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Spotlight on SAD

Lauren Johnson Reynolds sheds some light on Seasonal Affective Disorder and how it can be treated naturally

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as winter depression, is a mood disorder that usually affects people in the winter months. It's thought to affect young people and women more often and be due to the lack of daylight and its impact on the production of the mood-boosting hormone serotonin and our sleep hormone melatonin.

SAD can impact mental health and circadian rhythm. It can cause depression-like symptoms such as low mood, low energy, feeling lethargic or sleeping more. It can also lead to a loss of joy and interest in everyday activities, eating more or less, loss of sex drive and so on.

Seeing the light

As lack of light seems to be the main influence on sleep and mood changes, light boxes and sunrise alarm clocks can be a great way to simulate sunlight exposure and combat symptoms.

These work for some and not for others. But from my own usage I can say that the sunrise alarm clock wakes me gradually and gently, reducing the harsh impact of sudden waking, which helps me to stay in my parasympathetic ‘rest and digest' nervous system. Traditional alarm clocks wake us with a start, putting us into fight or flight mode, which has a major impact on our mood.

Morning light exposure, even when it's overcast, signals to the pineal gland in the brain that it should reduce its secretion of our sleep hormone melatonin. Doing this actually helps to regulate our circadian rhythm, which can often become dysregulated in winter months and may be a factor in SAD.

Balancing blood sugar

Omega-3-rich foods such as salmon, mackerel and sardines as well as flax seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts and eggs are required for proper brain function. They have been shown to utilise serotonin more efficiently to improve the symptoms of depression.

Prioritising protein can help to keep blood sugar levels stable, which has a positive impact on mood. When our blood sugars are imbalanced, this affects our mood in two ways. Firstly, a blood sugar drop requires a rise in stress hormones to bring it back into balance and increased stress hormones impact mood and energy. Secondly, blood sugar drops leave us craving quick-energy foods such as carbohydrates and sugars, worsening blood sugar balance, promoting weight gain, impacting inflammation levels and gut health, making us feel worse in the long run.

As vitamin D from the sun can't be absorbed in winter months, vitamin D deficiency may be a contributing factor in the development of SAD. Foods rich in vitamin D such as red meat, eggs and mushrooms can help to combat the symptoms. But for most, vitamin D supplementation is necessary throughout the winter months.

Lauren Johnson Reynolds, aka the London Wellness Coach, is a fully qualified, registered nutritional therapist, PCOS expert and women's health speaker. Lauren uses natural remedies and herbal medicines to treat patients suffering with anxiety, depression, hay fever, eczema, IBS, acne, asthma and more. Visit

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