Seasonal Affective Disorder and Hormonal Imbalances
January 2024 | Dr. Madelein Shafferman
Experiencing a winter slump? You’re not alone. The changing of the seasons can cast a shadow on our mood and energy levels, and even throw off our hormones! In this article, we explore the link between hormonal imbalances and Seasonal Affective Disorder, providing insights and practical strategies to empower you through the winter months.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression associated with seasonal weather changes, primarily manifesting in fall and winter due to factors like reduced daylight, decreased activity, and colder temperatures. It affects roughly 10 million Americans annually, with women four times more likely to be diagnosed than men.
Common Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
- Feelings of sadness or hopelessness that persists
- Low energy or fatigue
- Changes in appetite (overeating, junk food cravings)
- Decreased motivation to take part in activities normally enjoyed
- Social withdrawal
The Link Between Seasonal Affective Disorder and Your Hormones
Research supports that sunlight exposure can directly influence the production of hormones including serotonin, dopamine, melatonin, cortisol, vitamin D, and estrogen — all of which play a significant role in our mood.
Fluctuating hormone levels can directly impact serotonin production — the chemical in the brain that affects our mood. When estrogen decreases, serotonin levels drop, which can lead to increased irritability, anxiety, and sadness.
Additionally, ongoing studies are exploring the link between lower estradiol levels and depressive symptoms such as heightened daytime sleepiness and increased duration of sleep — two common symptoms in women experiencing winter SAD.
Low progesterone can disrupt your circadian rhythm, affecting sleep, zapping your energy, and impacting your day-to-day mood. Changes in the circadian rhythm due to reduced sunlight can also affect the HPA Axis — the hormone system which produces cortisol and manages our stress response.
When our hormones are out of balance, it can be harder to adjust to shorter days, longer nights, and seasonal changes. By addressing estrogen, progesterone, and other hormonal imbalances, you can help your body better regulate your mood and stress response, enhance energy levels, and reduce depressive symptoms.
Strategies to Help Seasonal Affective Disorder
Exercise is KEY.
Whether you’re hitting the gym a few times a week, taking a yoga or pilates class, following an at-home YouTube workout, or simply going on a brisk walk after a meal — regular exercise has been shown to positively impact your physical and mental health. A 2017 study found that exercise stimulates the release of myokines (proteins produced by skeletal muscles during exercise) with endocrine functions affecting weight regulation, insulin sensitivity, cognitive function, and mood.
Incorporating regular exercise into your routine will not only boost your mood and energy, but will also promote better sleep, regulate hormone production, reduce stress, and release those ‘feel good hormones’ — all of which can make beating winter blues a breeze.
Support Vitamin D Levels
Vitamin D plays a significant role in mood regulation! The best way to boost your Vitamin D and serotonin activity is to soak up the sun. Now, in winter, finding sunlight exposure might be a bit of a challenge — but even getting in 20-30 minutes daily can do wonders!
You can also increase your Vitamin D intake through fatty fish (think salmon and tuna), fortified dairy products, and with a hearty supplement. With that being said, you can over-do it and harm your body with too much vitamin D. Be sure to consult with your doctor to achieve an optimal balance of vitamins and nutrients for your body.
Diversify Your Diet
Food affects mood. It’s common to crave carbs during the winter months, but refined carbohydrates like pasta and pastries can cause blood sugar levels to spike and drop quickly, leading to fatigue and irritability. Fueling your body with healthy nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B, and zinc can help to support hormone production, energy production, and promote a positive mood.
Get a Good Night's Rest
SAD increases melatonin production — the hormone that makes you sleepy. Oversleeping can throw off your circadian rhythm, keeping you up into the wee hours of the night and making it harder to wake in the morning. Too little sleep, however, can lead to higher levels of stress, frustration, and sadness. That’s why it’s so important to stick to a bedtime routine and prioritize getting 8 hours of quality sleep nightly. Sleep is vital for repairing all functions and producing the hormones needed to function optimally.
Tune Into Your Relationships
Don’t underestimate the power of connection. Seeking support from friends and family becomes a crucial lifeline during these challenging times. As social beings, we thrive on meaningful interactions, and nurturing your relationships can help to alleviate the emotional burden and isolating effects of SAD. Remember, you don’t have to navigate winter blues and hormonal imbalances alone — surround yourself with the warmth of those who care about your wellbeing.
Brighter Days Are Ahead
At ISAIH Natural Medicine, we understand that the journey to wellbeing involves a holistic approach. Our dedicated team is here to restore hormonal balance, support your health naturally, and guide you out of your funk. Together, we’ll navigate this season with resilience and grace. Brighter days are ahead, and we’re here to help you find them — Schedule an appointment with our team today!