By now many people are starting to get the winter blues – otherwise known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This usually shows up as fatigue, sluggishness, moody, depression, not sleeping well, weight gain due to cravings for carbs, and lack of motivation. So what are the causes of SAD?
Number one is typically a sleep cycle that is off. During the winter we should be thinking about conserving energy like our ancestors did during this time. The problem most people have is that they do not change their sleep times to reflect the changing season. Less light outside signals your body that it is time to get to bed, but we end up staying up later, just as we do in the summer.
Next on the list is low serotonin levels. We have spoken about this many times and have a few videos out on the subject of gut health. During the winter, our stress levels tend to climb due to lack of sleep, poor diet and lack of vitamin D. Serotonin is made mostly in the gut so when we do not have a healthy gut, we can not make serotonin. Low vitamin D also plays a role by inhibiting serotonin from being released in the body. An acceptable level of Vitamin D on lab tests would be between 60-80. Low serotonin levels lead to low melatonin levels as your body converts serotonin into melatonin. Melatonin is thought of being of a sleep aid, when in fact, it plays a bigger role in balancing cortisol levels. When melatonin levels are low, cortisol remains high throughout the day, causing you to have a hard time getting to sleep or staying asleep.
Last on the list includes low levels of Omega-3 fatty acids because this also causes low levels of serotonin. The DHA fat is essential for the brain and the EPA fat is a great anti-inflammatory fat for your body. It has been shown that you can not raise levels of DHA in the brain without supplementing it – meaning you can’t eat enough fatty fish to increase your levels. I suggest 3000 mg per day to get both brain health and anti-inflammatory benefits.
In summary, my recommendations to patients who are struggling with SAD include the following: First, we need to clean up the diet by adding in more protein and munching on vegetables during the day. Next, take some Vitamin D and Fish Oil in addition to a multivitamin/Mineral to get some of the necessary nutrients to help your body work better. I add in melatonin at night, particularly the liquid form as it is easier for people to take and it seems to work faster. Lastly, Vitamin B3 and 5-HTP will help build up your serotonin levels to help with sleep and stress resiliency during this time of the year.
You don’t have to be SAD this winter – there are things you can do to help your body and brain feel better. It is time to take charge of your health and make the necessary changes. It takes work to be healthy these days so many of these suggestions I have made will help.