Smorgasbord Health 2018- Seasonal Affective Disorder – Part Three – Tryptophan and winter blues


In the last two posts I explored what I believe to be the reason that millions of people around the world  have a clear seasonal, mental and physical change when winter arrives.  Our bodies have not evolved sufficiently yet to cope with our modern lifestyle of year round levels of activity and the modern technology that gives us light, sound and stimulation 24/7. It is lagging behind by about 9,850 years and really wants to curl up in a cave, wrapped in a bear skin and eat sweet and fatty preserved cakes. Unfortunately, a DNA mutation that would enable us to deal with our modern world does not happen overnight but in around 10,000 years.

Also the lack of sufficient Vitamin D in our diet to enable our bodies to maintain a healthy immune system and to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder.

An essential winter additive.

In this post I want to cover other critical factors about our chemical makeup that requires retuning for the cold weather. It is similar to what we will do to our car to ensure it starts and keeps running at lower temperatures.  Only the fuel additive we need is L-tryptophan one of the 10 essential amino acids extracted from the food we eat and used by the body to synthesize the proteins we need.  Its crucial role for those suffering from depression, anxiety, insomnia and other symptoms, particularly when the days become shorter, is in the production of two key brain hormones and Niacin or vitamin B3.

Only a small amount of the tryptophan that we eat is converted to B3 by the liver.  However, B3 has a vital role in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins to obtain the fuel we need (ATP) as well as helping regulate cholesterol.  It is necessary for the formation of red blood cells and hormones and when it is formed, it continues to work with the tryptophan and also B6 to stimulate the production of serotonin and melatonin transmitters within the brain.  (If you do not have sufficient B vitamins in your diet there is a risk of deficiency disease most commonly skin infections, diarrhea and if prolonged can lead to dementia).

These key neurotransmitters are absolutely essential if your body and brain are going to function efficiently throughout the winter months.  Melatonin is a sleep related hormone secreted by the pineal gland and regulates our sleep patterns.  It would normally increase its activity in the dark months when the sunlight is not there to regulate when we sleep and wake, however in people who suffer from SAD it appears that levels rise much later in the night compared to those who do not suffer from it, causing insomnia.

The other neurotransmitter which for me is more key in the management of this winter cycle is Serotonin.  It regulates appetite, sleep patterns and our mood. Low levels are associated with depression, anxiety, inability to concentrate, carbohydrate cravings, overeating and insomnia.  There is some very interesting research into Serotonin and SAD but there is a clear indication that depleted levels of L-tryptophan in the diet, resulting in even lower natural serotonin levels in the winter months, will cause these very common symptoms.


vegetablesSo – back to my basic diet with lots of vegetables, lean proteins, oily fish, olive oil, dairy, nuts, seeds, wholegrains, eggs and natural sugars like honey.  Here are some key foods to include on a daily basis to ensure that you are getting sufficient tryphophan to produce a balanced level of B3, Melatonin and Serotonin.

The highest concentration is found in poultry – chicken and turkey, and soybeans for vegetarians.  Great amounts in red meat, tuna, lamb, salmon, sardines, halibut (good for Vitamin D too), cod, shellfish, dairy products, nuts, seeds, legumes and green leafy vegetables such as spinach, asparagus, Brussel sprouts etc.

There is smaller amounts in the carbohydrates  such as potatoes, brown rice etc- so although important to be included as part of a balanced diet, if you are planning on eating a low fat, high carbohydrate based diet through the winter you are far more likely to suffer from SAD.


Another key point about our diet during the winter months is that today we have access to so much more variety of fruit and vegetables year round.  Although I prefer seasonal vegetables and fruit as I think my body expects them at specific times and processes them more efficiently, I still love the fact that this whole range of nutrients is available whenever I choose.  The added benefit is additional Vitamin C which is so important during the cold and flu season.  More about those in later blogs……..

Next time – activity and stimulation for body and mind to overcome the blues……

 ©sally cronin Just food for health – 2004 – 2018

I hope you have found interesting and I look forward to your feedback. Sally

9 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Health 2018- Seasonal Affective Disorder – Part Three – Tryptophan and winter blues

  1. Pingback: Smorgasbord Weekly Round Up. – Irish Folklore, Debut Authors and U2…. | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  2. You often mention honey in your posts. I occasionally use honey or molasses, but for the most part, I do not use much in the way of sweeteners. When I was a child my mother poured sugar on our grapefruit, added a little tea to the sugar in our glasses, and in general, sugared everything we ate or drank. I developed a distaste for anything overly sweetened that has lasted my lifetime. Do you recommend honey for nutritional benefits or to make certain food more palatable?

    Liked by 1 person

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