Late fall is here and winter will soon be settling in and with it the onset and progression of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Although the dark days and cold weather do tend to have a mood-dampening effect, it is important to recognize when it is more than just the winter blues.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression following a cyclical pattern associated with the onset of fall and winter. People can experience the following symptoms:
low mood (ie. feeling blue, sad, hopeless)
having a loss of interest in things that once brought pleasure
lack of appetite or overeating
Diagnosis of SAD is four times more likely in females than males, and it is more frequently diagnosed in those who live further from the equator - as East Coast Canadians this absolutely impacts us.
The mechanism of action responsible for this condition is still not understood, but it has been found that those who experience it produce more melatonin. This plays a large role in the experience of fatigue and lethargy.
There have also been studies to suggest disruption of serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT), the neurotransmitter which plays a role in mood regulation. In one study, people with SAD produced more SERT, a protein that supports serotonin transport and is more abundant in winter months than summer where sunlight generally keeps SERT levels naturally low. As sunlight diminishes in the fall, a corresponding decrease in serotonin activity also occurs. Higher SERT levels lead to lower serotonin activity which can result in depression. Serotonin impacts the following:
Vitamin D: Research correlates low serum Vitamin D levels with depression and that deficiency plays a role in the onset of seasonal affective disorder. Vitamin D regulates genes which are responsible for release of some neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that play a role in our mood regulation. Research on SAD suggests vitamin D deficiency is linked to a decrease in the production of serotonin.
St Johns Wort: relevant medicinal properties are nervine tonic (modulating stress and anxiety) and mood balancing. Research shows St. Johns Wort increases the amount of serotonin in the body similarly to pharmaceutical drugs (such as SSRIs) that are used to treat mood. Its mechanism of action is to act on specific serotonin receptors in the brain in order to prevent the reuptake of serotonin. Additionally, a phytochemical called hypericin found in St. Johns Wort can cross the blood-brain barrier and increase dopamine levels - remember that dopamine is our happy/pleasure hormone! It is important to discuss the use of St. Johns Wort with a medical professional as it has many herb-drug interactions and contraindications.
Exercise: There's a reason that you feel so great after a workout! When you exercise you release endorphins. Physical activity is not only protective for your health but it also has been shown to improve mood. It can be an opportunity for social interaction and connection, or an opportunity to spend some time to yourself which can help nourish your body and mind. Studies show movement stimulates our serotonin system and increases the production of dopamine. The result is an antidepressant boost in your emotional well-being. It can be difficult to motivate an exercise routine during this time, but shifting your perspective on what physical activity is for you is very helpful. Re-evaluate the kind of exercise you need right now and find an activity you can commit to.
Nutrition: circling back to mood foods for a moment - the foods we eat affect our gut-brain axis as well as encourage the production of serotonin and other balancing hormones that impact our mood and can help fend-off SAD.
Light therapy: This treatment is rooted in the understanding that reduction in sunlight on our skin can trigger the onset of SAD, and consists of exposure (20-60 mins daily) to light at wavelengths that promote vitamin D production. Research supports that light therapy decreases the impact of SAD and improve mood and energy levels.
How to optimize the effect of the light box/light therapy:
Exposure to this light triggering Vitamin D production helps increase serotonin production and endorphins!
Book today if you're feeling the effects of reduced sunlight and winter being just around the corner, and want to help maintain balance with the seasonal fluctuations!
Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team. You'r information will not be shared.