Category Archives: winter

SAD

SAD: Tips for a Happier and Healthier Winter

SAD: Tips for a Happier and Healthier Winter

At this time of year, as the days become darker, many of us find that we are travelling to and from work in the dark. This lack of sunlight can have a tremendous effect on us, affecting our mood and appetite, and creating a greater need for sleep. These symptoms are typical of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a mood disorder affecting around 1 in 15 of us in the UK.

SAD is caused by a lack of sunlight, which in turn affects the body’s production of mood-balancing hormones melatonin and serotonin. These hormones also affect our sleep cycle and appetite, leaving those affected feeling tired and prone to weight gain.

While anti-depressants are sometimes prescribed for SAD, there are a number of natural measures thought to be effective in addressing SAD.

1. Vitamin D and Omega-3

Vitamin D and omega-3 are commonly in low supply in the UK diet. The British National Diet and Nutrition Survey indicates that 25 per cent of British adults have low vitamin D status (1). Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to depression, because this vitamin helps to regulate levels of both serotonin and melatonin.

SAD has been found to be less common in people who have a higher intake of omega-3, present in fish oils and some plant oils. Icelandic and Japanese populations have a high intake of fish, and a low prevalence of SAD. Seafood consumption has also found to be linked to lower rates of major depression (2). Like vitamin D, omega-3 helps to modulate the mood hormone serotonin.

2. Physical Activity

Exercise is well-known to boost levels of endorphins, lower stress levels and improve sleep quality. Regular exercise is therefore recommended. A recent Cochrane review concluded that exercise is effective in reducing symptoms of depression, with aerobic exercise being particularly effective. Michael J Rice, a professor of psychiatry at Nebraska Medical Centre, advises that those with SAD should make a concerted effort to exercise throughout the winter months, and that exercising outdoors is particularly beneficial (3).

3. Light Therapy

Thought to be the most effective treatment for SAD, light therapy has a beneficial effect on levels of melatonin, and increases blood flow to areas of the brain affected by SAD. Light therapy is also thought to affect levels of serotonin and the stress hormone cortisol. There have been more than 60 randomized, controlled trials of light therapy for SAD, and almost all of these studies have shown positive benefits.

Light boxes can be bought for home use, and are most effective when used daily and in the morning for around 30 minutes. For those experiencing SAD, the positive benefits should be felt after just a couple of weeks.

Anyone choosing light therapy should ensure that they are using an effective device, as some devices may not emit light at an effective intensity. In light therapy treatment, the intensity of the light is directly linked to the effectiveness of the treatment. Compared with placebo, bright light at levels of 6000 lux was found effective for patients with depression. Patients received bright light for 1.5 hours each day, while the placebo group used a sham device. More recently, a randomized trial published earlier this year found that just 30 minutes exposure to a bright light device is effective in treating depressive symptoms (4).

For anybody experiencing SAD, the dietary, lifestyle and light therapy measures above are possibly the safest and most natural ways of bringing the body back into balance. For those beginning to feel the winter blues this month, taking action early can help to ensure a happier and healthier winter.

References
1. National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) Rolling Programme. May 2014. Food Standard Agency.
2. Hibbelm JR (1998) Fish consumption and major depression. Lancet 351:1213
3. SAD no more: preparing for seasonal affective disorder. www.everdayhealth.com. Visited 31/10/2016.
4. Lam et al (2016) Efficacy of bright light treatment, fluoxetine, and the combination in patients with nondeasonal major depressive disorder. A randomised clinical trial.

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Winter Wellbeing

Winter Wellbeing – Key Health Support Tips

Key Health Support Tips for Winter Wellbeing

The darker nights and drop in temperature means we need to prepare ourselves and our bodies for winter.

At this time of the year it’s essential to provide the relevant ingredients to (naturally) fuel our bodies so that we can stay healthy and keep our immune system in good order.

Homemade soups and stews are often thought of as essential winter foods, so experiment with traditional produce such as root vegetables, squashes, seasonal greens, beans and other items such as whole grains to create delicious flavour combinations. Don’t forget that you can also make nourishing dishes using cooked apples, pears and citrus fruit – all key to your body’s maintenance.

If you think your diet alone is not providing sufficient nutrients during the cold snap, try using food supplements to support the immune system. Typical winter supplements are vitamin D, vitamin C and zinc. A good preventative supplement for winter colds is taking beta glucan to strengthen your immune system. Meanwhile horseradish and garlic are both rich in compounds with immune boosting, antibacterial and antiviral activity. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can also help support healthy immunity.

Don’t be discouraged from going outdoors because of the cold weather. Doing at least 30 minutes daily exercise – such as a brisk walk – will keep your circulation going and help keep the viruses at bay. Also try to keep a healthy mind as well as a healthy body by considering some stress management practices such as yoga or meditation.

There are simple measures to help reduce the risk of becoming susceptible to winter bugs: drink plenty of fluids to maintain hydration and remember to regularly wash your hands to prevent infecting others.

Most importantly take time to relax, rest and recover as the cold and darkness urges your body to slow down.

Winter is a great opportunity to reflect on your health, replenish and conserve energy levels by eating the right foods and adapting some lifestyle changes.

Remember, it’s a combination of all the above factors that will help you stay well.

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