Seasonal Affective Disorder
During the winter months, people with SAD may experience fatigue and loss of interest in normal activities. They may sleep too much, and feel irritable or sad. Normal treatments for SAD include psychotherapy, phototherapy and medications such as antidepressants. However, there is evidence that certain foods and dietary supplements may help with seasonal affective disorder. For example, carbohydrates, can stimulate production of the neurotransmitter serotonin.
Seasonal Affective Disorder Diet
Julia Ross, author of “The Diet Cure and “The Mood Cure” recommends eating sensible complex carbohydrates like fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains to stimulate the production of serotonin. Simple carbohydrates like sweets, white rice and white bread should be avoided as they will quickly raise blood sugar, increase insulin and then cause blood sugar to drop severely. When blood sugar drops quickly, it can cause tiredness as well as a depressed mood. Ross also recommends watching the intake of caffeine, which suppresses serotonin. If you do drink coffee, do so after a meal instead of before, she suggests.
The Mental Health Foundation in the UK conducted a study on the effect of nutrition on mental health called “Feeding Minds.” The report pointed out the relevance of food to brain functioning, mental health and overall health. In particular it mentions the importance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids on brain function. Twenty percent of the fat in our brains is made from omega-3s and 6s. Cold water fish is a good dietary source of omega 3 whilst omega 6 can be found in nuts, whole-grain bread, cereals, eggs and poultry. To be fully functional, the report says, the brain needs a balance of complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and water for an effective seasonal affective disorder diet.
In addition to the complex carbohydrates found in brown rice, broccoli, potatoes and pasta, and the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish - folic acid, selenium and tryptophan are also thought to decrease symptoms of depression. People with low intakes of folic acid are more likely to receive a depression diagnosis than people with higher intakes. Dietary sources of folic acid include green leafy vegetables. Low levels of zinc, vitamins B1, B2 and C have also been equated with higher incidences of depression. These vitamins are found in whole grains, vegetables and fresh fruit. Selenium is found in wheat germ, brewer’s yeast, whole grains, seeds and nuts, while zinc is abundant in oysters, fish, nuts and seeds.
The amino acid tryptophan has been researched in depression as well. Studies examined by the “Feeding Minds” report found the combination of tryptophan with SSRI antidepressants gets better results than taking SSRI’s alone. Dietary sources of tryptophan include eggs, lean meat, free-range poultry and beans.
Water makes up about 80 percent of the brain and is essential to its functioning. Inadequate water intake has implications for mental health.