Seasonal affective disorder

Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D was the 1st person to systemize and report this condition in the early 1980’s after recognizing the symptoms of low mood in himself during the winter months.

SAD is characterized by depressive symptoms in the darker, colder months and can include eating and drinking more, fatigue, malaise, decreased desire to interact and lowered sex drive. Sufferers often find difficulty getting out of bed and lowered mood and motivation.

Theories behind the causes of SAD include a reduction in serotonin production which is possibly related to light exposure, lowered vitamin D levels which are due to lowered sun exposure and increase melatonin which increases as night and during periods of darkness. People also theorize the decreased sex drive and other symptoms may have been survival driven as is was less favourable to reproduce at this time, as well as some of the symptoms either driving people to consume more calories or slowing them down to slow down calorie burning.

Genetic factors clearly play a role with over 20% of people who get SAD also being bi-polar in nature. Less frequency is noted in Iceland and Japan, but this maybe due to higher fish consumption which supports serotonin levels.

As SAD is associated with characteristics of the winter months counteracting these would seem a sensible place to start. Indeed light therapy with bright lumen lights has been shown to quickly improve symptoms. Resolving vitamin D insufficiency also can bring some individuals relief and supporting serotonin production is an essential part of surviving SAD. Serotonin can be supported nutritionally which is generally recommended as nutritional interventions have fewer side effects or withdrawal patterns. Examples might include taking magnesium and serotonin supporting nutrients at night or during the day when symptoms are intense. 5HTP a serotonin pre-cursor is also very effective. This can’t be used with St John’s wort or other SSRI’s as they prevent the breakdown in serotonin which can cause other mania to develop.

Doing as much as you can to stay happy will also obviously help. Try to avoid excessive partying which is tempting to nullify the feelings of depression. Alcohol is a known depressant in it’s own right so moderation and period of detox are essential during the winters months, some of which can be associated with excess. Exercise is probably the best form of habit to adopt to help prevent and elevate depression. This also offers part of the solution to seasonal weight gain.

Some theorists have suggested the lifetime weight gain we generally suffer from as humans occurs around periods of excess like Christmas, Easter and thanksgiving. Our ability to store fat under these conditions is made worse with the additional alcohol and lack of movement. Most people lose some weight after these times but it tends to be only half what they’ve gained. The average gain at Christmas is 4lb and the average lose in January is only 2lb.

If you can build in some longer runs, some higher intensity gym or home body weight circuits you can really make room for excesses. Taking the time to prime the muscles insulin receptors, drain some of the glycogen in anticipation of re-loading means less spill over and storage of fat when you are chowing down on mince pies and a glass of port or two. Some studies show SAD sufferers have higher insulin production in relation to carb feeding, this means the feel good serotonin carb effect is reversed faster. Leading to more cravings and more carbs being consumed. Following insulin stabilizing dietary practices and keeping serotonin and brain chemistry happy with supplementation can help you avoid these terrible feelings of craving. Some examples include;

Insulin stabilizing;

Eating protein and vegetables before any carbohydrates.

Taking a good multivitamin with zinc, b-vitamins and chromium.

Using botanicals like cinnamon and berberine (golden seal)

For serotonin try;


St John’s Wort (on it’s own).

ZMA formulas

All of these are included in R5 aminos

Fish oils also can help with stress and low grade depressive symptoms

For cravings;





About Matt Lovell

A sports nutritionist and brand ambassador for Kinetica Sports. Matt also runs his own elite performance based company called Perform and Function.

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