulation, insulin sensitivity, neurotransmitter synthesis, calcium uptake and bone health, and autoimmune support for conditions such as MS. Low amounts can contribute to depression, because it has many receptor sites in the brain and influences mood quite heavily.
WHAT CONTRIBUTES TO LOW VITAMIN D?
- Low production due to fewer hours of sunlight (fall and winter time)
- Lower intake of Vitamin D rich foods like fish, eggs, mushrooms and liver
- Stress! High cortisol reduces Vitamin D receptor expression. Therefore decreasing vitamin D uptake and activity in the body
HOW DOES VITAMIN D IMPACT SAD
The Vitamin D receptor (VDR) is present in almost every tissue in the body. VDR sites in the brain up regulate the synthesis of 5-HTP (which converts to melatonin), when vitamin D is bound. Therefore, if you don’t have enough Vitamin D to bind to these receptors, serotonin synthesis is significantly decreased.
Since vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, it needs to be processed by the liver and it stays in your tissues longer. This means it carries a toxicity risk. Always ensure you are speaking to your health care provider before supplementing with Vitamin D in doses above the recommended daily intake. Ask to have bloodwork done to have your vitamin D levels checked.
WHAT ABOUT MELATONIN?
Another influencer of mood is melatonin. As we move into the colder, darker seasons, more melatonin is produced by the body due to the lack of sunlight. In order for us to produce melatonin, we need the precursor tryptophan. Guess what else needs tryptophan to be produced? Serotonin — the happy hormone! So when melatonin production is increased, it is believed that there is less tryptophan available to produce serotonin. This can result in low levels of serotonin in the brain.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO ALLEVIATE SAD SYMPTOMS?
- Support vitamin D levels: First, test your blood levels so your health practitioner can determine the correct dosage for you.
- Environmental support: Create a bright environment in and around your home to maximize your sunlight exposure during daylight hours.
- Nature time: Even on cloudy days, get outside and expose yourself to sunlight to support Vitamin D production, cortisol and melatonin balance, and overall mood.
- Exercise regularly: The biggest mood-related benefit from exercise is endorphin release. Endorphins are are our feel good hormones that help relieve anxiety, stress, and elevate mood.
- Phototherapy: There are LED therapy lights that can be very beneficial to add into your daily regime. 10,000 lux is the recommended amount to obtain light therapy benefits and exposing yourself to the light for 20-30 minutes, within half an hour of waking, is best!
- Increasing Omega 3’s. You can get omega 3 in a fish oil supplement (ensuring adequate DHA content, as this is the form that is most beneficial for brain and neurotransmitter health) or from food. Cold-water fish, eggs, nuts, and seeds are all good sources of omega 3.
- Serotonin supporting herbs & supplements: Magnolia, Phellodendron, 5-HTP, tryptophan, B-vitamins, and Magnesium may help with symptoms of SAD.
- Medications: Sometimes diet, lifestyle, and supplements do not improve how we feel — and that is okay! Medications like SSRI’s or Wellbutrin may be right for you.
** Always make sure you speak with a health care provider before initiating any treatments on yourself. Not all of these suggestions will be right or safe for every person.
Our mood doesn’t always have to fall with the seasons. Book an appointment with a Naturopathic Doctor to learn more about supporting healthy hormone levels as we enter the darker months!
Courtesy of Dr. Shannon McGuire, ND