Monday, November 1, 2010

The Joy Diet For the Winter

 Or How to Improve Your Mood With Nutrition

It usually begins in November when the days are getting shorter and seem to be filled only with work. By the time we finish our workday, the day is almost over. It is dark and cold outside and our moods may swing a bit. And while some people seem to be emotionally resistant to the changes in the outside world or even enjoy the season, others may get affected and feel sullen most of the time.

Winter depression, also known as the Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, is a disorder that affects normally mentally healthy people during the winter months. It typically occurs in the Northern hemisphere and women are more often affected than men. The serious mood changes that set in with the change of seasons are recurrent and usually last from November until March or April. Most sufferers have a weakened immune system and are more susceptible to winter infections. The SAD symptoms include: 
  • mood swings
  • depressed mood
  • lack of energy
  • lethargy
  • decreased concentration and memory function
  • withdrawal
  • cravings for sweet and starchy foods that might eventually result in weight gain
  • increased need for sleep and difficulty to wake up in the morning and start the day
  • decreased libido
  • irritability
  • in some severe cases, suicidal tendencies. 
These symptoms are very much the same as the symptoms of clinical depression and some people with SAD may even require hospitalization.

Typical treatment of SAD normally includes bright light therapy, medication with antidepressants, supplementation with melatonin and Vitamin D, and behavioral therapy.

The reasons for SAD are still widely disputed. Some researchers postulate the serotonin connection. Serotonin which is considered to be the mood neurotransmitter, reaches its lowest levels in the brain during the winter months and women are more affected by its fluctuation than men. Serotonin affects sleep pattern, appetite, and metabolism. The imbalances of serotonin can be easily corrected with nutrition and nutritional supplements. Serotonin is synthesized in the body from the essential amino acid tryptophan. Diet rich in tryptophan helps to maintain high levels of serotonin. Protein-containing foods such as turkey, chicken, fish, cottage cheese, bananas and wheatgerm, are rich in tryptophan and should be consumed on daily basis. You can also supplement your diet with L-Tryptophan or 5-HTP which is a precursor to tryptophan. It is important to remember that 5-HTP should not be taken together with Vitamin B6 as it might convert into serotonin before it crosses the blood-brain barrier. There should be about six hours time interval between ingestion of these two supplements. 5-HTP is best taken on empty stomach about 30 minutes before bedtime.

The bright light therapy is successfully used in countries like Canada and Finland. Exposure to light activates the production of Vitamin D in the body. Research shows that there is a connection between depression and the levels of Vitamin D in patient's blood. Vitamin D may help alleviate depression not only in patients with the SAD, but those suffering from clinical depression as well. Vitamin D, best taken in form of cholecalciferol or Vitamin D3, can be used safely in higher doses. It is recommended to take 3,500 to 7,000 IU per day. Intensive exposure to sun during the summer months results in blood levels of Vitamin D equivalent to those produced by the daily supplementation with 10,000 IU. The dose of supplemental Vitamin D can be reduced if fatty salt water fish is consumed on regular bases. Cod liver oil is probably the richest source of Vitamin D. One hundred grams provide about 10,000 IU of Vitamin D. In addition, cod liver oil contains very high level of Vitamin A as well as omega-3 essential fatty acids. The idea of consuming large amounts of cod liver oil may not sound like much fun, but there are excellent supplements on the market made from high quality fermented cod liver oil. Lacto-fermentation makes the nutrients in cod liver oil more bio-available.

Oily salt water fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and herring, is the best source of omega-3 essential fatty acids. It is proven that nutrition rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids effectively enhances mood and alleviates depression. People who are deficient in omega-3 essential fatty acids, especially EPA, are more likely to experience mood swings and depression. Eat fish three to four times a week or take 1000 to 2000mg omega-3 fish oil in a capsule form. Look for products of highest purity that are hexane-free.

We normally tend to eat more fruits and vegetables during summer, but there is no reason why you should not eat them during the winter. On the contrary. Putting more fresh raw fruits and vegetables on your plate will help you maintain high energy levels and deliver vitamins and minerals that your body need to function optimally. The cold season offers a multitude of colorful fruits and vegetables. Try beets, cabbages, pumpkin, pomegranate, persimmons, and citrus. Add nuts to your diet, especially walnuts and almonds. Supplement with high quality multivitamin to make sure that you are getting enough vitamins of the B group. Pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5), Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6), Cyanocobalamin (B12), and Folate (B9) are all very important when you want to enhance your mood. Additional supplementation with Vitamin C does not only strengthen the immune system, but it may also help balance the mood. Studies demonstrated that low levels of Vitamin C in the cerebrospinal fluid adversely affect brain function and mood.

Chocolate is considered to be a pleasure-giving food. It contains a compound called phenylethylamine (PEA). Phenylethylamine is chemically related to amphetamine. It tends to rise the blood pressure and increase the secretion of endorphins. This gives a feeling of alertness and contentment. Research demonstrated that phenylethylamine acts as fast as amphetamine. The dose, however, does not have to be increased continually as it does not produce tolerance. Phenylethylamine helps to elevate mood and brings relief to even very depressed people. Additionally, the pleasant smell, taste, and texture of chocolate may help release additional endorphins in the brain. When buying chocolate, choose the one with the highest level of cocoa and very little sugar. There are products on the market made of raw cocoa. Some may contain as much as 85 - 99 per cent cocoa. Remember that chocolate also contains the stimulating caffeine which may cause agitation.

If you suffer from SAD or mood swings, it is vital that you keep your blood sugar levels well balanced. Do not skip meals and avoid stimulants such as coffee and other caffeine containing drinks. Eliminate as much sugar from your diet as you possibly can. To curb the sugar craving take up to 600 µg chromium polynicotinate daily. This will help you feel more energetic.

Spend some active time outdoors and enjoy the occasional sunny day. Exercise regularly and take time to relax and pamper yourself. And no matter what, next Spring is only a few months away.

By Dominique Allmon

*This information is for educational purpose only and it is not meant to diagnose or cure a disease. Please, consult your health care provider before commencing self-medication.


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