Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that appears during particular seasons of the year. SAD, “winter blues” or “seasonal depression” affects about five percent of Americans every year who often notice anxiety symptoms occurring around the end of Day Light Saving Time in early November.
Mental Health America, a community based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness, identifies the following as symptoms of SAD disorder:
- Anxiety: tension, inability to tolerate stress,
- Depression: misery, loss of self-esteem, diminished interest in activities, despair, apathy,
- Lethargy: feeling fatigued,
- Extreme mood swings,
- Overeating: starchy high carbohydrates or sweet food cravings that result in weight gain,
- Sexual problems: loss of libido,
- Sleep problems: disturbed sleep patterns with either increased oversleeping or early morning waking,
- Social problems: irritability and desire to avoid social contacts.
Causes of SAD Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder occurs when an individual’s amount of Serotonin is low. Serotonin, sometimes called the body’s natural “feel-good” hormone, sends impulses from the brain to the body’s nerve cells to regulate your moods. Natural sunlight is the main producer of Serotonin. Reduced sunlight exposure in the winter months can lead to diminished Serotonin levels and disrupt the body’s general sense of well-being.
The change in seasons also disrupts the body’s balance of Melatonin, the chemical that makes us drowsy. When the day comes to an end, our eyes pick up the changes from light to darkness and sends a message to our brain to produce Melatonin and make us sleepy. Confusion sets in when the messages from our outside world contradict what our biological clocks (also called our circadian rhythm) tells us are the right times to sleep or wake up. Interrupted sleeping patterns are the unfortunate consequence. Disrupted sleep patterns can cause irritability, confusion, and delayed response times that increases the sense of hopelessness.
Nature’s Defense Against Seasonal Depression
So while some of us may relish that bonus hour of sleep that November brings, seasonal affective disorder might conjure up feelings of anticipated anxiety and hopelessness for others. The good news is that there are minerals and vitamins to help with SAD that can be found in common, ordinary foods that are easily accessible from your grocery store.
Read further to see how you can fight seasonal affective disorder by increasing your Vitamin D and Selenium levels with food sources found every day.
Vitamin D is a natural remedy for depression because it activates serotonin in the body. Our primary source of vitamin D generation is from natural sunlight, so when the sunshine goes away, so does the Vitamin D source.
The US Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of Vitamin D for healthy adults is 600 IUs per day. Examples of vitamin D foods include cold water fish (i.e., tuna and salmon), mushrooms, soy milk, and cod liver oil. Three ounces of cooked Salmon contains over 400 IUs. Freshwater canned Tuna, drained, contains approximately 150 IUs. Cow’s milk, as well as almond, soy, or coconut milk, contain as much as 100 IU per cup. Opt for Shiitake or Portobello mushrooms, which both contain higher levels of Vitamin D over White Button mushrooms.
Selenium is a mineral that affects your thyroid hormone metabolism. Insufficient Selenium levels may cause thyroid imbalances that can make you irritable or have trouble sleeping. Troubles multiply when those with deficient Selenium levels are also trying to adjust to the end of Day Light Savings time and their Melatonin levels are out of sync. It’s no wonder that fatigue soon sets in as the days get colder. Many people also report more symptoms of confusion and anxiety.
The US recommended RDA of Selenium intake for healthy adults is 55 micrograms (mcg.) Natural food sources high in Selenium include Brazil nuts, eggs, liver, tuna, cod, and pumpkin or sunflower seeds. One ounce of Brazil nuts (6-8 nuts) contains as many as 544 mcg per serving. Three ounces of cooked tuna packs 92 mcg per serving. After dinner, treat yourself to a healthful dessert of sesame seeds. A 1/4 cup of sesame seeds contains approximately 12 mcg of Selenium that can help send you off to a good night’s sleep.
If the thought of long winter nights leaves you feeling gloomy, rest easy in knowing that there are ways to fight seasonal depression symptoms that don’t rely on medication or expensive sunlamps.
Tap into any of these Selenium or Vitamin D foods. Treat yourself to a seafood banquet to fight off SAD and vitamin D deficiency. End the meal with a handful of pumpkin seeds for dessert and you too can ease the wintertime blues.