It's that time of the year; the nights grow longer, daylight hours decrease and our bodies ability to create vitamin D3 drops plus our emotions can start to feel a little low. So, we've 7 nutritional & lifestyle tips to help with Season Affective Disorder to help you improve your wellbeing during these darker days! Let us know which ones you do or better still; work them all into your schedule for a week share your results!
Boost your serotonin
Winter Seasonal Affective disorder (SAD) affects millions of people worldwide with 12 million people across Northern European and as many as 2 million in the UK & Ireland . Serotonin exerts powerful control over our emotions, wellbeing, focus and cravings and when lacking this it can cause problems with sleeping, pain tolerance, body temperature and the ability to feel enjoyment. It’s possible to increase Serotonin from eating large amounts of food rich in Tryptophan as kale, spinach, green tea, eggs & nuts. However, the conversion from Tryptphan to 5-HT (serotonin) is complex because our body also converts it into many other amino acids, it requires transporter molecules to cross the blood-brain barrier and, other metabolites to be successfully converted into 5-htp before finally being converted into 5-ht.
2. Consider taking Vitamin D supplements
Our body creates vitamin D from sunlight but in the winter months fewer daylight hours means lower levels of vitamin D. Sweden and Finland have been fortifying food staples with vitamin D for over 20 years. However, Sweden is expanding the range of staples to include yoghurt, lactose-free milk alternatives and cooking oil whilst increasing mandatory fortification levels from 5 micrograms to 10 micrograms per litre of milk. Why is this important? It has been indicated that low levels of vitamin D “were associated to the presence and severity of depressive disorders suggesting that hypovitaminosis D may represent an underlying biological vulnerability for depression ". A 2014 systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled trials into vitamin D supplementation concluded “Vitamin D supplement may be effective for reducing depressive symptoms in patients with clinically significant depression” 
3. Embrace the seasons!
They can often be the most visually stunning time of the year so embrace the cold and get outside. Cherish the autumn colours and celebrate crisp December Saturday mornings!
The pinnacle of festive period for all of us here at brain feed is the Christmas markets so if you can merit a weekend break away checkout the Daily Telegraph's top 16 European Christmas markets from Vilnius to Budapest, Trondheim to Stockholm!
4. Cut out the sugar
We'll cover the health and performance concerns associated with high sugar in-take because despite what the marketers have led us to believe it's detrimental to our mental wellbeing. Recent studies that consistently shown that “A diet steadily high in fructose slows the brain, hampering memory and learning” . David Geffen Professor of Integrative Biology at UCLA concluded from a recent study that "Eating a high-fructose diet over the long term alters your brain's ability to learn and remember information. But adding omega-3 fatty acids to your meals can help minimize the damage." So, if you want to increase your brain performance in the office and cut the mood swings, swap the sweets for something like walnuts that are high in omega-3.
Yoga and meditation have been used in ancient Chinese culture for centuries for their calming effects. However, with the culmination of a 5 year study at Harvard University in 2013 they scientifically proved that practicing yoga, meditation and mindfulness increased energy metabolism and insulin secretion . The study focused on participants with high levels of stress and they found that those students that practiced yoga twenty minutes a day compared to those that did not showed a reduced expression of genes linked to inflammatory responses and stress.
6. Start planning your new year’s resolutions
Visualise your dreams, goals, targets and ambitions for 2016 and create an achievable plan. It’ll help you to departmentalise what makes you happy and work out what you want your priorities to be.
Exercise releases endorphins which reduce our perception of pain and trigger a positive feeling similar to that of morphine. It also stops your body and brain from going onto autopilot. Any exercise is good but exercises that require more than just a physical workout such as a technical activity like ballroom dancing or martial arts stimulates the brain whilst maintaining a healthy heart and body.
- Y Milaneschi et al The association between low vitamin D and depressive disorders Molecular Psychiatry 19 444-451 (April 2014)
- Shaffer et al Vitamin D supplementation for depressive symptoms: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Pyschosomatic Medicine 76 190-6 (April 2014)