Many people find themselves feeling unhappy during the winter months, more so than at any other time of the year. The winter blues are often also known as ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’ and the two main symptoms are a low mood and general lack of interest in life. These symptoms often begin to occur from autumn as the daylight hours begin to get shorter, becoming worse during midwinter before lessening and disappearing altogether towards spring time.
If you find yourself suffering any of these symptoms, it is important to be checked out by your G.P.
However there are some simple things you can do to help the situation. A recent study by Shabbir et al (2013) found that a diet that is rich in the nutrient tryptophan and vitamin B6 helps boost levels of serotonin within the brain. Low levels of serotonin have been found to be associated with depression and low mood.
Tryptophan can be found naturally in a number of foods including lean meats (skinless chicken/turkey), dairy (plain yoghurt, milk, as well as eggs), nuts (pistachios, hazelnuts, and almonds), seeds (poppy, sesame, pumpkin), pulses (lentils, chick peas), legumes (kidney beans, lima beans, soya), vegetables (spinach, watercress, cabbage), whole grains (porridge oats, brown rice) and fruits (bananas, pineapple, plums). Ensuring many of these foods are included in your diet may help to keep those winter blues at bay.
One of the reasons it is thought that symptoms disappear in the summer is because of the beneficial effects of sunlight, as this can affect the chemicals and hormones within the brain, including levels of vitamin D and serotonin.
‘Light Therapy’ can be an effective way to reduce depressive affect. Reeves et al (2012) found a significant but modest improvement in depressive mood following one single hour of active light session. Light therapy involve sitting in front of a special light box or a lamp that emits a very bright light, mimicking in some way the positive effects of sunlight (without the tan of course).
Kurlansik and Ibay (2013) note that whilst light therapy is well tolerated by individuals; both antidepressants and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can also be appropriate treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder. It is suggested here that because not one of these therapies is better than the other, it should be down to the discretion of the individual which therapy is used. Vitamin D supplementation has also be shown to be an effective aide in the fight against the winter blues (Khoraminya et al, 2013), and can be used effectively alongside antidepressants.
So if you find yourself feeling the effects of winter, the first thing you should do is make an appointment with your GP, who will be able to ask the right questions and help you appropriately. That being said, it can only be a good thing to eat a healthy balanced diet, ensuring that you are incorporating as wide a variety as possible of vitamins and minerals, as well as getting plenty of sunlight, can’t it?
The following websites have some very useful information on a wide range of health topics;