Approximately 2 million people are affected by this problem in the UK and  12 million across Northern Europe –  mainly between September and April.  It’s far more common in women than men and  symptoms include  low moods, increased appetite and food cravings (usually for starchy, sugary, fatty foods), PMS-type symptoms, depression, loss of libido, irritability, difficulty concentrating, lack of energy and an increased desire to sleep during the winter months. Many people report that they feel sleepy during the day – yet cannot sleep well at night.

Symptoms usually begin in late autumn or early winter and tend to disappear in late spring and early summer. Due to lack of full spectrum light, during the winter months our pineal glands situated in our brain  produces more melatonin, the hormone which regulates glandular function and makes us feel more sleepy.

Melatonin is crucial for controlling our biological rhythms and is secreted mainly at night, see-sawing with serotonin, its counterpart, which is secreted on exposure to bright daylight. Melatonin helps you to sleep; whilst serotonin raises mood and makes you feel positive.

Therefore with lack of light – you make more melatonin and less serotonin, and in countries where sunshine is rare during the winter months, suicide rates increase.

Not everyone experiences the same symptoms, but other common symptoms of SAD syndrome include cravings for sweet or starchy foods, weight gain, irritability, and an increased feeling of being of ‘no use’ to anyone.

Foods to Avoid
• When there is insufficient light, the body naturally craves sugary carbohydrates to increase its serotonin levels, hence why many women put on weight in the winter. Do your best to reduce your intake of stimulants such as  coffee, mass produced chocolate, caffeine and refined sugary, starchy based foods and drinks.
• Alcohol lowers brain levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps to keep us positive.
• Reduce your intake of refined, sugary – starchy foods, and if you crave sugar use a little  brown rice syrup, or Xylitol as a sweetener.

Friendly Foods
• Eat foods that help the body to produce more serotonin – fish, turkey, chicken, cottage cheese, beans, avocados, bananas, whey protein and wheat germ.
• 60% of the brain is made up of fat, so eat plenty of oily fish, which is rich in omega 3 fats. Add linseeds (flax seeds) to your breakfast cereal as they are also rich in essential fats.
• Organic milk is also a good source of the amino acid tryptophan which helps raise serotonin levels.
• Include more organic tempeh, miso soup and beans in your diet. Kidney, canellini and black-eyed beans are a rich source of fibre and protein to help raise your mood.
• During the winter make rich stews with plenty of green and root vegetables, add brown rice and pastas.
• Low-sugar, oat-based muesli and cereals are rich in B-vitamins, which are great mood foods. Eat porridge for breakfast – sweeten with a chopped apple and a few raisins.
• Try dairy and sugar free organic chocolate made with agave syrup, goji and acai berries with blueberry and coconut oil  – made by the Organic Pharmacy. For stockists of Glamour Food call 0844 800 8399. Internationally; + 44 (0)207 351 2232.

Useful Remedies
• Firstly, take a good-quality multi-vitamin and mineral supplement that contains at least 200mg of magnesium plus 30mg of zinc.
• Add to this a high strength B-complex, as lack of vitamins B3, 6, 12 and folic acid are all linked to depression.  B6, B3 and Inositol are necessary to convert tryptophan into serotonin.
• Lack of vitamin D (especially D3) is hugely associated with SAD syndrome. During the winter months take a minimum of 1000 iu daily and if symptoms are acute take 2000-4000 iu daily for a couple of weeks. During a day in the sun you can naturally produce as much as 20,000iu of vitamin D a day !
• Tryptophan, an amino acid helps boost serotonin levels. This supplement has been shown to be as effective as orthodox antidepressants, without the negative side-effects. 250mg can be taken twice daily. Viridian Vitamins.
• St John’s wort has proven very effective and you will need 500–1000mg a day.  NB Not to be taken with blood-thinning drugs. If you are on any prescription drugs check for contraindications with your GP.
• Take 2 grams of Omega 3 rich fish oil capsules daily as lack of essential fats can contribute to the feelings of depression.

Helpful Hints
• Make the effort to walk in natural daylight for at least 15 minutes a day- especially when the sun is out.  We need around 10,000 lux of full spectrum light daily to maintain serotonin levels. One lux equates to the light of one small candle !
• Try using Real Sunlight lamps, a/v at several specialist clinics in the UK. The harmful frequencies of UVA and UVB have been filtered out making this sunlight safe. Developed in Sweden and now used in many care homes to boost immune function and relieve the depression associated with SAD Syndrome. They have been so successful that the Swedish Government are installing them in care homes in which residents are rarely exposed to natural sunlight. These lamps increase levels of vitamin D3 naturally,   boosts immune function and reduces depression.  A/v in London at The Wholistic Medical Centre, 57, Harley Street,  Tel: 0207 580 7537. Or for a list of salons and clinics offering this specialist treatment contact Real Sunlight Ltd on Tel: 08456 800 853.
• Tanning beds should not be used to treat SAD. The light sources in tanning beds are high in ultraviolet (UV) rays, which harm both your eyes and your skin. Light boxes emit full-spectrum light. Use Biolight’s full-spectrum light bulbs – available from the Sensory Company. Tel: 0845 838 2233
• Exercise as much as possible during daylight to increase the production of serotonin – the feel-good hormone.
• Take a winter holiday in the sunshine.
• The SAD Association (SADA) have a support network, and by sending a large SAE to PO Box 989, Steyning BN44 3HG you will receive an information sheet. If you want a full SADA information pack, containing full details of SAD treatments, where to obtain light-therapy equipment, how to adapt your lifestyle, clinics, meetings and books then send £5. Tel: 01903 814942. Website:
• Sad Lighting make light boxes used specifically for SAD Syndrome. Contact them via
• For more help contact ‘Lumie’ at run by Angela Young – an expert on the various light therapies.