5 Tips to Manage Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, can give many of us the winter blues. Here are Dr. Cutler’s top 5 tips to combat SAD.

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, impacts around 17% of Canadians each year with varying levels of intensity. SAD usually begins around the months of fall and continues through the winter months. The symptoms are the same as major depression, with the only difference being the time of year of onset.

1. Sunshine

Get outside! Even if only for a short while (yes, it is cold), sunshine on our skin may help increase serotonin production. Depression is often linked with low serotonin levels. Decreased serotonin can also affect our energy, appetite, and sex drive. I’ve experienced, many times, how a short walk in my neighborhood can shift my mood and perception of the day.

Morning Tip: Open your blinds and let the light in as soon as you wake up. This can support our circadian rhythms, as well.

SAD Tip #1: Dr Dylan Cutler Outside Getting Sunshine

2. Sweat

Exercise has various health benefits, one of which is boosting our mood.

Studies have shown that exercise can be an effective anti-depressant for mild to moderate levels of depression. It doesn’t take much either! Researchers have estimated that 35 minutes of physical activity is enough to reduce the risk of depression. One study found that walking for 60 minutes a day (or running for 15 minutes) can reduce the risk of depression by 26%.

Exercise works by increasing blood flow to the brain, supporting neural growth, reducing inflammation in the brain, and releasing “feel good” endorphins.

Physical activity at a moderate intensity level seems to have the best effect on mental well-being (as opposed to intense levels).

SAD Tip #2: Dr Dylan Cutler Loves to Exercise Outdoors

3. Sleep

Sleep is vital all-year-round. However, during the holiday season it may be extra necessary to prioritize sleep. Schedules often get busier, responsibilities mount, and stress levels can rise.

Sufficient sleep (around 7-9 hours a night) can help stabilize our mood. People who are sleep deprived are at 10x greater risk of developing depression! Sleep is our time for restoration. If falling asleep or staying asleep is an issue, prioritizing a regular bedtime routine, along with daily activity and time outside, can be helpful.

SAD Tip #3: Sleep

4. Supplement

Evidence suggests that the removal and decline of magnesium from foods has resulted in various mood disorders in the Western world. Up to 75% of Americans are not obtaining the recommended amount of daily magnesium.

A randomized controlled trial from 2008 found that 450 mg of magnesium supplementation was as effective as Imipramine (an antidepressant) for treating major depression. This study was conducted in a group of elderly patients with type 2 diabetes and depression.

I enjoy popping a couple of Natural Calm magnesium gummies throughout the day (they feel like a chewy, sweet treat). Then, before bed, I mix Natural Calm magnesium powder in water and sip for a sound sleep. Both these products are vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO, and made with less than 1 gram of sugar.

SAD Tip #4: Natural Calm Magnesium Citrate Powder

5. Support Network

In the darker months, it can be tempting to hibernate on the couch with a blanket and a good book, which at times is what our bodies need. However, too much isolation may result in worsened SAD.

Studies have shown that having a solid support network is an important determinant of health. Adults with flourishing support networks are more likely to be happier, have high life satisfaction, and more likely to report “very good” or “excellent” mental health.

SAD Tip #5: Dr Dylan Cutler and her social support in Whistler, B.C.

SAD Recap

So pop a magnesium gummy, get some sleep, and invite a friend for a hike in the outdoors!

In health,

Dr Dylan Cutler

This article is sponsored by Natural Calm Canada.

Does CBD Oil Decrease Anxiety?

Learn about the latest research on CBD oil and its therapeutic use in managing anxiety.

CBD, or cannabidiol, contains cannabinoids, which are important players in our body’s endocannabinoid system. CBD oil is non-psychoactive but may help regulate mood. One endocannabinoid, called anandamide, that is produced in our bodies is actually referred to as the “bliss molecule”. Low levels of anandamide have been linked to decreased happiness and increased anxiety. Particular foods can increase our production of anandamide, like dark chocolate. CBD can prevent the breakdown of anandamide, and therefore, create more bliss.

In a previous article, I discussed the potential for CBD to decrease inflammation and alleviate migraines. Other reported health benefits include decreasing stress and anxiety. This article discusses the peer-reviewed studies that examine the mood-boosting effects of CBD.

Anxiety Disorders

A poll in 2018 surveyed 1500 Canadians and 41% reported experiencing anxiety. One-third of responders had been formally diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. It is estimated that anxiety disorders affect 40 million American adults. Therefore, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition in both Canada and the U.S.

Anxiety disorders can include the following: generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, specific phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder. Individuals that suffer from anxiety disorders are six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders. Anxiety is often accompanied by depression.

PCOS and Anxiety

While the research on the connection between decreased mental health and PCOS is sparse, there is evidence that anxiety is more prevalent in women with PCOS. A study from 2009 found that anxiety symptoms were present in 50% of women with PCOS versus 39% of women without PCOS. More recently this association was confirmed in a study I led during my doctoral research. When women with PCOS were compared to women without PCOS, the women with PCOS had significantly higher levels of anxiety. In particular, I found that women with hyperandrogenic PCOS had greater symptoms of anxiety than women with non-hyperandrogenic PCOS. I hypothesized that the external appearance of hyperandrogenic PCOS (which can include increased body/facial hair, acne, and balding) strays from the societal beauty norms placed on women.

“Expectations of female beauty are rooted in Western societies and being hairless is one major social norm of femininity.”

D. Cutler, UBC Doctoral Thesis, 2019

This may be one explanation for increased anxiety in women with hyperandrogenic PCOS. PCOS has even been nicknamed “The Thief of Womanhood” for similar reasons. In addition, I found that reproductive hormone levels (including estradiol and androstenedione) were associated with increased anxiety.

How CBD Affects Anxiety

In 2019 a clinical study was published which included 72 people. These adult subjects were given 25 mg of phytocannabinoids per day. After one month, 79% of the anxiety-sufferers experienced improvements in their reported anxiety scores. Also worth noting is that many cases of insomnia are tied to anxiety. The same study found that 67% of those suffering from poor sleep experienced improved sleep after one month. However, over time, this effect didn’t remain.

In a study from 2011, CBD was found to decrease anxiety of public speaking in 24 subjects with social anxiety disorder. While this is a small study, there appears to be potential for CBD to be a safe, effective method of managing social anxiety disorder. This was further demonstrated in 2019 in a double-blind trial. CBD was found to be comparable to the medication Paroxetine at decreasing symptoms of social anxiety disorder in teenagers.

Is CBD safe?

There have been a few reported side-effects, including fatigue, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. Otherwise, CBD has been deemed relatively safe. Precautions should be made to avoid interactions if you are taking medications, or if pregnant/breast-feeding. It is important to always discuss the use of herbs and supplements with your healthcare provider.

In health, Dr. Dylan Cutler, Ph.D.

The post was sponsored by Icaria – Vancouver CBD Oil for Busy Female Professionals, based in North Vancouver, British Columbia.

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8 Spices to Beat The Winter Blues

Learn why these spices and herbs boost our mood and how we can incorporate them into recipes.

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, impacts around 10 million Americans. SAD usually hits around fall and continues into the winter months. Also, if we battle depression throughout the year, the darker months can exacerbate our symptoms. Spices and herbs have been used in medicine to help heal disease for centuries. I’ve paired this list of spices with several recipes so you can incorporate them in your cooking. I bet you already have many of these in your home!

1. Turmeric

The beautiful yellow spice may be one of the most-researched spices on the planet. Evidence suggests curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, may be effective at treating depression. Curcumin boosts serotonin and dopamine, two neurotransmitters important for mood management. In addition, curcumin has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects which can help manage several chronic illnesses.

Golden Turmeric Mylk

2. Cinnamon

Adding this aromatic spice to meals can be helpful in alleviating anxiety and depression due to its ability to balance blood sugar levels. Even smelling cinnamon can enhance cognitive functioning. I add cinnamon to all my smoothies and oatmeal bowls as its ability to stabilize glucose levels can help keep our energy consistent through the day, as well as assist in lowering “bad” cholesterol, and decreasing triglyceride levels. 

Cinnamon cashew blender muffins (gluten-free, vegan, low-glycemic)

3. GINGER

Fresh ginger can boost feelings of happiness by increasing serotonin levels. Also, it can help us stay focused and increase productivity by supporting our dopamine levels. Its adaptogenic properties can help regulate cortisol levels and alleviate symptoms of adrenal fatigue. Other health benefits include decreasing fasting blood sugar and HbA1c levels.

Autumn Vegetable Bowl with Ginger Turmeric Hemp Heart Dressing

4. Fennel

While mostly known for its digestive health properties, fennel supplementation has also been shown to decrease anxiety in women with anxiety disorder. It can also relieve pain, bloating and cramps related to both PMS and menopause. Try this fennel tea by The Glowing Fridge.

Fennel Tea

5. Nutmeg

The warming, soothing properties of nutmeg help promotes relaxation, digestion and may decrease anxiety and depression. If taken before bed in a warm drink it may help us sleep if we suffer from insomnia. Its high magnesium content helps reduce nerve tension and can stimulate the production of serotonin. In the brain, serotonin is converted to melatonin, the hormone responsible for our sleep and wake cycles.

Pumpkin Spice PB Cookie Dough

6. Cumin

Cumin seeds, also known as jeera, are anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and known to improve digestion. They have a high amount of melatonin which can help treat insomnia and may also alleviate anxiety. Try this Creamy Spicy Bean Curry by The Writer Eats.

Creamy Avocado Bean Curry

7. Cardamom

Related to both turmeric and ginger, cardamom has antidepressant potential as well as cardiovascular benefits. Research has shown it can help decrease high blood pressure by relaxing our arteries. It has also been reported to improve digestion and could inhibit the growth of colon cancer cells. 

PUMPKIN CINNAMON DATE SMOOTHIE

8. Teas: Matcha, Lavender & Chamomile

Now this last one isn’t a spice but it is a powerful addition to meals or any time of the day: tea! Matcha tea contains L-theanine which may relieve stress and improve cognitive function. I use matcha tea in replacement of coffee as it provides me with focused energy as opposed to anxious energy. It is very high in catechins which are antioxidants that help remove free radicals from the body preventing disease. Studies also suggest matcha tea may prevent blood glucose and lipid accumulation. Lavender is a soothing herb often used in aromatherapy for stress and anxiety. Culinary lavender is also edible in small amounts and lovely when steeped in tea. I often drink this in the evening or whenever I am feeling anxious. Chamomile tea is soothing for digestive issues but may also be helpful for people experiencing panic attacks, anxiety and/or insomnia.

Mint Mocha Matcha Smoothie

I would love to hear how incorporating these spices in your meals impacts your mood, energy levels and focus, so let me know if you try any recipes! For more mood-boosting recipes, check out this post by Bhumika of The Writer Eats.

8 Spices to Beat The Winter Blues

Disclaimer: As the author of Phruitful Dish, I have based my posts on my own experiences and personal knowledge regarding nutrition and PCOS. However, I am not a medical doctor or licensed nutritionist. The information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Nutritional choices should be made in consultation with your healthcare provider. This blog is intended to inspire and encourage readers to educate themselves on how nutrition can be one important part of a healthy lifestyle. Therefore, please use the information at your own risk. Occasional links may be provided leading to third party websites. The existence of these links does not infer a responsibility or an endorsement of the linked site, its operator, or its contents.