Seasonal Affective Disorder is Real
Millions of people experience the winter blues. This type of depression is known as SADD. There are several interventions that can help and even reverse SADD. Winter is an excellent time to get extra support either from a therapist, a peer group or a functional medicine practitioner who can help optimize your health.
7 Tips You Can Begin Now
Let me know which of these helps you the most.
- Get outside between 10 am and 2 pm everyday. Bright light exposure triggers our brain and endocrine system creating a cascade that helps your body thrive. Aim for at least 20 – 30 minutes everyday. It doesn’t have to be sunny out to get the benefit of midday exposure to daylight.
- A lower carbohydrate diet makes sense in the winter because we generally slow down a bit. People who experience SADD tend to feel better when they focus on other foods in the winter. Simply focusing on microbiota accessible carbs (MAC’s) supports both gut health and mood. These come in the form of roots and tubers. They are the traditional foods we would gather in the fall and store in the winter.
- Eat Fish. The DHA in fish supports healthy brain function whereas the EPA keeps inflammation down. Research shows that consuming fish several times a week is better in the long-term than supplementing with fish oil. Just eat real food and take cod liver oil as an excellent source of Vitamin D.
- Tend to your gut health. The gut-brain axis is key. Brain-fog is usually caused by an imbalance in the gut. Eat fermentable fibers and avoid alcohol as it can increase intestinal permeability. This can set off an immune response and increase inflammation which contributes to depression.
- Neurotransmitters are produced in the gut. Depending on what kind of depression your experience you may benefit from specific dietary or supplement support while treating the gut. Melatonin is affected adversely by bright light at night. It works with serotonin to regulate the sleep/wake cycle.
- Get moving. Exercise feels good. Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters that we know increases when we move. Choose activities that you enjoy and try new ones that are more suited for the season.
- Reflect. The winter is an excellent time to cultivate creativity and develop a gratitude or meditation practice. Enjoy warm drinks, cozy fires and enough social time to balance out the stillness.
Lab Tests Can Provide Important Insight for Treatment
For my patients, I want to see their vitamin D status especially if they have been supplementing. This is a standard blood test. Vitamin D can be problematic if too high or too low. I also like to see a urine organic acids test to see how neurotransmitter production is functioning. Basic gut testing always helps whether or not there are gut symptoms. Cortisol, melatonin and inflammatory markers like cross-reactive protein also give important insight when it comes to treating the root cause of depression.