Most people have at least heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder, but it there isn’t very much information out there in terms of what to do about it. Most studies conclude that symptoms of SAD are most closely relative to reduced stimulation of the pineal gland in the winter months, caused by reduced exposure to sunlight. Especially at latitudes north of the state of Georgia, getting adequate sunlight during the fall, winter and even early spring months can be nearly impossible. Believe it or not, the earth is actually closer to the sun during the winter months, but due to the angle of the ionosphere we don’t get the spectrum of UV light needed to stimulate the production of critical vitamins and neurochemicals in the brain and body.
Now the $64,000 question: Is there anything we can do to help give our bodies what they need to offset these deficiencies?
The short answer is: Yes.
Consider the Nordic peoples. The winter months in Scandinavia and surrounding regions are unusually long, cold and dark. As a result, Nordic folks generally experience more severe symptoms related to SAD, and for a longer period of time. The exception to this regional phenomenon is Iceland, where citizens, by contrast, have abnormally low instances of SAD-related conditions such as anxiety and depression.
While there are a number of theories seeking to explain why this is the case, a very good presumption is that the Icelandic diet consists largely of fatty fish (and in a much higher proportion that most of the rest of the world). Not only does this diet provide the body with EPA and DHA (the active components of fish body oils), it also provides a healthy yield of Vitamin D.
Vitamin D, also known as the “sunshine vitamin,” is critical to a number of support faculties in the human body, and is almost exclusively produced in the body through photosynthesis. Unfortunately, photosynthesis requires sunlight, which is in short supply in the winter. That’s why if you don’t consume enough Vitamin D in your diet (and most of us don’t), supplementing your Vitamin D intake is a very good idea.
Because absorbing Vitamin D is a complex and intensive process (it takes the liver 7 to 9 days to fully process and absorb it), Vitamin D is best taken in an “oil” form, such as a softgel or liquid. In many cases, taking cofactors such as Vitamin K can also offer a tremendous benefit.
Serotonin, a neurotransmitter, is also a critical player in the SAD game. Supplements to support healthy serotonin balance, such as 5-HTP, L-Theanine, SAM-e and others, can offer major support for overcoming wintertime sadness.
One last thing to keep in mind: Your body’s nutritional needs are going to change over time. What works and is needed may vary significantly season by season. Due to the lack of pineal stimulation, your brain is likely to produce more melatonin during the winter than it does during the summer. Thus, if you take melatonin to support sleep during the summer, and are experiencing SAD symptoms, consider backing off the melatonin. Excessive melatonin can be an underlying contributory factor in SAD, and eliminating it from your regimen during the winter may provide a significant benefit.
If you are looking at a low-dose melatonin, Dr. Mercola makes a great option that is only .25 mg/spray.
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