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Nutrition Tips For Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

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If you don’t live close to the equator, you’re probably familiar with Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, for short (and realistically). SAD is a form of depression that affects mood, appetite, and energy levels, and makes things that were once fun no longer interesting. 

SAD can significantly impact daily life, and while various coping strategies exist, from light therapy to talk therapy, one area often overlooked is nutrition. In this article, we’ll explore the role of nutrition in managing SAD and discuss practical dietary strategies that may help alleviate symptoms and improve overall well-being.

What also Are The Most Common Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

Not only are there common symptoms of SAD but there are common times to experience SAD are in the fall and winter, some people experience it in the summer months as well. In the summer, you may have a poor appetite, restlessness, trouble sleeping, or violent behaviour. In winter, you may tend to overeat, withdraw from people, and sleep a lot.

The most common symptoms of SAD include:

  • Grouchiness: Feeling irritable or easily annoyed without a clear reason.
  • Anxiety: Experiencing persistent worry, nervousness, or unease about future events or situations.
  • Fatigue (excessive tiredness): Feeling extremely tired, lacking energy, and struggling to stay awake despite getting enough sleep.
  • Decreased focus: Having difficulty concentrating or paying attention, often leading to distraction and poor performance in tasks.
  • Weight Gain: An increase in body weight over time, often resulting from consuming more calories than the body burns.
  • Headaches: Pain or discomfort in the head or neck region, ranging from mild to severe and often accompanied by other symptoms like sensitivity to light or noise.

 

Seasonal affective disorder impacts many people. And if you’ve experienced it, you are not alone, and this article is meant to empower and equip you with knowledge and strategies that can help alter your course. Later in this article, you’ll see how mindset can create real change in the physiologic processes of our bodies. 

How Can Nutrition Help Manage Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

Research suggests that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, particularly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), in fish oil, seeds, and certain foods may relieve depression, including SAD. Studies have shown that EPA supplementation can be as effective as certain antidepressants in alleviating symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

Getting enough omega-3s from food alone can be challenging, as the levels of EPA required for therapeutic effects are relatively high. However, incorporating sources like fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), flax seeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds into your diet can help boost your intake. 

Supplementation may be beneficial for those who struggle to meet their omega-3 needs through food alone. But, it’s up to you to speak with a doctor, dietitian, or nutritionist before taking any type of supplementation or changing your diet.

No single food, nutrient, supplement, drug, or behaviour is going to be the be-all-end-all to shift someone out of depression or improves one’s mood or sleep. It’s a constellation of things, and at the centre is the connection between the gut and mind.

The Gut-Mind Connection: How Nutrition Impacts Mood

Our gut microbiome, the collection of microorganisms in our digestive tract, may play a significant role in mood regulation. 

Participants of a study published in 2009 had high omega-6 to omega-3 ratios that made their bodies unable to respond to anti-depressants. When EPAs were introduced into their diets it shifted the ratio of omegas, lowered inflammation makers and allowed anti-depressants to have their effect even at low doses. 

It worked because it increased heart rate variability (HRV). The vagus nerve communicates the heart rate to the brain, and the brain then adjusts the heart rate using HRV.

Consuming a diet rich in processed foods, high in omega-6 fatty acids, and low in fiber can disrupt the balance of the gut microbiome and contribute to inflammation, which has been linked to depression. Conversely, adopting a diet high in fiber, plant-based foods, and omega-3 fatty acids can support a healthy gut microbiome and reduce inflammation, potentially alleviating symptoms of depression.

Mind Over Matter: The Power of Perception

Our beliefs and attitudes toward food can influence our mood and well-being. Research conducted by psychologist Alia Crum, “Mind Over Milkshakes,” demonstrates the profound impact of our mindset while we eat, and how it can cause real physiological responses.

By adopting a positive mindset and cultivating beliefs that support health and well-being, we can harness the power of the mind and use it to our favour.

Let There Be Light: Harnessing the Healing Power of Sunlight

If you experience moderate seasonal depression, one of the most beneficial things you can do is get as much bright sunlight in your eyes as you can. And not just your eyes, your skin as well. Your skin is an endocrin organ, meaning not only can it produce hormones (Vitamin D, sex steroids, retinoids and opioids) it can act as a messenger and direct the secretion of hormones.

For individuals with SAD, increasing exposure to sunlight, particularly during the morning hours, can help alleviate symptoms and improve mood. Light therapy, which involves exposure to a special light box that mimics natural sunlight, can be an effective treatment where sunlight is limited.

Remember to consult with a healthcare provider before making any significant changes to your diet or treatment plan.

Shedding Light on Seasonal Blues: The Role of Nutrition in Managing SAD

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for managing SAD, but with the right practices like incorporating omega-3 fatty acids into your diet through sources like fatty fish and seeds, you may find relief from its syomptons.

By embracing a holistic approach that considers the gut-mind connection, the power of perception, and the healing benefits of sunlight you’ll be taking proactive steps to navigate the challenges of SAD and reclaim a brighter outlook on life.

About the author
Picture of Gabe Fontana

Gabe Fontana

A freelance writer who strives for clarity, brevity, and humanity. He takes complex topics and make them approachable and fun to read. Find him online at www.fontanacopy.com to view the breadth of his work.

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