Diet, exercise and vitamin D help SAD sufferers

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Sunday December 26, 2010

TORONTO -- Post-holiday blues are as common as returning gifts for many people.

Seasonal affective disorders -- known as SAD -- have symptoms similar to depression and can include a lack of energy, an increased need for sleep, and a craving for foods that put on the pounds.

Latitude plays a role in the problem. SAD almost doesn't exist in Florida but is quite high in Alaska.

The closer you are to the equator, the better your mental health, said Ingrid Mraz, of Mood Disorders Association of Ontario, who has suffered from SAD for 25 years.

With SAD, people have depression, changes in appetite, weight gain and can sleep the sleep of the dead.

The most common treatment for SAD is the use of light therapy -- focusing on a patient's eye -- which is effective in 60% of patients.

"You do it in the morning from anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. You have to figure out how much time is right for you," Mraz said.

"It is also important to make sure you are getting enough vitamin D."

Symptoms begin in the fall and peak in the winter. They typically clear up by the spring.

Sufferers of SAD should try to get outdoors and have moderate exercise.

"Exercise can be tough when you are feeling sluggish, but it is important to get out and get some fresh air. It also helps to be around positive people," Mraz said.

Eating well and maintaining a good diet -- grains, vegetables, fruit and lean meats -- is important too.

Although the suicide rate doesn't rise at Christmas, the health-care system will see more psychiatric patients over the holiday season than at any other time of year.

Experts agree that to avoid holiday blues, regular sleep and eating patterns should be maintained. Holiday expectations should be kept reasonable to avoid letdowns.

Get outside:;Even better, exercise outside. “SAD is about the amount of light any given day brings,” she says. “Because what we’re trying to do is get outdoor light, even on dull, grey days. You need those daylight hours.” Lieberman notes that even sitting closer to the window from inside your office might help.

Eat this, not that:;“One symptom unique to SAD is you just want to eat every carbohydrate you can,” she says. “Substitute complex carbohydrates into your diet, so carbohydrates that satisfy you but don’t get turned into insulin too quickly.” (Think beans, brown rice, wholegrain breads and high-fibre cereals.) Also boosting the omega 3 fatty acids in your diet helps turn things around—things like fish, turkey and almonds. “Omega 3 is one of the only natural substances that have been tested and proven to have a positive impact on serotonin,” adds Liberman. (Serotonin is the brain chemical that helps regulate mood.)

Be friendly: “You often don’t feel like getting out, but getting out with positive people really helps you feel better as well,” she says.