Seasonal Affective Disorder (more commonly referred to as SAD) is a condition that affects as many as half a million people in the UK alone. Sometimes called the "Winter Blues" SAD strikes during the darker winter months, typically from September to April and is at its most virulent during the period of December to February, when winter is traditionally at its darkest and coldest.


SAD is a Real Bona Fide Condition

Not so many years ago, SAD was discounted by many people as being a figment of the imagination and something that was cited by people who had a tendency to depression.

However it is now a medically proven phenomenon and one which, if you suffer from it yourself, you will know only too well as being quite real. SAD induces feelings of depression, tiredness, anxiety, mood swings, and a lessening of the libido. It can also create problems with sleep patterns, leading to feelings of anxiety and may also play havoc with your diet, often resulting in overeating and weight gain.

Many people who have been diagnosed with SAD decide to head for sunnier climes, either for a winter break and change of scenery, or a complete new life. Southern Spain and the Canaries are two of the most popular destinations.

Is it Depression, or is it SAD?

But how do you know that you suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) rather than just depression? The acid test is the fact that your depression should only take place during the SAD peak period between September and April and that it corrects itself as soon as spring begins. In order to be classed as an SAD sufferer, you should experience the symptoms for two consecutive years.

There are several recognised treatments that do show some measure of success and these include light therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy and antidepressant drugs.

Light Therapy LampLight Therapy

Light therapy works on the principle of substituting bright daylight with light emitted from a purpose-built light-box. These light-boxes are about the size of an A4 piece of paper and emit a very bright light, akin to daylight itself.

A normal light for example would only give out a measurement of light of between 200 and 500 lux, whereas a special SAD light-box, (sometimes referred to as a dawn simulator) throws out approximately 2500 lux worth of light.

It is usual to begin light therapy with the commencement of Autumn and depending on the strength of the light-box you employ, you can expect to sit 2 to 3 feet in front of the light source for a period of 30 to 45 minutes per day using a 10,000 lux light-box, or 2 to 3 hours per day using a 2500 lux strength light-box.

Lack of Serotonin

Up until recently light therapy has been one of the more favoured treatments for SAD, as most people have an aversion to the side effects that some anti depression medication is infamous for. However, there is now a new treatment which is rapidly gaining in popularity, having been heralded with significant success.

This new treatment is diet based and in particular focuses on Tryptophan rich foods. The real cause of SAD is the lack of a chemical known as serotonin. Serotonin is normally present in the brain and its production is stimulated by sunlight. During the darker winter months and due to the lack of bright sunshine, levels of serotonin become depleted bringing about the all too familiar feelings of depression.

The reason that diet can be an effective remedy is down to the fact that serotonin as a substance, is created by amino acids and in particular an amino acid known as Tryptophan. And so by eating foods that are rich in Tryptophan you can stimulate the levels of serotonin in your brain.

A Tryptophan Rich Diet

AvocadoThe foods that are naturally rich in Tryptophan include: poultry (turkey and chicken), fresh fish, eggs, milk, nuts, avocado, yoghurt and cheese; particularly cheddar, gruyere, and Swiss cheese.

Luckily all these foods are good health foods anyway, so including them in a regular well-balanced diet will not only help to keep you fit and trim but will also help to stimulate the levels of serotonin in your brain, thereby helping you to combat seasonal affective disorder.

The fact that a Tryptophan rich diet has now been recognised as an effective cure is a relief to many people as there is a danger of damaging your retina by constant use of the powerful light boxes. The new diet therapy is therefore much safer as well as being 100% natural.

So if you suffer from seasonal affective disorder, find out more about how a Tryptophan rich diet can help to combat the symptoms.

Images courtesy of bgmills and okikos on Flickr.

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