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SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder, SAD & 5-htp

Beating the winter blues: SAD and 5-htp


SAD is a depressive condition that’s believed to stem from the shortened hours of daylight, colder temperatures and lack of sunlight experienced over the winter months. Could a fresh approach to taking supplements help?

Everyone is affected to some extent by the changes in light and temperature that arrive in the colder months. For most, this means seeking out heartier comfort foods and feeling generally more lethargic. Around 21% of UK adults will also experience some of the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (appropriately acronymed “SAD”), which might, according to the NHS, include a persistant low mood, loss of pleasure in everyday activities, irritability, feelings of despair, lethargy and fatigue, oversleeping and weight gain through craving carbohydrates [1]. This is often termed “sub-syndromal SAD” or the “winter blues”. For a further 8%, SAD takes on a far more serious form as a depressive illness that can prevent sufferers from going about their everyday tasks without treatment [2].

What’s the link between SAD, serotonin and melatonin?

Two hundred years ago, an estimated 75% of the population worked outdoors. Fast forward to 2017 and now less than 10% of the UK’s workforce is employed outdoors, getting several hours of natural light. In the winter months when the nights draw in, many people go to work in darkness and leave work in darkness, meaning that very few are outdoors in daylight for any length of time. This modern way of living is thought to be at odds with the body’s own rhythms and system of reading nature’s cues. With shift patterns, the dawn of electric lighting and working and socialising extending far later into the night than our ancestors, the theory is that these factors have reduced the body’s innate ability to regulate its body clock, giving rise to light deficiency symptoms. The UK’s Seasonal Affective Disorder Association believes that as a direct consequence of these changing environmental and lifestyle factors, more people than ever before suffer from SAD [3].

No one knows what the exact cause of SAD is, but it is often linked to reduced sunlight exposure during the darker winter months. The main idea is that a lack of sunlight might hamper a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, affecting the production of melatonin and serotonin and the body’s internal clock. Melatonin is a hormone that makes you feel sleepy, which has been found in higher levels in people with SAD. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects mood, appetite and sleep. A lack of sunlight is known to lead to lower serotonin levels, which is linked to the feelings of depression experienced in SAD. Your body’s clock (circadian rhythm) uses sunlight to regulate various functions, including when to wake up. It’s thought that lower light during winter may disrupt your body’s circadian rhythms – contributing to the symptoms of SAD.

Could 5-htp help?

SAD suffers may choose to try light therapy, taking St John’s Wort (thought to be a natural antidepressant) and cognitive behavioural therapy, alongside improving their diet and exercise – as well as being prescribed common antidepressant drugs by their GP. 5-htp is a chemical compound that is easily broken down by the body into serotonin – a neurotransmitter that is often found to be low in those suffering from SAD and depression. Research consistently links a deficit in serotonin to depression, stress, anxiety, SAD, lowered libido, poor digestion, appetite and irregular sleep patterns. By increasing the amount of serotonin available in the body, the theory is that these conditions can be relieved – the idea behind widely prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) antidepressants.

Research has shown that 5-htp can be as effective as the compound tryptophan in increasing your body’s levels of serotonin [4], as well as being effective in treating insomnia and improving quality of sleep [5] [6] [7]. Used in the treatment of depressive conditions for over 30 years, 5-htp has a strong following amongst clinicians and patients alike – including Hollywood actor Jim Carrey.


brain feed’s 5-htp supplements are the smallest yet most nutrient-dense tablets available on the market. This UK’s premium supplier put your health and wellbeing front and centre of product design, using 100% naturally derived ingredients to drive results grounded in science. Made from the highest quality extracts taken from sustainable sources – in this case, from griffonia seeds – they are twice the strength of 5-htp available from Holland & Barrett and MyProtein, helping you to relieve your anxiety in an easy-to-swallow, reliable and consistent tablet.









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