How to Naturally Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or the “Winter Blues”
Feeling unusually sad or depressed lately?
Just can’t get out of bed?
Feel like you never get enough sleep?
Never in the mood to exercise or even go out and do something?
Sound familiar? Perhaps you're experiencing SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD is a sadness or depression we can all feel at times over the winter months here in the UK. Symptoms might start to show up in autumn, when the days begin getting shorter but the more intense months typically are December, January, February and March. Why you might ask…well because the sun doesn’t have enough UVB in the winter months for our skin to produce Vitamin D - the “sunshine vitamin”.
So why does a lack of vitamin D make us depressed? There are a couple of thoughts on this. One, it is thought that vitamin D is directly related to the regulation of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that makes us feel rewarded and/or motivated and norepinephrine is responsible from our fight-or-flight response. If the proportions get thrown out of whack, we can feel anxious or depressed, and feel unwilling to do anything at all.
Another theory is based on our melatonin and serotonin levels. Vitamin D comes into play again as it helps the body maintain higher levels of serotonin during the winter. Serotonin is our natural mood enhancer. It is thought to regulate anxiety, stress, happiness and our overall mood. Low levels of this chemical have been associated with depression. Serotonin is converted from tryptophan therefore a tryptophan deficiency can obviously lead to lower serotonin levels. Which in turn can result in mood disorders, such as anxiety or depression. On the flip side when our serotonin levels are normal we feel happy, mentally stable, calm and able to focus. Then there’s Melatonin, a hormone that is produced in the brain and regulates your sleep and wake patterns. Naturally your melatonin levels begin to rise midday and remain high throughout the dark hours of the night to keep us asleep. Our melatonin levels drop in the early morning hours, when the light comes up so we can wake up naturally. Light effects the production of melatonin so during long dark winters, more melatonin is produced. When too much melatonin is getting produced this can lead to an onset of depression.
In short: the more sun we can shine on our faces the better. But when we live in places where getting our daily dose isn’t possible, what can we do to combat this SAD condition? See below for my suggestions:
• Omega-3s found in oily fish (SMASH - Sardine, Mackerel, Anchovy, Salmon and Herring), flaxseeds, chia seeds and cold pressed walnut oil. Omega-3s are said to help maintain healthy levels of the brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin.
• Tryptophan filled foods like eggs, tofu, seeds, cheese, fish, bananas, beef and definitely turkey. Complex carbohydrates raise the levels of tryptophan in the brain. Foods that contain whole grains such as oatmeal, pasta, and whole-grain breads. Beans, lentils, peas and of course green vegetables are also complex carbs.
• Limit your caffeine since it suppresses serotonin
• Limit your sugar intake. The crash you feel after can easily make you feel worse than before
• Avoid anything containing aspartame, it can block the formation of serotonin. Often found in diet drinks, chewing gum, puddings yogurts and table sweeteners, so be sure to read the labels
• SUN/LIGHT: Go on a holiday to a sunny place! My choice for sure ;) However, there are other beneficial options out there if you, like most of us, can’t just jet off to south of Spain. One of which is light therapy. These are special light boxes designed to emit either white or blue light. Sitting in front of one for between 15 minutes and 2 hours per day can help bring that happy summer feeling back to you. Look for light boxes made specifically for SAD, as any old light box won’t do the trick.
• EXERCISE: We’ve all heard it before… get more exercise! In this case exercise has antidepressant effects to help combat your SAD first hand
• AROMATHERAPY: Try diffusing uplifting scents like lemon, lavender or frankincense oils in your living room, or smell them straight from the bottle.
• POSITIVITY:Get positive!! A positive outlook on life can significantly boost your serotonin levels. Try sitting for 10-15 minutes per day repeating a positive mantra, like…
“I appreciate the abundance in my life.”
“Today, I will choose happiness. ”
“May I be Happy. May I be Healthy. May I be Creative. May I be at ease.”
“Be stronger than your excuses.”
Pay particular attention to how your daily choices might be making you susceptible to SAD. Try a combination of both food and lifestyle adjustments to make a real positive change in your life!
3…4…5…6 times a day you get to decide how you’re going to nourish, nurture and honour your body. So don’t hate it. Don’t starve it of the nutrients it needs. Support it. Love it. And feel the sunshine on the inside and the outside!
Foods of the season I suggest trying…
• Rhubarb - High in dietary fibre, rhubarb is great for the digestive system. Like all good quality fibre rhubarb bulks up the stool making for health bowel movements. It also stimulates bone growth and repair. With rich amounts of calcium and other minerals this vegetable is a major player in bone protection. Don’t not eat the leaves however, just the stalks.
• Blood oranges - So of course blood oranges are high in vitamin C, just like regular oranges. Perfect for the immune system, especially in the winter months. As well as being a strong antioxidant. They are also filled with folic acid, used in forming red blood cells. And used in the making of serotonin… our lovely little natural mood enhancer.
• Purple sprouting broccoli - This beautiful vegetable is a welcome addition to the winter veg. It is packed with vitamin C and is a good source of iron, folic acid, calcium, fibre and vitamin A. What does that mean? It means it’s good for the whole body and for numerous functions in the body. Plus it tastes great!
• Cauliflower - Cauliflower contains important sulphur-containing phytonutrients which is necessary for the body to detox all the toxins you breathe and ingest daily… no matter how careful we are. These white beauties also aid in our antioxidant system and anti-inflammatory system. All necessary to stay healthy and happy.
• Savoy cabbage - A major player in the prevention of type 2 diabetes, says a study in Denmark. Plus filled with antioxidant phytonutrients which help to prevent cardiovascular disease. Two big ticks in my box! Fab in soups and stir-fries.
• Spinach - This versatile green vegetable is high in water-soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins, minerals, and a wide variety of phytonutrients. that translates to a wide variety of nutritional benefits. It is considered number 1 in a vegetarian source of magnesium and iron. Think good sleep, physical performance and more blood flowing through you.
• Watercress - Another green beauty that boasts the immune system and thyroid support. Watercress contains more vitamin C than an orange, more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach and more folate than bananas!! WOW!!
• Cucumbers - These versatile green fellows are nutrient-rich, low in calorie and quite filling. A seriously winning combination! Beaming with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits. They can be pickled, added to salads, blended into smoothies, juiced and they even can be applied over the eyes when they’re feeling a bit tired and puffy. Now that’s cool!
• Mussels - Protein! Protein offers the body a source of amino acids that become the building blocks of the body. So important to get the right amount everyday. Mussels also are a good source of selenium which is an essential mineral, helps support protein function. How convenient is that?!
• Guinea fowl - Another protein source which is lean and rich in essential fatty acids. Rich in vitamins such as vitamins E, B1 and B2 and minerals such as magnesium, calcium and iron.
Micki’s recipe of the month:
(Courtesy of Wild Nutrition: https://www.wildnutrition.com/nourishing-recipes/spring-greens-purple-sprouting-broccoli-with-blood-orange-dressing/)
Spring Greens and Purple Sprouting Broccoli With Blood Orange Dressing
200g purple sprouting broccoli
1 tsp. coconut oil
2 spring onions
1 medium head of spring greens (approx. 400g), de-stalked & roughly chopped
1 small avocado sliced
8 radishes (optional!)
1 tbsp. poppy seeds
1 tbsp. mint leaves, torn
For the dressing;
25g ginger root
½ tsp. tamari soy sauce
½ tsp. sea salt
5 tsp. fresh blood orange juice or lemon juice
1½ tsp. agave syrup
½ tsp. toasted sesame oil
6 tbsp. unrefined sunflower oil
Large pinch pepper
A little fresh chopped chilli (optional)
First make the dressing. Grate the ginger onto a plate to catch the juice too. Whisk this with the rest of the dressing ingredients by shaking in a jam jar or mix in a bowl. Blanch the broccoli for 2-3 mins then drain. Heat the oil in a pan and cook half the spring onions for 30 seconds or so, add the spring greens and sauté for another 30 seconds. Then add the broccoli, stir through and take off the heat. Transfer to a dish, add the sliced avocado, radishes and rest of the spring onions.
This is a perfect spring time lunch or side dish recipe. Fresh wholesome and healthy.
Micki Ramondt, Dip CNM
Micki Ramondt is a Nutrition Therapist with a background in yoga, graphic design, found sculpture, haiku poetry, healthy cooking, smiling, hugging and loving. She is trying to spread the word of good health and happiness that doesn’t have to come at the cost of obsession. Be real and be happy. Micki posts lots of yummy food photos, information and hot topics, you should stalk her Insta feed.
‘Let me help you help yourself.’