SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, is more common in the UK than we might think. Weak, watery winter sunshine, if we get any at all, doesn’t exactly encourage us to get out and about, leaving us at risk of low vitamin D and serotonin levels. So if you, or someone you know, seems to retreat into their shell in the darker months, feel down or lacking in energy, suffer mood swings or find their appetite significantly increases or decreases, they could be suffering from SAD.
Luckily,there are some easy remedies. Getting enough daylight is the most important; at least 15 minutes, preferably with forearms uncovered, but if you’re wrapped up, stay out longer. This will keep vitamin D production going, allowing your brain to keep up the levels of serotonin (a brain chemical essential for mood regulation). Eating vitamin D fortified foods, and supplementing will also help – vitamin D is fat soluble, which means you need to eat fat to absorb it. It is naturally found in oily fish (and fish oils like cod liver oil), beef liver, cheese, milk, egg yolks, button mushrooms, and oysters.
Eat foods rich in trytophan, which the body uses to make serotonin (such as chicken, turkey, fish, beans, milk, and bananas), but ensure a nutritious, fresh, unprocessed diet to optimise all the nutrients your body needs to keep mood and motivation high. Choosing complex carbs and avoiding caffeine, sugar, white flour products and saturated fat will help blood sugar levels stay stable. Exercise will stimulate the release of endorphins, promoting a positive mood, doubling your reasons to get out for a stroll in the daylight during the winter.
For those who find these steps are not relieving their symptoms quite enough, a lightbox may be the answer. Reasonably priced ones can easily be found on the internet, and they only need to be used for around 30 minutes daily to be effective. Make sure the one you buy has a strength of at least 10,000 lux units.
There are vitamin D sprays for a quick boost, but don’t overdo it – total supplementation should be no more than 5-10 micrograms (mcg). As with all nutrients, they rely on each other to be used by the body so a balanced, varied daily intake of nutrients from unprocessed, natural sources is essential. Natural nutrients from natural sources are always better utilised, so check out my recipe posts, and get cooking this winter to stay merry and bright!
Have a happy and healthy road to spring!