Feeling down in the dumps this winter?The ‘winter blues’ or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a common cyclical mood disorder that tends to occur when the days get shorter and the weather turns cold and miserable. In conjunction with the awful summer we had this year, you might just find yourself feeling a bit down in the dumps or moody and irritable this winter. Changes in mood usually begin during late autumn and continue into winter, with symptoms typically disappearing during the spring and summer months. SAD appears to affect more women than men and the severity of symptoms may range from simple moodiness or irritability to continuing low mood.
Symptoms of winter blues / SAD
- Low mood that regularly occurs year after year during the winter months
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Generalised aches and pains
- Overeating, especially carbohydrates with associated weight gain
- Lack of interest in usual activities or social withdrawal
- Low libido
- Crying spells
- Irritability, moodiness or decreased concentration
- Poor sleep patterns or oversleeping
What causes winter blues?There is no one conclusive cause of SAD, although the main underlying reasons include:
- Reduced exposure to sunlight during the winter months can have an adverse effect on our brain chemistry. Most of us feel happier and in a good mood when we are exposed to sunlight when compared to a cloudy or gloomy day. Low levels of vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin) have also been implicated in SAD.
- Circadian rhythm dysfunction. Our internal body clock is dependent on sunlight, helping to regulate our sleep and wake cycles. In some people, the shorter days in winter can disrupt the circadian rhythm and adversely affect brain functioning.
- Excessive melatonin exposure. Melatonin is produced in response to reduced sunlight and triggers our sleep response whereas daylight switches off our melatonin production. The shorter daylight hours during winter increase our exposure to melatonin.
- Neurotransmitter dysfunction. Neurotransmitter deficiencies and imbalances of serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline are implicated in mood disorders and are often decreased in those who suffer from SAD.
How SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine) helps beat the winter bluesSAMe is a chemical found naturally in the body and is produced mainly in the liver from the amino acid methionine. SAMe production is dependent on vitamin B12 and folic acid and a deficiency of these vitamins results in low levels of SAMe in the central nervous system. Low levels of SAMe have an adverse effect on neurotransmitter production and regulation of mood resulting in low mood, mood swings, nervous tension, anxiety and stress. SAMe is required for the synthesis of neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline, which play an important role in regulating normal mood and behaviour. SAMe may assist in the management and symptomatic relief of mood swings and is beneficial during times of stress so helps relieve nervous tension, stress and mild anxiety. SAMe is also important for liver health; liver detoxification, improving antioxidant status and protecting the liver from toxins; and inflammatory and painful conditions such as osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia.
Lifestyle factors to help you beat winter blues
- Get outside into the sunlight whenever possible, especially the morning
- Exercise - how about a walk in the sun or a bike ride?
- Bright light or phototherapy
- Cognitive behavioural therapy - develop healthier thinking habits
- Plenty of restful sleep
- Book a holiday to a warm, sunny place
- Keep up your social activities
- Consume good quality proteins, providing building blocks for neurotransmitter production