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There are a variety of different symptoms associated with the condition seasonal affective disorder or SAD. The condition is believed to affect as many as one in fifty UK residents and it is most common among those living at higher latitudes, in both the northern and southern hemisphere.
How Seasonal Affective Disorder Impacts Diet
A very common symptom associated with sufferers of SAD include changes in appetite at certain times of the year, usually from autumn to spring. Those affected typically recognise that their appetite significantly increases at this time of year; cravings for simple carbohydrates often increase during this period. Children and adolescents suffering from SAD frequently report an increase in cravings for junk food and sugary snacks.
This increase in appetite may be related to another main symptom of SAD – extreme fatigue, lethargy or lack of energy. Some sufferers may binge eat, mainly consuming a combination of both starchy foods and simple carbohydrates.
As a direct consequence of changes in appetite associated with SAD, research suggests that an individual may gain between seven to thirty pounds during the fall and winter months. A study carried out in the UK showed that 69% of participants identified an increase in appetite, as many as 73% reported cravings for energy-dense foods.
Why Does Seasonal Affective Disorder Affect Appetite?
It is believed that SAD affects one’s appetite as a direct result of a decrease of the neurotransmitter known as serotonin. The increase in appetite and, in particular, the cravings for simple carbohydrates, may be viewed as a means of instinctual self-medicating. This may be rooted in the instinctive need to increase the body’s production of serotonin.
This theory is also explained by the way in which certain antidepressant medications like Prozac lessen or eliminate the symptoms of depression through the alteration of serotonin levels.
The Role of Nutrition in Treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder
As SAD clearly affects one’s diet and appetite in addition to mainstream light therapy, there are several key ways in which nutrition may help reduce symptoms of SAD. Dietary changes to relieve SAD symptoms may include avoiding processed food, eating oily fish regularly (contains omega-3), snacking on pulses, seeds and nuts (rich in magnesium), increasing intake of fruit and vegetables (especially broccoli), eating more protein and choosing complex carbohydrates instead of simple carbohydrates.
Eating a healthy protein-rich breakfast is also important, as are measures like drinking plenty of water and reducing both alcohol and caffeine intake.