Smorgasbord Health Column – UnSeasonal Affective Disorder #Lockdown #Elderly – Part One by Sally Cronin


Normally I would refer to Seasonal Affective Disorder in February as the winter months take their toll on our physical, mental and emotional health. However, reading the various reports in the media on Vitamin D Deficiency being one of the causes for susceptibility to Covid-19 and raised concerns on the levels of mental health issues including depression, the comments from readers who are experiencing lack of energy and focus, I began to see some parallels to SAD, but six months ahead of schedule.

Care homes and lockdown

Usually care homes have some garden or outside facilities for residents to walk and interact with each other in daylight and sunshine in particular, but with lock down over the summer months that has been in the main prohibited. Also elderly who live in sheltered housing, apartments and other homes without back gardens have also been denied that very important immune boosting few months before winter hits.

The Summer

The weather here is not brilliant but we can usually rely on about six weeks of summer but this year that has not been the case with more rain than usual and grey days.  I know that is mirrored in much of the UK and combined with restrictions on exercise, and now the wearing of masks, none of us have recharged our Vitamin D batteries effectively. Holidays outside of our own local area were only allowed for a brief few weeks and not every family was able to take advantage of that lifting of restrictions. Hundreds of thousands of tourists who might have got a boost by hitting foreign beaches were also unable to do so this year and whilst just 14 days is not sufficient to last all winter, it certainly gives Vitamin D levels a much needed boost.

The Winter ahead.

Many of us face the threat of another more restrictive lockdown in coming weeks and with six months of winter ahead our access to sunlight, fresh air and exercise is going to be further restricted. This includes for example, those retirees who normally head off to the sunshine states in America or an apartment in the south of Europe who will be unable to do so because of  restrictions on travel or quarantine measures.

Children in school may not be getting as much playtime as normal, and certainly the weather during the next few months is going to prohibit that to a greater extent.

This puts thousands of men, women and children at further risk of contracting influenza and colds, and possibly Covid-19.

Diet

For the last six months a high percentage of elderly and at risk men and women have been reliant on food deliveries or others to buy their food. There has also been a reliance on packaged food bought to stock larders in case of shortages. Whilst many will have managed to obtain fresh produce, there will be some who have had a nutritionally poor diet for the last six months. Without those essential nutrients, they are going into the winter months without the necessary protection.

I am going to post two parts of this series a week as I do believe that we are going to have to be responsible for beating the effects of SAD which already seems to be making its presence felt.

Here is a little more about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

The typical symptoms of SAD include depression, lack of energy, increased need for sleep, a craving for sweets and weight gain. Symptoms begin in the fall, peak in the winter and usually resolve in the spring. Some individuals experience great bursts of energy and creativity in the spring or early summer. Susceptible individuals who work in buildings without windows may experience SAD-type symptoms at any time of year.

Some people with SAD have mild or occasionally severe periods of mania during the spring or summer. If the symptoms are mild, no treatment may be necessary. If they are problematic, then a mood stabilizer such as Lithium might be considered. There is a smaller group of individuals who suffer from summer depression.

I believe that a great many more people currently have fallen into that latter group due to lock down and are already suffering from this condition.

My experience with SAD.

I loved summer in Madrid where we lived most of the time for 17 years – long sunny days, heat of the sun as I worked in the garden or swam (lots of Vitamin D and more about that on Friday), crisp salads and lots of fish and protein, being tanned (safely of course) and sitting at 10 at night watching the sun going down. Autumn was also a very pleasant season – beautiful colours in the garden – still sunny days – little nip in the air – prospect of getting the leather jacket out of the depths of the wardrobe, a move to slightly more carbohydrates in the diet. Nuts and seeds, porridge with a little honey…lovely.

Then winter……………for millions of people around the world the lights go off. Add the fact that for many of those millions, their diet consists of white fats, grains and sugars and their bodies are not prepared for the plunge into darkness. And, because their diet is not going to change through the winter months the symptoms of SAD will only intensify. The symptoms are varied but include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Unexplained weight gain and loss
  • Slow growth in children,
  • Overeating of carbohydrates and sugars
  • Insomnia
  • Increased infections.

For me the last four winters have been hard. Not because it has been cold but because most days it has been grey. I do not like the dark days and although I include foods that contain Vitamin D in my daily diet I do require it in supplemental form too.. I will talk about that at the end of the series.

Over the years of working with clients in relation to their weight and other dietary issues, it was clear that during the winter months, it was substantially more difficult to lose weight

A place to start to discover the origins of SAD is the caves of our ancestors and my hypothesis as to why our bodies have not adapted to this ultra high tech modern world of ours as fast as our minds have.

The Clan of the Cave Bear

Reading Jean M. Auel’s books, starting with the Clan of the Cave Bear back in the 80’s, was a revelation for me when I was determined to sort my health and weight out. Jean was decorated by the French Government for her work and her research alongside anthropologists was evident throughout her books which I highly recommend.

I would like you to consider this.

DNA mutations occur in humans rarely, about every 10,000 to 12,000 years. So for the sake of argument let us take a quick trip back in time.

Neanderthals, Prehistoric, Mountains

During the summer months the clan would hunt, fish, gather nuts and seeds, possibly some root vegetables and some green edible shoots and leaves. All would have been seasonal and most would have been consumed at the time. However, fats from their meats would have been used along with nuts and seeds to make long lasting cake and stored probably in gourds or leaves and used by hunters heading out as well as for the winter months. Meat and fish was dried in the sun both at the time of the hunt and for transport back to the cave but also during the months of abundance for consumption in the winter months.

nuts and seedsAutumn in particular would have been a wonderful opportunity for finding fruit, seeds and nuts and of course these could be sweetened with honey.

Night, Moon, Allgäu, Mountains, Alpine

Then came the dark of winter – there are various theories about when fire was discovered but probably quite early on from natural events such as lightening strikes that caused bushes to combust, and as man developed he would have exploited this resource – probably 10,000 years ago someone had discovered that liquid fat in a gourd burns and provided light but for all intents and purposes the dark came and stayed for many months.

Apart from opportune kills and for the lucky ones on the coast who could fish, the reliance was on stored foods. If it had been a lousy hunting season and poor autumn for nuts and seeds, many starved to death, especially the very young and elderly. What do you do in the dark months anyway? Most babies were born in the late spring! Still happens today in the winter months following winter power outages!

Imagine a world without any stimulation except for a few brief hours a day when you would rush around getting firewood if available – collecting water or snow in the depths of winter for drinking water, hunting for the few animals still awake. Then back to the cave where I guess apart from interaction between the clan, working in dim light on essential tasks, it would be nibbling on the sweet stored cake and the dried meat and then sleeping until the sun came up the next day.

Back to the present day, for our minds perhaps; but I believe that our bodies have not evolved enough yet. Remember that our world that we know and understand with all its sophisticated technology is really only around 150 years old. Our DNA is about 9,850 years adrift. Therefore, SAD is not a disorder, illness or disease but our natural winter state.

And, if you are going to try and alleviate the symptoms associated with this natural, semi hibernating condition, you need to do so with the right type of diet and exercise.

If you have been reading my blog about some of our modern lifestyle diseases you will have already twigged that the diet that I enjoy and have introduced to my clients, readers and listeners over the years is simply this.

  • Natural unprocessed meats,
  • Healthy Fats such as olive oil and butter
  • Moderate wholegrains
  • Poultry
  • Oily fish
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Root Vegetables
  • Green Vegetables
  • Seasonal Fruits
  • Honey
  • Minimum industrially manufactured foods

As you can see nothing new in history and not something I invented but my great grandmother several times removed. Meet Helena – The first of my clan circa 20,000 years ago

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Our diet is critical if we are to avoid experiencing the symptoms of SAD during the next few months until spring. We need to ensure that we are consuming fresh foods that contain nutrients that are necessary for the chemical reactions in the brain and our bloodstream that maintain our physical, mental and emotional well-being..

In the following posts I am going to be writing about the most important ingredients in our food that will encourage our bodies to stay well and also promote emotional and mental health as we head into the winter months…..Including Vitamin D and Tryptophan.

©Just Food for Health 1998 – 2020

I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty-two years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines and posts here on Smorgasbord.

If you would like to browse my health books and fiction you can find them here: My books and reviews 2020

Your feedback is always welcome and if you do find that following any of the posts that I have shared are beneficial then it would be great to hear about it. If you have any questions you can email me on sally.cronin@moyhill.com.

 

 

 

Smorgasbord Health 2017 – Weight Reduction – Get your beauty sleep!


Smorgasbord Health 2017

If you are trying to lose weight…sleep is one of your most powerful diet aids.

You might wonder why weight loss and sleeping go together. Well apart from the fact you won’t be putting any calories in during that time; your body will be processing those you ate the day before. If you consistently only have five or six hours of sleep not only has that process not been completed efficiently, but you wake up wanting to dive into carbohydrates and as many sugary coffees you can get your hands on. Over a period of time as your body loses energy it will demand that you top up more frequently and consume sugars to keep it going… Before you know it your weight is going steadily upwards.

Sleep is essential for the recovery of the body and mind. It is the time of day when organs continue to function but calmly enough to be able to carry out diagnostics and repairs ready to face the next active 16 hours. Without this down time every night you will find yourself vulnerable to physical and mental stress and if sleeplessness is a long term issue for you it can lead to a number of health problems.

The Power of Sleep

Sleep is as vital to humans as breathing, drinking water and following a healthy diet. We need exercise and movement throughout the day, to keep us supple and fit, but you cannot run any operating system for 24 hours per day, 7 days per week for 70 or 80 years without carrying out essential maintenance.

If we are doing our bit, we should be providing the body with the raw materials it needs to process, manufacture and rebuild our bodies internally and externally. For many of us, however, the ingredient our bodies are deprived of most is sleep.

During the day, our normal activities help our bodies to excrete toxins but the body also needs time to heal, rejuvenate and rest. Most of the day our body is focusing on keeping you upright and able to accomplish every task you set yourself, including providing you with a functional immune system. At night your body can concentrate on cleansing and restoring all the operating functions, ready for the next day.

For example: the heart normally beats 82 times in a minute.

That is 4,920 times an hour – 118,080 times a day – 826,560 times a week – Almost 43 million heartbeats a year.  That is a huge amount of work for the organ that keeps us alive!

However, when we are asleep our hearts beat at around 60 beats per minute, or lower. This means that for 8 hours of the day our heart will beat 28,800 instead of 39,360 times, which is a saving of 10,560 for those down time hours.

If you multiply that over a year you will be saving nearly 4 million heartbeats. Take that in relation to our life-span  of an average of 80 years, and your heart will have to work 320 million heartbeats less, saving wear and tear on this vital organ.

With regard to weightloss, your heart will also have to beat less as you lose weight which is one of the reasons that being close to a healthy weight is so important.

The same principal applies to the rest of the body and its operating systems. Your lungs will work less as your breathing slows during the night. Your muscles will rest and recuperate and your brain will undergo diagnostic tests and repairs while you sleep.

Most mental disorders, including depression and Alzheimer’s, are linked to various sleep disorders, some resulting from drugs used to control the disease or from changes in parts of the brain that normally regulate sleep patterns. There are also some concerns that sleep aids, particularly prescribed medication used long term may result in mental impairment. (As always do not stop taking any prescribed medication without consulting your doctor.)

Our dream states are important as it is part of your brain’s downtime function as it sorts information, filing and in some cases deleting unimportant information or spam, much as we do with our computers.

Going without sleep affects hormonal balance, and therefore our mood and stress levels. The glands that produce these hormones, such as the adrenal glands, are on constant alert and have no chance to rest and rejuvenate. As in the case of a rowdy neighbour it is “one up, all up”. The knock-on effect of having all these hormones rampaging around the body is that nobody gets any rest, leading to physical, mental and emotional problems.

Performance levels will decrease without proper sleep and our reactions and internal processes will be impaired. Research has shown that sleep deprivation has the same effect on driving performance as taking alcohol or drugs. People who do not get enough sleep become increasingly less sensitive to certain chemical reactions within the body and in the case of insulin this increases the risk to developing both diabetes and high blood pressure.

If you are tired then your body is trying to tell you something

funny-sleeping-lionTaking a nap is actually a way to catch up on your missing sleep. The most natural time for a nap is 8 hours after you have woken up in the morning and 8 hours before you go to bed. This way it is unlikely to affect your ability to fall asleep at night. Even 20 minutes can actually revitalise you and rest your body ready for another 8 hours of activity.

Make yourself comfortable, loosen your clothes and just close your eyes. Even if you do not fall asleep your body will relax and everything from your muscles to your brain will benefit.

Getting to sleep at night

Unless you are Mediterranean, and used to eating late at night from childhood, avoid having dinner just before you go to bed. Leave at least an hour – and if it has been very spicy then leave for at least two hours. I have no idea how anyone can go out for a night drinking, eat a curry and go to bed and not suffer a dreadful night’s sleep.

Alcohol can be a stimulant and whilst excessive amounts may make you sleepy it is going to wake you up four hours later with a raging thirst and a thumping headache. Once in while you may get away with it but if it is the norm you will become seriously sleep deprived.

Sitting up too late, watching an action thriller is not the best way to ensure a good night’s sleep. Those of us who have dogs who need walking benefit from both the physical activity and the fresh air before hitting the pillow and if you can safely take a stroll at night then it is an excellent idea.

I do have some breathing and simple flexibility exercises that anyone can do which help relax the body before sleep and if you would like a copy just let me know.

images

Make sure that there is plenty of airflow in the bedroom and sleep in comfortable clothes. I have no idea how people manage in button up pyjamas as they must be so restrictive and you will be moving around quite a bit at night and getting tangled up in both bedclothes and your nightie is going to disturb you.

I find that, however late I go to bed, reading a few pages of a book is guaranteed to help me drop off. Many people have discovered their own sleep triggers over the years, including warm baths with Epsom salts, herbal teas such as Kava Kava and Valerian, and gentle music that drowns out the noise of neighbours, or a snoring partner.

Earplugs can be very useful, particularly if you are sharing a bed with a snorer, although you may miss the alarm clock in the morning.

If you are going to bed at more or less the same time every night you will find, within a very short space of time, you will wake at about the same time every morning. In fact, it is a good idea to follow the same sleep patterns all week rather than opt for a lie in at the weekend. It establishes a healthy downtime for the body and does not confuse it for two days every week.

Sleep is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle and research is increasingly showing that it is also vital for the development of our brains. Children who do not get sufficient sleep will develop behavioural and learning difficulties as well as compromise their immune systems and future health.

Keeping your children up with you late at night is not healthy. They need far more sleep than we do during their rapid growth spurts. Make sure that they have a nap during the day about half way through their active hours and get them into the habit of getting at least 10 hours sleep per night. When they are very young you will obviously be waking them for feeds and then for potty training but you must always try and ensure that they are kept calm and are put back down as quickly as possible. This will also be healthier for you as this is the time when most parents are likely to suffer from sleep deprivation. The next crisis for those of you with teenagers is when they fail to return before 2.00 in the morning.

imagesStages of sleep

There are a number of different stages of sleep and it is important that you go through the entire cycle to reap all the benefits.

There are two main phases. In phase one you will be going through Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep or NREM. There are different stages within this phase which naturally lead you to phase two or Rapid Eye Movement sleep or REM.

Phase one NREM

Stage One. This is the lightest stage of sleep and although your main senses are turned down they are not off completely and you can be disturbed by certain noises such as snoring, dogs barking or doors slamming.

Stage Two. If you get into this stage you will fall deeper asleep and your heart rate and temperature will begin to level out and drop. This stage represents about half your night’s sleep.

Stage Three and Four are the deepest stages of NREM and represent about 15% of your night’s sleep. Your breathing will slow; your temperature will drop further as will your blood pressure.

Phase two REM

After about 30 minutes in stage four NREM sleep you begin to move back to stage one and two where your brain will become more active and you will begin to dream. If you are woken up at this point in the cycle you are likely to remember the dream you were experiencing at the time. If you have reached one of the NREM stages then you are not as likely to recall anything when you wake up.

This cycle of phase one and two takes approximately 90 minutes and then begins again. To really benefit from this combination of rest and activity you need to complete at least 5 cycles during the night. This adds up to approximately 8 hours of sleep. If you only manage one or two cycles then your brain and body will not have completed its cleansing process and you will feel tired. If this becomes the norm you will begin to notice the symptoms of sleep deprivation.

Sleep is as essential as air, water and food and if you are not currently enjoying a good night’s sleep then you need to work towards finding a solution.

Your body will be dehydrated after 8 hours sleep and whilst I will leave the choice of breakfast to you from the shopping list I gave you at the beginning of the series….. I do suggest that you start the day with a large glass of water or juice of half a lemon in hot water to rehydrate.

You can find all the other posts in the series on Weight Reduction in this directory.

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/weight-reduction-programme-2017/

©sallycronin 2016

Please feel free to ask any questions in the comment section and if you would like a private word then please email me sally.cronin@moyhill.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Medicine Woman’s Treasure Chest – Valerian and Hops


medicine woman

There are times when we all find it difficult to drop off to sleep and by the time you get to 1001 sheep you begin to lose the plot.

There are a number of triggers for insomnia.. including stress, too much sugar late at night or replaying the last television programme in your head, especially if it was violent or action packed.

Everyone has their own comfort zone when it comes to sleeping and some people can drop off anywhere and under any circumstances. My husband managed to sleep through a terrifying experience when our plane took off from Hawaii and the landing gear did not retract!  We had to circle the islands for 90 minutes dumping all our fuel while the plane shook and rattled and rolled. I was gripping his knee very tightly, and apart from rousing to tell me that he might as well sleep through what ever was going to happen, he did not stir! I didn’t sleep for a week afterwards!

Ideally, most of us need a comfortable bed, good pillows, no light distractions and peace of mind. It also helps not to drink a gallon of water, wine or beer before you go to bed as you may be up and down during the night like a yo-yo. Also if you have had too much alcohol you will probably get the 4.00 am dry mouth syndrome, which combined with the sugars in the booze, will keep you lying awake for an hour or so.

valerian

Anyway back to the featured herb which is Valerian or to give it its botanical name…Valeriana Officinalis.  However there are a number of varieties of the herb and their medicianal properties also vary in strength.

Like all the herbs that I have featured in this series, Valerian has been used for centuries and probably longer than that if we could only find the records.  It is a relaxant, anti-spasmodic and has a mild anti-depressant effect on the body.

There have been a number of studies into its properties and there seems to be a consensus that it does promote sleepiness..The herb is what as known as complex which means that it has over 100 chemical elements. This does make it difficult to determine the exact properties that effect our sleep patterns but generally I tend towards the combination of all these elements that make this herb work for us.

It is believed that it signals one of the neurotransmitters in our brain that promotes a sedative effect which is why studies have been made into Valerian’s use as an alternative to certain prescribed medication for anxiety.

If this is the case then it is likely that the herb will not only ease you into sleep but may also prevent restlessness and disturbed sleep throughout the night.

Other areas that Valerian has been used traditionally is for cramping during menstruation and also to ease the pain of migraines and rheumatism.  It can also be added to bath water to provide a relaxing soak for a tired body.

You will often find Valerian combined with Hops in the herbal tinctures and tablets available on the market. Hops is another plant that has traditionally been used to treat mild insomnia, anxiety as well as indigestion, an imbalance in cholesterol levels and bladder infections. There are some studies into its anti-carconogenic properties in relation to prostate, breast and ovarian cancers.

I do suggest that you buy one of the established herbalist’s tinctures or tablets and I tend to use A.Vogel products as they are made from high quality fresh herbs. Ask in your local health food shop about their various valerian products and do spend a little extra to buy a product that is sourced from fresh herbs which provides a stronger effect and I find the tincture to be more effective than tablets.

The taste and smell is very strong and you may prefer to dilute slightly in a little apple juice, but you do get used to it after a little while.

Take the recommended number of drops in a little water 30 minutes before bed and give the herb a few nights to take maximum effect.

Do not take more than the recommended dose and do not take with prescribed sleep medication or with any anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication. Do not combine with alcohol, drive or operate machinery if you have taken valerian.

Do ask a qualified herbalist before taking any herbal remedies if you are pregnant.

I hope you have found the post helpful and if you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask.

Thanks for dropping in.. Sally