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Your Life: Dear Miriam - Blame the brain if you feel SAD; HEALTH.

Byline: DR. MIRIAM STOPPARD

Many people are feeling down about the dull, wet weather we're having - and the fact that nights are drawing in.

But thousands of people in the UK will suffer from something more severe in the darker months to come - seasonal affective disorder (SAD) where feeling down in the dumps takes the form of real depression.

New research has found seasonal changes in brain chemistry can account for the low mood of SAD sufferers. We've known for a while that SAD is due to the short daylight hours during the winter - but we didn't know why until a recent study was published from the University of Toronto.

It's down to proteins that clear the brain of the mood-regulating hormone serotonin when light is in short supply.

Brain scans on 88 volunteers showed that a protein known as a serotonin transporter, which clears serotonin from the brain, is more active in autumn and winter. And the lower the brain levels of serotonin, the greater the likelihood of depression.

The warning signs

But how do you know if it's the winter blues or full-blown SAD? From September to April, typical SAD sufferers experience:

Sleep problems

Lethargy

Overeating

Depression

Feeling withdrawn

Anxiety

Loss of libido

Mood swings

Easy ways to stay happy

LIGHTEN UP: Get as much natural sunlight as possible - even a brief lunchtime walk can be beneficial. Try to make work and home environments bright and sit near windows.

GET MOVING: Regular exercise combats feelings of depression because your body releases happy chemicals, called endorphins, when you exercise.

SAY NO TO STRESS: Putting yourself under undue pressure can exaggerate feelings of depression so beware of overloading yourself with work.

EAT HAPPY FOODS: Eat plenty of oily fish, which contain omega-3 fatty acids, important for boosting mood.

Also foods like chicken, turkey, lentils and sunflower seeds contain B vitamins, which keep the nervous system healthy. Research shows that people who follow a diet low in B vitamins suffer from more mood swings and are less happy than others.

TRY A LIGHT BOX: Exposure to bright light via a light box, for up to four hours a day, is effective in up to 85 per cent of diagnosed cases. Ordinary light bulbs aren't strong enough as they emit an intensity of 200-500 lux - the minimum dose necessary to treat SAD is 2,500 lux. The intensity of a bright summer day can be 100,000 lux!

Light boxes aren't available on the NHS and must be bought from specialist retailers; prices start at under pounds 100.

SEE YOUR GP: This new discovery suggests to me that a group of antidepressant drugs known as SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors) like paroxetine and fluoxetine would help keep up serotonin levels in the brain and are the logical antidote when the protein gets active. You might find that a combination of SSRIs and light therapy does the trick.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON SAD CONTACT THE SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER ASSOCIATION VIA WWW.SADA.ORG.UK
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 3, 2008
Words:501
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