Why so SAD? 6 Reasons you Suffer From Seasonal Affective Disorder

SAD or winter depression is a change in mood brought on by the change in season.  As the season changes to Fall the days get shorter, the weather gets cooler and to top it off we have less exposure to sunlight.  All of this is a recipe for a case of the winter blues or sub-syndromal SAD which many of us experience. The winter blues is very mild and not true SAD. However, for about 1.5 million Canadians the change in season brings about major clinical depression and for another 4.5 million Canadians it brings a mild depression. For those Canadians it is much more than the blues as they experience severe debilitating symptoms  starting as soon as the fall and progressing in the winter months.

The symptoms of SAD:

  • Tired – excessive fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Depressed
  • Irritable
  • Suicidal
  • Overeating
  • Oversleeping
  • Weight gain
  • Lose interest in in social interactions


Sunlight is crucial to our health. Two very important HORMONES are affected by the lack of sunlight. The mood hormone -Serotonin (hormone and neurotransmitter) and the sleep hormone – Melatonin, both rise and fall with light and darkness. Both hormones have a rhythm to stave off depression.

My treatment goal with SAD is:

  • regulate the bodies rhythm and
  • minimize the depressive symptoms

Treatment can start as early as summer or fall as a preventative measure. This will result in symptoms of depression lessening dramatically.

Here are a six (6) key reasons you maybe experiencing SAD and the strategies that work

1. Low VITAMIN D: The first thing I would check is your Vitamin D levels.

Researchers say 40-75% of the world’s population is Vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D deficiency is very common and with few exceptions, all Canadians are deficient in winter. We have less daylight in winter and because it is cold outside we are not keen on being outside for longer than 30 minutes. Can you blame us?

According to Grassroots Health (leader in Vitamin D research) Vitamin D is actually a hormone that affects over 3000 cell processes within your body. Without enough vitamin D circulating regularly in your blood, your body simply does not function as it was intended (ridding the body of intruders, fighting disease, repairing cells)

Studies have shown Vitamin D deficiency linked to depression. They looked at 80 elderly individuals and found that those who had low Vitamin D levels were 11 times more likely to be depressed than those who had optimal levels of vitamin D.


Vitamin D levels. For cancer and heart disease patients vitamin D levels should be better than optimal.

The connection for Vitamin D and depression is possibly due to the link between Depression-Inflammation. How this works is that chronic inflammation in your body disrupts the normal functioning of many bodily systems, and can wreak havoc on your brain and possibly cause depressive symptoms.

2. Lack of EXERCISE: Get outdoors as much as possible whenever the sun is out. Why?

Exercise is the most powerful strategy available to treat depression and improve mood. It boost mood by increasing the happy neurotransmitters and normalizing insulin levels. In fact, getting 30 minutes a day of exercise has been shown to be just as effective as medication for improving mood without the side effects. It works because it increases the happy brain chemicals, increases energy, encourages better sleep and gives you an outlet to cope with stress.

3. Poor SLEEP – For many of us great sleep has always been elusive.

The one where you hit the pillow at 10pm don’t even remember falling asleep and wake up at 6am bright eyed and bushy tail ready to take on the day. There are many issues that can contribute to a poor sleep. Going to bed late; Trouble falling asleep; Tossing and turning and/or waking up several times through out the night; Sleeping through the night but still wakes tired. If this is you then addressing insomnia or unrestful sleep has to be an important strategy. The link between depression and sleep has long been established. Studies have showed that most depressed patients who resolve their insomnia will have major improvements in their depression.

4. Poor GUT HEALTH – The gut is your second brain for a reason. It makes 75% of the body’s happy chemicals which means it overwhelmingly dictates your mood.

There has been many studies linking gut inflammation to depression. Those with gut inflammation eg IBS, IBD – are often also depressed. Modern diets may predispose individuals to many nutrient deficiencies because it is often high in sugar and lack omega 3, fermented foods and other key nutrients essential for proper gut function. By optimizing gut health the symptoms of depression are more likely to be reduced.

5. Low OMEGA 3 – Omega 3 is hands down in my top 3 favourite supplement. Every cell in your body is made from fat.

Which means every process and function in your body is influenced by the type of fat that is there. A major Canadian study found that Omega-3 fatty acid supplements significantly reduced symptoms of major depressive episodes (MDEs) compared with those taking placebo. Many studies have compared the effects of antidepressant and fish oil for treating depression and the omega 3 have better outcomes.

6. Not enough daylight – Use LIGHT THERAPY – Using a SAD lamp is probably one of the most significant act you can do to improve your SAD.

Not getting enough day light in fall summer months will disrupt your circadian rhythm and light therapy will correct this. A study investigating the use of light therapy compared to Prozac for SAD showed 50% improvement in 29% of those on Prozac only and 50% in the light therapy only group. Remission was achieved by just over 19% in the Prozac only group and 44% in the light therapy only group.

With these strategies you should feel reassured that SAD is treatable whether it is mild or severe. If you have SAD give us at SMRT a call and we will test your vitamin D levels and determine which of these treatments are the best fit for you. 

The benefits of high intensity exercise for depressive symptoms. (J of Gerontology, vol 60, 2005).

Exploring the potential role for Omega 3 fatty acids in mood disorders Freeman (J.Clin.Psych.2006;67:1954-67) and Parker (Am J.Psych 2006;163:969-978)

A comparison of the therapeutic effects of Omega 3 and fluoxetine (Prozac). Australian and NZ Journal of Psychiatry (2008;42,192-8).

Role of gastrointestinal inflammations in the development and treatment of depression].2011 Sep 11;152(37):1477-85. doi: 10.1556/OH.2011.29166. Kovács I, Balacco Gabrieli C.

Keep Your Immune System in Peak Condition

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The Great Defender: that’s our immune system, uniquely designed to keep us healthy and defend against illness and infection. Made up of organs, including the skin, lungs, and gut, as well as specialized cells, the immune system’s job is to remain on alert for disease-causing invaders and to protect our body against them.

Our immune system’s first responders are white blood cells (WBC) that are alerted to the presence of an invader. Some WBCs seek and destroy invaders while others have a cellular memory that enables the body to remember and recognize previous invaders and help destroy them. For example, if you get chickenpox, your body develops immunity to the virus; if you’re exposed to chickenpox again, you won’t contract it.

Sometimes the cellular communication goes haywire and the immune system starts attacking healthy cells in the body. This is called an autoimmune response; it can lead to autoimmune disease of which there are many types, such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. There are also conditions, such as Selective IgA Deficiency, in which some part of the immune response is lacking or not functioning properly.

Each of our immune systems are as unique as our individual family health history, our lifestyles, and the environmental conditions with which we live. Some folks seem to never get sick, while others catch every bug going around. The strength of the immune system also changes as we age. Because the immune system is our greatest defender against disease, it’s critical that we keep it strong, healthy and balanced.

Four Holistic Ways to Boost Immunity

Get Your Zz’s. Sleep regenerates the entire body. Research shows that restful and regular sleep generates the hormones that help fight infection, whereas insufficient / poor quality sleep makes us prone to infection and prolongs recovery from illness.

De-stress. Persistent stress raises the level of a hormone called cortisol in the bloodstream. Over time, this creates a cascade of physiological events that result in weakened immunity. Take time out with meditation, yoga, exercise, or a walk in nature.

Say No to Sugar. A diet high in sugar interferes with optimal immune system function. Limit your intake of all sweets. Choose organic, dark chocolate when you need to satisfy the sweet tooth.

Crazy ’bout Shrooms. With 38,000 varieties, you’re bound to find a mushroom you like! They’re versatile in cooking, full of nutrients, and contain compounds that research shows are important to building a strong immune system. Make shrooms a part of your whole foods diet.

Medicinal Mushroom Blend

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For thousands of years, practitioners of Eastern Medicine, Native Americans and indigenous cultures have used specific mushrooms for their health benefits. These fungi are often referred to as medicinal mushrooms and like all fungi, contain compounds called beta glucans within their cell walls. Beta glucans provide support for the immune system by activating killer T-cell response to invaders in the body. Other facets of this powerful medicine include anti-cancer properties, antioxidant activity, cardiovascular support (anti-hypertensive and cholesterol-lowering), liver protective, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, and anti-viral and anti-microbial properties.

Mushrooms work synergistically, so a variety are usually blended to provide support to the immune system and natural detoxification. These blends are available in a variety of forms, such as powders, capsules and tinctures. Types of mushrooms you may find in a medicinal blend include:

Cordyceps is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for immune support and to replenish energy. Cordyceps extract is considered the highest class of tonic herbs for balancing the body’s internal systems (Yin and Yang energy).

Lion’s Mane tea has been used in Japanese herbalism; research indicates extracts may protect and support the immune system and play a role in stimulating nerve growth.

Maitake is used in Japanese medicine for supporting immune health and is noted for its antiviral effects. It contains a variety of beta glucans, minerals, and amino acids.

Shiitake supports the health of the liver and the immune system. It contains lentinan, an active compound associated with a healthy immune response. Shiitake also contains minerals, vitamins, and many essential amino acids.

Reishi, “the mushroom of immortality” is used in both TCM and Japanese medicine as a daily tonic for boosting immunity and protecting against cancer and inflammation. Reishi is not an a culinary mushroom because of its tough texture, which makes it difficult to chew.

The best choice of blends can vary from person to person; your holistic health practitioner can determine the best choice of medicinal mushrooms for you.

The ADHD – Diet Connection

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Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): an abnormal defect of moral control in otherwise high functioning children.

Two generations ago that was the definition and the belief. Today, we know better. And we know more. Lots more.

What is ADHD?

Today, ADHD is viewed as a multifaceted condition triggered by varying behavioral, biological and environmental factors, including certain foods and food additives. The hallmarks of ADHD are an inability to focus and/or impulsivity that is not developmentally typical for a child’s age. Symptoms fall on a spectrum from predominantly inattentive on one end to predominantly hyperactive at the other end. Certain criteria must be met for a doctor to diagnose a child as having ADHD.

The Role of Food in ADHD

While there are many ways to use “food as medicine,” for some children, food and its additives can actually trigger ADHD. Because diet plays a crucial role in ADHD, it’s important to examine issues such as food intolerance, food allergy, and the additives and chemicals associated with food production. There are various tests to determine both food allergy and intolerance. Your holistic practitioner can advise you about the most appropriate test and then help with interpretation and treatment.

Artificial food colors (AFCs) are widely used by manufacturers to create visually attractive food products. The FDA certifies, for purity and safety, the use of these dyes. However, the amount certified has risen from 12 mg/capita/d in 1950 to 62 mg/capita/d in 2010.

AFCs are not natural to our food system, and surely not to our bodies. These artificial molecules can bond to food or body proteins, which means they can “hide in the body,” avoid detection, and disrupt the immune system. This can have significant immunological consequences that affect gastrointestinal function, auto-immunity and even brain and behavior. For some children, ADHD can be triggered and worsened by synthetic colors, flavors and preservatives.

The Feingold Diet for ADHD

In the 1970’s, Benjamin Feingold, M.D. studied the effect of food chemicals and the role of nutrition in addressing learning disabilities and behavior disorders. He pioneered an elimination diet that removed food dyes from the diets of children. Over the years, Dr. Feingold extended the elimination diet to include petrochemical preservatives BHA and BHT. He has reported rates of 30-70% improvement in children with ADHD, depending on the diagnostic criteria used and adherence to the diet.

Over the decades, studies in Europe and the U.S. have tested the Feingold and similar diets. While research has not established a direct cause-and-effect, the evidence indicates restriction/elimination diets have value and can bring about a change in behavior if properly followed. In response to concerns that children will dislike the Feingold Diet, families can find a wide range of tips for adjusting recipes and food selection, making it easy to incorporate changes and still enjoy favorite foods

In addition to eliminating AFCs, BHA, BHT and food allergens/intolerances, additional support may be needed for some children. This may include educational adjustments, behavior modification or counseling, nutrition supplements, and additional dietary changes. Like any medical or behavioral intervention, treatment benefits will vary based on many factors, such as when a child is diagnosed, the ADHD symptoms present, co-occurrence of other immune or medical conditions, and ability to adhere to dietary changes.

As research continues to explore the relationship between diet, food and behavior, we anticipate that many more children – and adults – with ADHD will be helped by the medicinal power of food.

If your family struggles with the consequences of ADHD, ask your doctor or holistic practitioner for suggestions and guidance. You do not need to walk this path alone.


Food Allergens: Testing How the Body Responds

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Food allergies occur when the body has an adverse or abnormal response to a food. An allergic reaction can be immediate and life threatening, such as with peanuts. Or it can be delayed, taking three to five days to show up, causing hay fever-like symptoms, digestive distress, eczema or other skin irritation, or changes in behavior and mental focus. This delayed reaction is called “food sensitivity” and is usually not life threatening.

A true food allergy can be permanent – whenever you eat or are exposed to that food it will provoke an immune reaction that will exist over your lifetime.

A food sensitivity happens gradually. Triggers include: stress, infection, poor eating habits (e.g., over-consumption of foods with additives, preservatives), or foods exposed to toxins such as pesticides and pollutants. Food sensitivity can lead to chronic health problems, including ADHD, digestive disorders, and persistent infection.

The immune system triggers the body’s response to a food allergen. Protein molecules called immunoglobulin (Ig) circulate in the body via white blood cells. Immunoglobulin (a.k.a. antibodies), very specifically recognize and bind to bacteria, fungus, viruses, or other foreign substances so the immune system can destroy them. Think of immunoglobulins as goblins gobbling up invaders in the body. Once an antibody is produced against a specific invader, the next time it enters the body, the immune system “remembers” it and produces more of the same antibodies to destroy the invader.

If the root cause of a medical condition can be identified as a food allergy or sensitivity, we can use “food as medicine” to correct the imbalance. To do this, a blood test of Ig activity in response to different allergens is done.

Testing for Food Allergies

There are several Ig types that have different yet synergistic roles in the immune system.

IgE antibodies cause the body to react, at times violently and immediately, to things such as pollen, fungus, insect stings, medications, milk and other foods. IgE levels are often highest in people with allergies, including food allergy. An IgE test covers the major food allergens that produce immediate reactions in the body, such as nut, egg, cow’s milk, shellfish, and soy.

IgG antibodies fight bacterial and viral infection. Found in all body fluids, this antibody is typically associated with food sensitivity.

IgA antibodies protect body surfaces exposed to outside foreign substances. It’s abundant in mucus found throughout the body, including the gut; a deficiency in IgA could be tied to adverse responses to food.

The IgE test can be combined with IgA and IgG tests for a more comprehensive test of nearly 200 allergens including meat, dairy, starches and grains, mold and other environmental substances.

There are many ways your health practitioner can approach testing and help you make dietary modifications based on test results, current health concerns, and lifestyle factors. It’s not just about eliminating a food. It’s about looking at the whole picture of your health and the role food plays as both nourishment and medicine for you and your family members.


Probiotics: Manage Food Allergies and Enhance Immunity

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Listen to your gut. And make sure to protect it. A balanced gastrointestinal system plays a critical role in defending your body against illness. An imbalance in gastrointestinal (GI) flora can create health issues and is typically the result of poor diet, stress, use of antibiotics, illness and food allergies.

Balance your GI flora by taking a probiotic supplement. Probiotics are live, microbial food ingredients similar to the health-enhancing microorganisms found in the gut. Well-researched health benefits show taking a probiotic will help . . .

Boost immunity by enhancing the production of antibodies
Support the synthesis of vitamins and increase bioavailability of nutrients
Protect the GI tract from disease-causing bacteria
Alleviate symptoms of GI illness (diarrhea and constipation, IBS)
Reduce seasonal and food allergies

Regarding dietary allergens and immunity, scientists believe probiotics achieve their health benefits by stimulating the immune response to increase the secretion of immunoglobulin-A (IgA), which boosts the body’s response to food allergens. Elevated IgA may also decrease pathogens in the gut, which improves the balance of GI flora. Probiotics elevate natural “killer cells” that gobble up disease-generating “invader cells” and may protect nutrients that would otherwise be destroyed by pathogens.

Probiotic supplements come in liquid, powder, chewable and capsule form, ranging from one million to several billion live organisms. Most are sold refrigerated. Keep probiotics properly stored so as not to kill the live, healthy bacteria.

Even though probiotics have well documented health benefits, they are not a panacea. Probiotics are most effective when you are supporting your health with a balanced whole foods diet. Your health practitioner can determine the best probiotic strains and dosage and any other supplements suited for your specific health concerns.