Sunday, October 5, 2014

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) - How To Beat The Winter Blues!

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The days are short, the nights are cold and sometimes you don’t feel like getting out of bed, let alone leaving the house. So, what can you eat to lift your mood, brighten your spirits and nourish your soul?

In the winter, many people suffer from SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is considered a mood disorder where people experience DEPRESSIVE SYMPTOMS.

What are the symptoms of the winter blues or SAD?

Symptoms of SAD may consist of difficulty waking up in the morning, and a tendency to oversleep and over eat.

Other symptoms include a lack of energy, difficulty concentrating on or completing tasks, and withdrawal from friends, family and social activities. This leads to feelings of pessimism and DEPRESSION.

What causes SAD?

One theory holds that the increased hours of darkness disrupt the brain chemicals that affect mood; serotonin and melatonin. Some experts believe reduced sunlight causes vitamin D deficiencies, but whether it translates into DEPRESSION is not entirely clear.

So when it comes to a clear cause for SAD, the jury’s still out. While light therapy appears to be one of the most effective treatments for SAD, what you eat can also play a role in alleviating its symptoms.

What factors influence SAD?

A growing body of research shows that food can influence your mood by ensuring your brain has all the NUTRIENTS it needs. First of all, you need to ensure you are eating three meals a day, with a few snacks in between to help regulate your blood sugar and ensure a constant flow of nutrients to your brain.

Your blood sugar drops when you haven’t eaten for several hours and this drop tends to make people anxious and moody.

Always eat protein and carbohydrates at meals and snack time. Examples include hummus and carrots or yogurt and fruit. To keep your BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS stable, limit your intake of refined carbohydrates like processed fruit juice, crackers and white bread. Eat whole-grain alternatives, which get digested more slowly due to their high fibre content.

Include foods that are rich in OMEGA 3 fats, Vitamin B6 and folic acid. Research tells us OMEGA 3s are important for helping the symptoms of inflammation from conditions like arthritis and eczema, and blocks brain chemicals that can cause sadness or depression-like feelings. Vitamin B6 helps the body make neurotransmitters, chemicals that carry signals from one nerve cell to another.

We need these for normal brain development and function, and to help our bodies make the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine, which influence mood. Folic acid helps boost your mood and reduce fatigue by helping your body produce serotonin.

A few key foods to include in your DIET:

1. Avocados: High in Vitamin B6. Add diced avocados to salads or mash them up with some garlic and lemon juice to make guacamole. Or try the recipe for Chocolate Mousse below.

2. Chickpeas: High in Vitamin B6 and folic acid. Buy low-salt canned chickpeas or soak your own. They can be added to salads, soups, stews and made into hummus.

3. Flax seeds – High in Omega 3s. Grind flax seeds and sprinkle over cereal, oatmeal or yogurt or add to baked goods.

4. Leafy greens – High in Vitamin B6 and folic acid. Add a handful to smoothies or soups or process with some garlic, nuts or seeds and olive oil to make pesto.

Other foods high in OMEGA 3s, Vitamin B6 and folic acid to keep your spirits up include: wild salmon and shrimp, beans and lentils, garlic, fruits and vegetables –specifically beets, and nuts and seeds such as walnuts and sunflower seeds.

What to avoid:

Reduce foods high in saturated fat as they are known for their role in promoting HEART DISEASE and some types of cancer. Researchers suspect saturated fat also plays a role in DEPRESSION. Avoid eating too much red meat or fried foods as they lead to sluggishness, slow thinking and fatigue.

Limit alcohol. Alcohol is actually a DEPRESSANT. In small doses, alcohol can produce a temporary feeling of euphoria. The truth is that alcohol is a chemical depressant to the human brain and affects all nerve cells.

Be careful with caffeine as it can bring on a burst of energy, followed by a spiral into fatigue. It can also increase irritability.

Avoid all forms of sugar including those considered ‘good’ like honey and molasses. The body reacts more quickly to the presence of sugar than it does to the presence of complex carbohydrates. The increase in energy is quickly followed by fatigue and depression.

What other dietary factors can influence your mood?

Part of the reason people with SAD crave carbohydrates may be due to decreased serotonin activity. Carbohydrates promote the production of serotonin. Not all carbs are created equal.

Sweets and simple carbohydrates like doughnuts, white rice or white bread quickly raise BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS that trigger a spike in insulin. The flood of insulin causes the blood sugar to be rapidly metabolized.

This sudden drop in blood sugar can cause fatigue, HEADACHES and irritability. It is recommended to eat carbohydrates that have little fat and low protein to ensure serotonin is made, as protein can dampen the effects of serotonin production.

Light Treatment:

If you spend the majority of your days indoors, consider investing in a light box packed with super bright white fluorescent bulbs; it can elevate your serotonin levels and reset your internal clock to spring/summer schedule. Position the gadget above your line of sight, angled downward toward your head, and flip it on each morning for about 30 minutes while you eat breakfast or check your e-mail. Although you don't need a prescription, it's best to visit a mental health doctor before buying a light box—she can make sure you get the correct-intensity bulbs (generally, 10,000 lux) that properly filter out harmful UV rays.

Vitamin D

It's been widely suggested that vitamin D, often called the sunshine vitamin, may play a role in mental health. Indeed, women with SAD tend to have low D levels, and getting enough of Vitamin D will help to improve depression. It's a good idea to make sure your D level is adequate  Between 1,000 and 2,000 IU daily may help even out winter moods - not to mention bolster everything from colon to bone to breast health.

* And don't forget -- exercising at home with videos or at the gym, or engaging in active outdoor activities when you can during the colder winter months can both BURN CALORIES and boost your mood.

I live in Minnesota where the winters are extremely cold and it seems to last forever!  If you suffer from SAD, as I do, please continue to read my posts for recipes to help reduce the symptoms of this disorder.

Intuitively Yours,
Laurel  ♥

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