How to Combat the Cold Weather Slump and Seasonal Depression
How a Well-Balanced Diet can Help Combat seasonal depression
Written by: Shelby Kennedy-Goncalves MAN, RD
As we are in the midst fall in Calgary and the leaves are changing, nights are getting colder and sun is setting earlier, we know that winter is swiftly approaching. Along with that winter weather often comes something we could call “seasonal depression” or seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Typically, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) begins in the fall and will come to an end in early spring, but here in Calgary where the winter weather seems to continue well into the spring, Calgarians might be experiencing SAD for quite a few weeks longer than people in other areas of Canada. Signs and symptoms of SAD include depression, low interest in activities you used to enjoy, low energy, issues sleeping, changes in appetite or weights, feeling sluggish or agitated, difficulty concentrating, suicidal thoughts or ideations. The causes of SAD are still unknown, but factors that may affect are biological clock (circadian rhythm), serotonin levels, and melatonin levels. The circadian rhythm is influenced by the reduced levels of sunlight in fall and winter leading to a disruption to your body’s internal clock. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in the brain that affects mood and the decline of the sunlight in the fall and winter. The seasonal changes can disrupt the balance of melatonin in the body and as a result affect sleep patterns and mood. Seasonal affective disorder can lead to a person become less social, substance abuse, other mental health issues (anxiety, eating disorders etc.), and may cause social or work issues.
Certain hormones and neurotransmitters are involved in promoting good feelings such as happiness, love, pleasure etc. These hormones are produced in the body by various glands and are involved in mood regulation, pain regulation, or pleasure etc. The “happiness hormones” are serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins.
Serotonin is considered the mood stabilizer and is important for general wellbeing and happiness. Not only does serotonin have a role in stabilizing mood but is also essential for digestion, brain function, and circadian rhythm. An interesting fact about serotonin is that 90% of the hormone is produced in the gut. Gut bacteria have a role in the production of serotonin and that is why nutrition has such an important role in a person’s overall wellbeing and mood. Tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin influences the amount of serotonin being produced and due to the body’s inability to make it on it’s own, food items containing tryptophan are important foods to include in a healthy, balanced diet. Another way to increase serotonin production in the body is eating more prebiotic foods as this can help to better support the good gut bacteria.
Pre-biotics are foods such as apples, barley, beetroot, berries, chicory, citrus fruits, cold potato, garlic, legumes, mushrooms, oats, onions, rye, wheat, pasta.
Tryptophan-containing foods are sunflower seeds, soybeans, oats, wheat, quinoa, spirulina, potatoes, milk, cheese, chickpeas, fatty fishes (cod, salmon), eggs, beef, chicken/turkey.
Oxytocin plays a role in bonding, love and establishing trust. Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter that aides in calming the nervous system and helps regulate stress responses. Oxytocin secretion happens in response to environmental threats and to counterbalance the effects of cortisol. Although there are no foods that contain oxytocin things such as love or romance, caring relationships, physical touch, friendship, and pets can lead to increased levels.
Dopamine is for pleasure and has a role in the brain’s reward system. Dopamine is involved in motor control, cognitive function, brain’s motivation and reward system, decision-making and impulse control, memory and attention, and maternal/ reproductive behaviors. Fifty percent of the dopamine is produced in your gut. Dopamine cannot be found in foods but the amino acid, tyrosine is found in various foods and can be converted into dopamine. Tyrosine-containing foods are as follows: soy products, chicken, turkey, fish, nuts (peanuts/almonds), avocados, bananas, milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, lima beans, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds. Tyrosine has been shown to help individuals function better under stress and improve memory in stressful circumstances. Tyrosine can also be taken in supplement form but please consult your doctor prior to adding a supplement to your daily routine.
Endorphins have a role in pain relief, runner’s high, and relaxation. Endorphins are hormones, functioning as painkillers. Endorphins bind to opioid receptors and inhibit the transmission of pain signals in the central nervous system. The infamous “runner’s high” is caused by an influx of endorphins and dopamine. Increasing the release of endorphins can look like eating your favorite foods, exercising, and doing other activities you may enjoy (laughing, listening to music, dancing etc.).
Folate (folic acid)
Folate (folic acid) is a B vitamin (B9) that plays a role in the red blood cell formation and is important for the healthy function and growth of cells. Folate also plays a role in depression, with higher levels of folate deficiency being found in individuals with depression. Folate can be found in dark leafy green vegetables, beans, peas, buts, citrus fruits, and berries to name a few. Folic acid, the synthetic version of folate is also commonly found in fortified foods such as bread, cereals, and pastas.
If you find yourself feeling the effects of seasonal affective disorder, but don't know exactly what to do, starting with a healthy and balanced diet can go along way. Nutrimeals ready to eat meals are a great place to start if you are looking for something delicious and packed with nutrients.
Check out our last blog post about the launch of our subscription service! The subscription box comes with 10 ready to eat meals for the client to enjoy throughout the week. Customers will update their customer profile with their eating preferences, choose their frequency of delivery, select their delivery day, and the Nutrimeals team does the rest. You can check out more about Nutrimeals here.
References: Mayo Clinic. (2021, February 23). Folate (folic acid). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-folate/art-20364625 Mayo Clinic. (2017, October 25). Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651 Atlas Biomed Team. (2020, August 28). Serotonin and the other happy hormones in your body. Retrieved from https://atlasbiomed.com/blog/serotonin-and-other-happy-molecules-made-by-gut-bacteria/