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  • Writer's pictureДОРИС КЛИНИКС


Seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression, that is related to seasonal changes. Most of those experiencing this depression notice an increased feeling of sadness in the late fall or early winter /also known as winter depression/. A milder form of winter depression is called "winter blues," when you may feel depressed during the shorter, dreary, colder days.

Seasonal depression usually affects more women than men. You may be at greater risk of seasonal depression if you or a family member has been diagnosed with other mental disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, panic disorder, eating disorder. People who live at altitudes far north or south of the Equator, where there is less sun, are more prone to seasonal depression.

Some serious hypotheses describe hormonal changes and sun deficiency as causes of seasonal depression. We know that the sun helps regulate the hormone levels of serotonin (the neurotransmitter that regulates mood) and melatonin (the hormone that regulates the circadian rhythm). Reduced sunlight intake during the winter months can lead to lower levels of serotonin and higher levels of melatonin, which causes depressed moods. The synthesis of serotonin depends on the availability of vitamin D, which is mainly produced in the human body by exposure to sunlight. Therefore, decreased exposure to sunlight reduces vitamin D, which can lead to decreased serotonin levels. 

Seasonal depression and its signs and symptoms

  • You feel sad all the time

  • You feel hopeless or worthless

  • Thoughts of suicide or harming yourself

  • You lose interest in your hobbies or activities that you used to enjoy

  • Fatigue

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Sleep problems

  • Changes in appetite and weight

  • Body aches

  • Specific symptoms of winter depression include:

  • Sleep too long

  • Craving for carbohydrate foods

  • Filling up / Obesity

  • Tiredeness

To deal with these conditions and to prepare an individual protocol from the field of Functional Medicine, specific laboratory tests are assigned and an in-depth interview is conducted with the patient.

An important component for preparing the individual protocol is the assessment of the presence of the following factors and deficiencies:

MICRONUTRIENTS: Over 20 different nutrient/micronutrient deficiencies have been linked to depression, including: B vitamins, zinc, selenium, magnesium, iodine, copper, calcium, and vitamin D.

HORMONES: They can be measured using blood, urine, saliva. Cortisol and melatonin data are very important because an imbalance in either or both can cause changes in the body clock and contribute to seasonal depression. Other hormones also affect mood and brain activity. Measurement of sex and thyroid hormones can provide additional clues to mood swings.

NEUROTRANSMITTERS: A urine test can measure neurotransmitters, their precursors, and breakdown products to determine how imbalances in neurotransmitter levels might affect changes in brain activity, emotions, and energy levels.

An organic acid test can determine the status of neurotransmitters and determine whether there are vitamin, amino acid and antioxidant deficiencies that could disrupt the healthy functioning of the nervous system.

GENES: Variations in our genes can affect the production and metabolism of hormones and genetically predispose us to mood disorders. Genetic testing can help clarify the picture when prescribing drug or nutritional interventions related to an individual's needs.

How Functional Medicine Treats Seasonal Depression

The conventional approach to treating seasonal depression involves a combination of antidepressants, light therapy, and psychotherapy. While some people may need antidepressants to manage depression, alternative natural interventions can successfully treat most conditions, as well as reduce medication doses in others, or prevent the prescription of medication altogether in others. Functional Medicine protocols include:

Nutrition: Generally speaking, a diet with foods that counteract inflammatory processes is associated with a lower risk of all forms of depression. Adhering to such a diet means increasing the intake of certain foods and reducing the intake of others, namely:

  • Increased amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy products, and antioxidants

  • Reduced intake of red or processed meats, simple carbohydrates, sweets and high-fat dairy products

The most common nutritional deficiencies seen in patients with mental health problems are a lack of Omega 3 fatty acids, B vitamins, minerals and certain amino acids. When this is understood, you will be able to make the right food choices that you need for the healthy synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters and the flow of signals between them. БProteins are made up of amino acids, some of which are obtained through food. Amino acids play many roles in the body, including the synthesis of neurotransmitters. Protein and amino acid deficiencies can lead to low levels of neurotransmitters and exacerbate depressive symptoms.Tryptophan is an amino acid precursor to serotonin. Including the following tryptophan-rich foods can optimize serotonin levels:

  • Chicken meat

  • Farm cheese

  • Eggs

  • Avocado

  • Brown rice

  • Sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, peanuts

Carbohydrates trigger the release of insulin, which helps sugar and tryptophan enter the brain. Carbohydrates with a lower glycemic index are more likely to have a lasting effect on brain chemistry and are less likely to cause spikes and dips in blood sugar.

Try to include the following carbohydrates in your diet:

  • Fruits and vegetables

  • Bean foods

  • Brown rice

  • Oat flakes

  • Whole grain pasta

Omega 3 amino acids are essential amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own and must obtain from food. Omega-3s are necessary for brain function and cell growth, and many studies demonstrate the benefits of Omega-3s for mood. The two key Omega 3 fats for a healthy brain are EPA and DHA, which can be obtained through food and supplements.

  • The best sources of Omega-3 are fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and trout.

  • The best vegan sources of DHA and EPA are seaweed and green algae.

  • Flax seeds and pumpkin seeds contain alpha linoleic acid ALA, which the body can convert into EPA and DHA; however, this process may not be efficient enough, so alphalipoic acid alone should not be relied upon to meet Omega-3 needs.

The body needs sufficient amounts of other nutritional cofactors to support the production of hormones and neurotransmitters. Here are the vitamins and minerals that should be present in the diet:

  • B Vitamins: (especially vitamin B6 and folate): whole grains, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, nuts, legumes, dark green leafy vegetables.

  • Vitamin C: citrus fruits, tomatoes, peppers, kiwis, strawberries, broccoli.

  • Vitamin D: salmon, sardines, swordfish, cod liver oil, whole milk products.

  • Magnesium: Nuts, seeds, soybeans, black beans, bananas, broccoli, spinach, whole grains.

  • Zinc: shrimp, meat, poultry, pumpkin seeds, beets, dairy products.

  • Iron: red meat, shrimp, liver, dark green leafy vegetables, vegetables, tofu.

Many herbs in nutritional supplements and as an independent form can have a beneficial effect on the symptoms of seasonal depression. Such are St. John's wort, saffron, lavender, passion flower. They are among the most studied and effective herbs in the treatment of depression.

Regular exercise has been shown to have a positive effect on depression, as it releases chemicals that improve mood, increase sociality and confidence, and act as a healthy mechanism to deal with gloomy thoughts. Physical activity for at least 30 minutes three to five days a week has a positive effect on depressive symptoms.

Acupuncture, massage and aromatherapy are alternative methods with proven success in treating depressive symptoms.

Seasonal depression affects millions of people. It is believed to be caused by biochemical changes due to an imbalance between vitamins, neurotransmitters and hormonal imbalances as a result of the lack of sunlight. Seasonal depression can seriously impair quality of life, causing mental/emotional and physical symptoms. Working with a functional doctor will help you understand the exact causes and needs of the body, focus on correcting imbalances in nutritional composition, neurotransmitters and hormones and thus deal with the problem, prevent its recurrence and live life to the fullest.

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