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.