Chase those blues away

Wintertime means seasonal affective disorder

By Deb Dittner

SADDuring winter months with less sunlight, many may suffer from “winter blues” also known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.

Although there is no one specific cause for SAD, there are a number of contributing factors including but not limited to the disturbance of the circadian rhythm, and melatonin and serotonin levels.

If you find yourself feeling down, here are some tactics to apply to everyday life:

— Adequate amount of vitamin D: Because of a lack of exposure to sunlight in our northern climate, you may experience low vitamin D levels that correspond to feelings of depression. Vitamin D levels can be checked through your health care provider and, if needed, supplementation with vitamin D3 may be warranted.

— Improve sleep: Poor sleep may occur due to a decrease in serotonin levels and disruption in melatonin levels. This lack of sleep contributes to depression, anxiety and other health conditions. Supplementing with melatonin is a popular remedy improving both sleep time and quality.

Consult with your health care provider if melatonin supplementation is an option.

Also, consider your sleep routine prior to turning in. Eliminating all technology (TV, iPhone, iPad, etc.) a minimum of one hour before going to bed is crucial as these are stimulators for the brain.

Consider reading, taking an Epsom salt bath with essential oils such as lavender, and avoiding alcohol and caffeine.

— Exercise: The health benefit of exercise improves your physical health and also your mental well being. Exercise releases endorphins to fight feelings of depression.

Physical movement for a minimum of 30 minutes most days of the week will help to improve your overall mood while also decreasing stress and encouraging relaxation.

— Mineral deficiencies: Minerals aid in brain function. When certain minerals are deficient — such as magnesium, zinc and lithium — disturbances can occur in the body. These can be tested by your health care provider and may require supplementation.

— Foods to boost mood: By adding certain foods to your diet, you may increase the mineral contents that may be deficient.

Food for thought

seasonal AFFECTIVE disorderFoods to consider are:

• Spinach: High in iron while keeping red blood cells oxygenated and bodies energized. Rich in Omega-3 fatty acids which may aid in improving depression, along with potassium and magnesium that help regulate stress and sleep, and vitamin C that helps fight fatigue and boosts immunity.

Consider adding to smoothies, salads, soups, and casseroles.

• Dark chocolate: At least 70 percent cocoa is considered best, as it is lower in sugar. Dark chocolate contains polyphenols that may elevate mood and decrease depression and anxiety. Enjoy a square if craving a sweet after dinner.

• Quinoa: Whole grains consist of complex carbs, helping to boost serotonin levels in the brain, improving mood and memory. Quinoa and other whole grains are an excellent source of protein that may also help to balance blood sugar.

• Lentils: The folic acid in lentils helps manage serotonin, boosting mood. Consider making a large pot of lentil soup (also helps to warm the bones) or add to pasta sauce or to a salad.

• Brazil nuts: Loaded with selenium, just 3-5 Brazil nuts daily gives you the needed boost.  These nuts are also chock-full of B vitamins, adding to the boost in mood. A great snack but can also top a salad, be added to oatmeal, or enjoyed with fresh berries.

• Flax seeds: Full of Omega-3 fatty acids, it can be added to oatmeal, with almond or other nut butter as a dip for apples or celery, or whisked into a salad dressing. To receive their full benefit, flax seeds need to be ground.

Flax seeds can also be used as an egg substitute by combining 1 tablespoon of ground flax seed and 3 tablespoons of water to equal one egg. This can be used in baking and French toast.

• Pumpkin seeds: Magnesium rich helping to support relaxation, improve sleep, and decrease anxiety. Add to salads for a bit of crunch, to homemade trail mix, and to hummus.

• Deborah Dittner is a family nurse practitioner and health consultant. Her mission is to transform as many individuals as possible through nutrition and lifestyle changes. For more information, check out her website at or contact her at 518-596-8565.