According to Shona Wilkinson, Head Nutritionist at NutriCentre, “SAD is a condition commonly experienced in the winter months which is characterised by feelings of depression or low mood. These symptoms are often accompanied by reduced energy levels, increased desire to sleep, increased appetite and poor concentration.” We asked Shona to share her top tips for staying in good spirits naturally throughout the dark days of winter.
Eat whole foods – and avoid refined, sugary or junk foods
Healthy whole foods include vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, good quality meat, fish and eggs, and beans and lentils. As well as supporting your general health, there are two important reasons why eating whole foods can help you avoid the winter blues too. Firstly, they provide vitamins, minerals, protein and essential fats needed for healthy brain function and to help your body make the right neurotransmitters – such as serotonin – for happy mood. Secondly, they release their sugars and energy slowly into the blood, to support balanced and stable mood and energy levels.
When we’re feeling low, we tend to crave comfort foods – sugary or carbohydrate-rich refined foods such as white pasta and white bread, or other ‘junk’ foods. But because they are quickly broken down to release their sugars into your blood, they can make you feel happy and energetic for a short time but sluggish and miserable later on. They also tend to be low in vitamins and minerals, so are more likely to leave your body and brain deficient. Stimulants such as caffeine in coffee and tea, as well as alcohol, can also have this effect, so keep your intake to a minimum.
Get as much light as you can during daylight hours
Sunlight or bright daylight stimulates our body’s production of serotonin, the ‘happy hormone’. So the dark and dull days of winter can easily deplete your serotonin levels, making you feel low, sluggish and tired. Do what you can to maximise your natural light exposure: open your curtains or blinds as soon as you wake up, take a 15-minute walk outside in the morning or at lunchtime, and try to work next to a window during the day if you can. It may even be beneficial to avoid using sunglasses on a sunny winter’s day, as they greatly reduce the amount of light entering your eyes (unless it would be dangerous not to wear them, of course).
Many people who feel low in the winter also find light boxes helpful. Choose one that emits at least 10,000 lux and carefully follow the instructions, making sure you use it at the right time of day and sit close enough for it to be effective.
Get outdoors (even if it’s cold!)
On a normal bright or sunny day, daylight entering the eye increases levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin (also know as the ‘happy hormone’) and prevents its conversion to melatonin, a hormone, which induces sleep and feelings of lethargy. In winter, less light enters the eye, reducing serotonin levels and increasing melatonin levels resulting in excessive sleepiness. If you work indoors, go out for a walk in your lunch hour and always make sure spend time outdoors at the weekend.
Shona’s top 3 natural SAD busters
1 Take a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement
‘Our body needs many vitamins and minerals for normal psychological and nervous system function, both of which are necessary for good mood. The nutrients we need include most of the B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, iodine and copper. As we have already seen above, a healthy diet based on whole foods is the best foundation for getting enough of these vital nutrients. But sometimes a top-up can be helpful, especially if you struggle to eat healthily all the time. Try taking one of our daily multivitamin and mineral supplements for some extra support.’
Try Quest Vitamins’ Super Once A Day Vegan, £10.89 for a month’s supply from questexcellence.com and all good health stores. This multivitamin helps contribute to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue naturally.
2 Keep your vitamin Dtopped up
‘Because our body makes vitamin D through the action of sunlight on our skin, our natural levels can easily drop in winter. It is known that vitamin D has important roles in keeping our immune system healthy, and our bones and teeth strong. But there is also a possible link between reduced vitamin D levels and low mood in winter. Most nutritional therapists now recommend that adults take at least 1000 to 2000 iu (25 to 50 Å³g) of vitamin D over the winter months, so add an extra supplement if your multivitamin doesn’t already include this amount.’
Try NHP’s new Vitamin D3 Support, (£10.97 from naturalhealthpractice.com) a vegetarian and Kosher spray formulated by Dr Marilyn Glenville. NHP’s Vitamin D3 Support is free of preservatives and sweetners and is suitable for pregnant women, children and adults.
3 Try the natural mood booster, 5-HTP
‘Serotonin is made in the body and brain from an amino acid called tryptophan, which is then converted into another amino acid called 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), which in turn is converted into the neurotransmitter serotonin. Tryptophan can be found in protein rich foods such as meat, fish, beans and eggs and for an extra boost, it is also available in supplement form. If you’re feeling in a low mood and exercise isn’t helping, try taking a 5-HTP supplement as this converts naturally into the neurotransmitter serotonin, which can make you feel happier and more relaxed.’
Try Nutri Advanced 5Htp, £18.85 for a month’s supply from NutriCentre stores and online..