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Embracing Wellness as the Seasons Change: Focus on Seasonal Affective Disorder

Embracing Wellness as the Seasons Change: Focus on Seasonal Affective Disorder

As the leaves turn and the days shorten, we welcome you to the latest edition of Agape Nutrition's monthly newsletter. This month, we're shedding light on a topic that touches many as we transition into the cooler months: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Changing seasons are inevitable. For some people, the change in weather can usher in a lower mood, while others ride through the cooler months of the year with mental ease. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is not an uncommon event. It’s estimated that millions of Americans experience SAD every year, though many may not even know it. According to the American Psychiatric Association, SAD is considered a Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and impacts five percent of adults in the United States.

Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder is more than just the "winter blues." It's a type of depression that relates to changes in seasons, often beginning in the fall and continuing into the winter months. Symptoms can range from low energy and mood swings to changes in sleep patterns and appetite.

Though first listed as a health condition in the 1980s, scientists are still actively trying to find its cause. From what we know so far, SAD seems to be hormone-related. People who are affected by SAD have trouble stabilizing serotonin, a mood-regulating hormone, and melatonin, a hormone needed for sleep. These hormones play an important role in managing the body’s internal rhythms and changes in them can really make someone feel out of balance. 

As the days get shorter, your circadian rhythm, or "internal clock" adjusts. For those who are affected by SAD, this change in regulation does not happen as easily. Generally, people affected by SAD experience symptoms similar to depression including:

  • Depressed most days for 4-5 months
  • Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • Low energy 
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Hopeless or depressive thoughts
  • Considering their own death or suicide 

SAD is typically experienced in the winter months, but it is not uncommon for some people to experience periods of altered mood in the summer. In the winter, oversleeping, overeating, weight gain, and a preference for being alone can be included. In the summer, trouble sleeping, appetite problems leading to weight loss, anxiety, and being more agitated/violent can occur. In either case, symptoms can also begin mildly and become more severe as the season progresses.

Nutrition's Role in Combating SAD

Nutrition plays a critical role in managing SAD. A balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals can help boost mood and energy levels. This month, we're excited to share a comforting and nutritious recipe: Black Bean Turkey Chili. It's not only delicious but packed with mood-boosting ingredients. You will find the recipe at the bottom of this article!

Supportive Supplements for SAD

In addition to a healthy diet, certain supplements can help support mood and cognitive function during the fall and winter months. Here are some recommendations from Agape Nutrition:

  1. FolaFY ER 30 Tablets - Rich in folate, essential for mood regulation. Explore here.
  1. Protocols for Health Mood Food 60 Capsules - A blend designed to support emotional well-being. Learn more.
  1. NeuroScience TravaGen 120 Capsules - Supports serotonin production, crucial for mood balance. Discover here.
  1. Pure Encapsulations Cognitive Aminos 120 Capsules - Enhances cognitive function and mental clarity. Check it out.
  1. Pure Encapsulations B6 Complex - Vital for energy production and neurotransmitter synthesis. View here.
  1. Nordic Naturals Vitamin B Complex - Supports overall brain health and mood regulation. See details.
  1. Pure Encapsulations Emotional Wellness - A holistic approach to emotional health. Find out more.
  1. Integrative Therapeutics Active B-Complex - A balanced B vitamin formula for nerve health. Explore here.

Research has found women are at a higher risk of developing SAD than men. Additionally, people who are already diagnosed with major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder, or those who have a relative diagnosed with a mental disease are also at high risk. We also know low vitamin D levels can contribute to a depressed mood. As SAD is more common in northern latitudes where the sun is not as bright/present during the winter months, vitamin D levels may be a major contributor.

First-Line Therapy Options

Once a doctor has diagnosed someone with SAD, there are a variety of treatment options. Some of the treatment options available include medications. One of the more common classes of antidepressant medication is called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Outside of medications, there are many available therapies. Those diagnosed with SAD may find some relief through counseling or talk therapy. Research shows cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help people learn better coping mechanisms. CBT can be done one-on-one or in group sessions with a licensed health professional.

More Natural Therapy Options

Alternatively, there are other options that can be used alone or in conjunction with medications and counseling sessions.

Exercise. Exercise in general is supportive of a healthy mental state. Research has found working out two-three times a week can be helpful in lowering depression. Any kind of movement has been found to have some benefit over no exercise at all.

Light Therapy. Light boxes can be used in the comfort of your own home. In the morning, you can sit in front of a light box with 10,000 lux of cool-white fluorescent light. It’s recommended to do this for 20-60 minutes each day. This is generally well-tolerated though side effects such as eyestrain, headaches, irritability, etc., may occur.

Vitamin D. As mentioned above, research has shown low levels of vitamin D are associated with depression. During the winter months, especially in the northern latitudes, there isn’t enough sunlight to produce adequate amounts of vitamin D. Supplementation through food or capsules can be helpful.

Herbal Therapy. Many herbs have been evaluated for their ability to help lift a depressed mood. St. John’s Wort, green tea, kava kava, and others have been evaluated for help with depression. More research is needed, but herbs generally tend to have fewer side effects for most people. Always consider seeing a qualified holistic doctor for recommendations specific to you and your symptoms.

Stay Connected

As we navigate these seasonal changes together, remember that Agape Nutrition is here to support your journey toward holistic health and wellness. For more insights, tips, and resources, stay tuned to our website and social media channels.

Wishing you health and happiness,
Agape Nutrition Team