Naturopathic Nutrition: S.A.D? Beat the Blues Naturally

Naturopathic Nutrition

As the days grow shorter and the sunshine fades, giving way to rainy days and dark nights, many of us get a touch of the blues. Most people are only mildly affected by feelings like this during winter and can continue on with everyday life -possibly with the help of just a few extra layers.

For some however, the winter months can have a more debilitating effect on mood and behaviour, resulting in a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, aptly abbreviated to S.A.D.

S.A.D. is believed to affect up to 10% of the general population and is more commonly seen in women than men. Symptoms of S.A.D. include fatigue, lowered motivation, hypersomnia (sleeping too much), increased appetite and weight, loss of libido, irritability and reduced sociability. These symptoms only occur during winter months, developing slowly as the seasons progress and go into remission in the spring and summer months.

The exact mechanism behind how and why daylight changes cause S.A.D. are still not fully understood but there are a number of interrelating factors involved: disruptions to circadian rhythm, melatonin disturbances, genetic susceptibility, neurotransmitter imbalances and nutritional deficiencies. Deficiency in Omega 3 fatty acids are a contributing factor to mood disorders. Interestingly, population studies have found that countries with a higher fish intake have a lower incidence of S.A.D. regardless of geographical location. B Vitamins are essential for energy production as well as facilitating the synthesis of many mood-regulating neurotransmitters. S.A.D. sufferers are often found to be deficient in Vitamin D. When exposed to direct sunlight, our skin naturally produces Vitamin D and deficiency of this crucial vitamin is becoming more common as we spend less time outdoors. This is impacted in winter due to the lack of full sunlight available and our reluctance to go outside in the cold weather.

There is now an overwhelming amount of evidence showing that light therapy, particularly in the morning, is effective for improving S.A.D. and has a positive, normalising effect on our circadian rhythm and melatonin secretion. Dating back as far as the second century, sunlight has been regarded as an essential factor for human health. The ancient Greek physician, Aretaeus, stated ‘lethargics are to be laid in the light and exposed to the rays of the sun for the disease is gloom’, so get yourselves outdoors and give yourself a brighter outlook!

Nicky is a Naturopathic Nutritionist practising in Dublin. She writes, speaks and advises nationwide on all aspects of health, nutrition and wellbeing. Check for further info, upcoming courses and workshops.

By Nicky Flood