Nancy's Health Talk Blog


Seasonal Affective Disorder: How to Avoid Those “Winter Blues”

Sunday, November 03, 2013


Last year, I was fortunate to interview Julia Ross, a pioneer in the field of nutrition psychotherapy and the author of The Mood Cure.

We talked about false moods and the true nature of SAD that I just had to share some of the highlights from that interview. After all, we are heading into the winter months, which is a time when people experience more depressive symptoms.

Seasonal affective disorder is a mood disorder that causes people to experience deeper depressive states, particularly in the winter. This is especially true in the darker, colder months between October and April.

According to Julia, SAD is caused by a deficiency in serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that regulates mood.

Serotonin is stimulated by light; so in the darker winter months, we can find our moods deteriorating if we’re already marginal in our serotonin levels.

So, what can we do if we’re experiencing greater bouts of anxiety, worry, and negativity during the winter months? Let’s start with our diet.

Eat good quality source of protein foods because they’re rich sources of tryptophan, an amino acid which first converts to 5-HTP and then to serotonin.

For example, have a meal of wild salmon or organic chicken or legumes to help boost your serotonin levels. On top of that, try using a therapeutic lamp since these lamps mimic bright, natural light and can help to lessen depression.

And, while we’re on the subject of mood disorders like SAD, let’s talk about Julia’s insights around true emotions and false moods because it’s important to recognize that we may be experiencing false moods from amino acid imbalances.

Julia describes true emotions as genuine responses to life’s challenges.

For example, we experience emotional pain when we lose someone close to us; and, if our emotional chemistry is working properly, this pain will diminish over time.

That response is considered a true emotion.

But, many Americans suffer from false moods, meaning that they experience negative emotions that aren’t connected to specific, emotionally challenging life events.

These negative emotions go on and on and never heal. Interestingly enough, these negative moods are connected to our diet and low amino acid fuels.

You see, there are specific parts of the brain that are capable of producing positive moods and that are fueled by the amino acids in our foods.

But, if we’re not eating adequate amounts of protein to get these amino acids, then our serotonin levels start to drop, leaving us vulnerable to negative moods.

Yes, amino acids are the most effective weapon for fighting false moods. According to Julia, it’s a matter of identifying which areas of the brain need help, and then supplying the amino acid that fuels that part of the brain.

For example, if you’re suffering from the false mood of depression, you’re likely suffering from a serotonin deficiency.

Fortunately, this deficiency can be remedied by taking mood-building amino acid supplements like L-tryptophan or 5-HTP. By taking either supplement, you ensure that your brain is getting plenty of serotonin, even without sunlight.

There’s no reason you can’t feel joyful during the coming winter months and holiday season. You just need to realize that the lack of sunlight and exercise, and poor diet choices can lead to lower levels of serotonin.

So, to keep your serotonin at optimum levels, take amino acid supplements like L-tryptophan or 5-HTP, eat quality protein, get plenty of exercise, and try therapeutic lamps for light therapy.

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