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Feeling SAD

Natural mood enhancers may provide relief for seasonal affective disorder.


A woman feeling sad.


AUTUMN and winter often bring much natural beauty, such as brilliantly coloured leaves on trees and picturesque snowfalls, but the colder weather and long dark nights may also leave you feeling well below par.

We all feel good when the sky is blue and the sun is shining down on us, but often feel a little ‘grey’ to match the typical weather we experience in the autumn and winter. For some people, this grey feeling is a more serious problem. They may experience the classic symptoms of depression, including fatigue, lethargy, increased need for sleep, food cravings and weight gain. For some individuals, this means that every day chores, at home or work, become almost impossible.

Formerly known as ‘the winter blues’, Seasonal Affective Disorder or ‘SAD’ is now recognised as a genuine condition affecting many people in Northern Europe to some degree.  Although your GP may suggest a course of anti-depressant drugs, many people are adverse to going down that route.  Natural mood enhancers may provide relief. 

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter formed in the brain. It is often classed as the ‘happy hormone’ because of its role in improving mood and is often found to be low in people who suffer with depression.

Tryptophan, an amino acid found in many foods, is needed for the manufacture of serotonin. Include tryptophan-rich foods such as chicken, turkey, fish, bananas, pineapples, eggs, milk, beans and cheese in your diet to help boost serotonin production. Also, include bread, potatoes, rice and cereals in your diet. They contain smaller amounts of serotonin, but are a rich source of the B vitamins.

B vitamins are important for healthy brain function and vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) helps to convert tryptophan into serotonin. Foods rich in vitamin B6 include chicken, pork, liver and kidney, fish, nuts and legumes. Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) helps build and maintain healthy brain cells. Good food sources include bread, rice, pasta and pork.  Folic acid, found in bananas, orange juice, green leafy vegetables, dried pulses and cereals, is another B vitamin essential for proper brain function. To help safeguard dietary intake, a B complex can be taken to supplement the diet with these B vitamins. 

Recent research is suggesting that there may be a connection between a vitamin D deficiency and SAD. Vitamin D is a vitamin with a hormone-like action that is manufactured when our skin is exposed to sunlight. During the winter, when we have less sun exposure, we are more vulnerable to becoming low in vitamin D. One study demonstrated that subjects experienced an enhancement in their mood when given supplements of vitamin D.  A daily multivitamin and mineral formula will supply B vitamins, vitamin C and vitamin D along with other essential nutrients.

One of the most annoying symptoms of SAD is the craving for food, especially carbohydrates and the accompanying weight-gain associated with comfort eating. Eating complex carbohydrates (found in whole grains, fruits, pulses, cereals and fruit) provides sustained energy, which helps to stabilize blood sugar and reduce cravings. It has been found that people who struggle to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, are often deficient in the mineral chromium. Wholegrains, liver, fruit and vegetables are all great sources of this important mineral. Some SAD sufferers benefit from Light Therapy, where they are exposed to an artificial source of light which mimics sunlight for short regular intervals daily.