Season Making You SAD?

Proper nutrition, sleep combat Seasonal Affective Disorder

Kathi Leonard Salatino notes the importance of good nutrition for brain health: “Raw cacao is very beneficial in boosting serotonin levels as well as getting a lot of those nutrients that our body really needs. Other great options for boosting serotonin are eggs, salmon, nuts and turkey.” Photo by Jessica Broverman

With the winter weather blocking out sunlight and keeping residents indoors, Seasonal Affective Disorder can cause many health issues, according to nutrition counselor Kathi Leonard Salatino.

Salatino works with Ryan Ferns HealthPlex and manages her own practice called healthymotivation. Salatino recently appeared on West Liberty University’s television show “HealthyU” to discuss Seasonal Affective Disorder with Sarah Dean of Dean’s Natural Wellness.

“Seasonal Affective Disorder, SAD, is a seasonal depression that happens because of the lack of daylight and the changes in our circadian rhythm,” said Salatino. “It can affect the body in a lot of different ways. Your body over-produces melatonin because there is less daylight. … We are in darkness more, so our body just naturally produces melatonin.”

Melatonin assists in keeping a well-managed sleep and wake cycle. Though melatonin is natural and healthy, when your body produces too much, it can cause negative health affects, according to Salatino.

“We will produce the melatonin thinking we need to sleep or hibernate, but then that throws our serotonin out of whack. If you’re not on a really good sleep schedule and are using a lot of artificial light, your body will produce that melatonin making you very sleepy, fatigued, cause carb cravings, depression and even physical manifestations.”

Salatino says joint pain and achiness are some signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

To combat these symptoms, Salatino says there are a multitude of options that will contribute to getting through the dreary days of winter.

“Get as much sunlight as you can around the peak time of day, so either in the morning or at noon,” said Salatino. “Sending that light to the brain so that it keeps your circadian rhythm in balance is important. Try to get at least 30 minutes of natural sunlight a day. If you can’t do that, then there are artificial sources like light therapy, also called a Happy Light, which helps your body stay in that natural rhythm.”

Sleeping too much or too little also affects the body negatively, according to Salatino. She advises that seven to nine hours of sleep is ideal.

As a nutrition counselor, Salatino stresses that your body needs proper nutrients to tackle daily struggles in addition to SAD symptoms.

“High sugar and high processed carbohydrate diets will actually just amplify the symptoms because those are a really big trigger for depression anyway. Although SAD and clinical depression are different, the diet is pretty similar.”

The food we consume affects mental and physical health all year round and should be considered when combating SAD, according to Salatino. “So when we bring in a lot of sugars and a lot of processed carbs, it affects our blood sugar, which affects our moods.

“The types of food we want to bring in are a lot of nutrient-dense foods, so a lot of different colorful vegetables to get that phytonutrients, good sources of proteins and healthy fats, and minimizing those carbohydrates so our bodies can really thrive and get that natural energy that we get from food. …

“Raw cacao is very beneficial in boosting serotonin levels as well as getting a lot of those nutrients that our body really needs. Other great options for boosting serotonin are eggs, salmon, nuts and turkey.”

Though food plays a part in lifting oneself out of Seasonal Affective Disorder, it takes multiple efforts to put those negative feelings at bay during the cold winter months.

“I think with SAD some of the key points are finding laughter and doing things that boost your mood. Movement is really important, making sure you’re well hydrated and staying in contact with people because SAD makes you want to withdraw and isolate and essentially hibernate,” said Salatino.

Though Salatino advises that staying indoors may seem like a nice idea, getting active and communicating with others is the best way to enjoy this time of year until more natural sunlight is available.

“Staying inside can just make the situation worse, so reach out to someone you can talk to and get involved in something — connect with people that support you and people that can make you laugh.”