How the clocks in your home could trigger this stressful ailment

Seasonal affective disorder - The Good Life Letter

23rd October 2009

  • How the clocks in your home could trigger this stressful ailment
  • How to prevent heart attacks with hot chocolate
  • How eggs and turkey can fight S.A.D. 

My brother-in-law, Alan, is a proper action man.

I don't mean he's got gripping hands and realistic hair and a little lever that moves his eyes from side to side - I mean he absolutely loves the outdoors.

Cycling, running, mountain climbing, fell walking - he does it all. Usually with a stopwatch. Honestly, even a walk home from the pub turns into an athletic ordeal when he's around.

"Come on Collins, lengthen your stride, pump those arms... and put that kebab down."

He's one of the most enthusiastic, get-up-and-go people I know.

But that all changes when winter comes along. Specifically when the clocks go back and the days get shorter.

The moment he has to go round his house turning the time back triggers a bleak reaction in him, something he finds it very difficult to handle well.

Don't get me wrong - he doesn't become suicidal. It's just that he suffers a low-level depression that lasts until Spring comes.

Luckily, there are ways to fight it...

12 Natural ways to fight S.A.D.

- Make the most of natural daylight. It's the absence of daylight that triggers S.A.D, so make sure you're up and about to get as much daylight on you as possible - even at weekends. And don't just get up, get OUT into the air and let the sunlight hit your skin. You won't feel it, but psychologically it will do you good, especially if it's a bright day. And if you can work in some exercise while you're out, so much the better.

- One theory behind the cause of S.A.D is that the brain produces less of a chemical called serotonin. And an easy way to kick start the production of serotonin is to up your intake of an amino acid called tryptophan.Tryptophan is a building block of serotonin, so, increasing the presence of one could lead to an increase in the presence of the other.  Foods rich in tryptophan include turkey, milk, and egg whites.

- Taking a regular moderate amount of flax seed oil, could help improve your mood. Research by Dr. Martha Clare Morris of Chicago's St. Luke's Medical Center claims that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids could ease depression and help maintain your brain function. And flax seed is absolutely packed with these fatty acids.

- Drink a cup of coffee in the morning. The caffeine in coffee is said to stimulate your brain and relieve mood problems. Studies have shown that caffeine can improve your attention span and boost brainpower.

- The University of Western Australia carried out a study in 2007. A group of students were assigned to either a caffeine, or placebo (fake coffee) group. They were required to attend a 75-min exercise rehabilitation lecture. The
  results showed that after caffeine consumption, students perceived themselves to be significantly more awake, clear minded, energetic and alert.

- Passion Flower is used for insomnia and can relieve anxiety and nervousness. Active ingredients include flavinoids, cyanogenic glycosides, alkaloids and saparin. It helps to calm and soothe and is also thought to reduce high blood pressure and nervous tremors.

- Siberian ginseng, from the Eleutherococcus plant, used to be called 'Russia's secret plant'. It was used by Soviet athletes, as well as Russian cosmonauts to stimulate their immune systems... reduce stress... boost energy levels... and reverse chronic tiredness.

- Eat foods rich in vitamin B6. They've found that low levels can lead to depression. I suggest cabbage, bananas and fish. But not on the same plate, unless you're pregnant!

- You should also get some folic acid in your system. Researchers have found that clinically depressed patients just don't have enough. Eat more citrus fruit, spinach and wholegrain foods which are packed with the stuff.

- Nuts contain selenium, which was found to boost your mood by researchers at University College in Swansea. The daddy of all selenium is the mighty Brazil nut.

- Eat chilli peppers. They contain capsaicin, which helps your brain produce endorphins - the natural mood-enhancing chemicals in your body.

- Get a light box. So many people swear by these that it MUST be doing something right. But rather than just talk about light boxes in general, I want to do a little research and find the best one out there. So give me a couple of weeks and I'll look into this for you. (If you happen to know of one that works well, and have firsthand experience of it, drop me a line).

And here's another great remedy for you to indulge in now that the nights are closing in...

How to prevent heart attacks with hot chocolate

New research has suggested that enjoying a traditional cup of hot chocolate at bedtime can help lower blood pressure and protect you against the threat of a heart attack.

And get this...

It can help you as effectively as prescription medicine!

Once again it shows that foods (even enjoyable, so-called 'naughty' foods) have the power to mend us, protect us, and fight our corner.

In chocolate's case, it's the polyphenols and flavanoids that seem to act as a blood-pressure regulator to protect us from heart attacks and stroke.

In this research (published in the American Medical Association's Archives of Internal Medicine), 173 patients were studied over a course of 5 trials, 87 of whom were told to drink hot chocolate, against 86 who did not.

Out of those 5 trials, 4 showed that there was a reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure over a period of two weeks... as much as if the particpants had taken a course of blood pressure medication like beta blockers!

But simply, this study suggests that drinking hot chocolate could reduce the risk of stroke by 20%, reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by 10%, and reduce the likelihood dying by 8%.

Hot chocolate or beta blockers.... ?

Hmmmm, I know which one I'd choose. After all, you try melting a marshmallow on a beta blocker; it's impossible.

Now, we all know that chocolate isn't something that should be consumed in vast quantities.

All right, I might ignore this rule on special occasions... Christmas, Easter, birthdays, Thursday, days when it's raining etc etc... but the mass production of chocolate these days means there's too much sugar and fat added to make it a truly healthy alternative.

So chocolate should still be classed as an occasional treat rather than an essential part of your diet.

But this research just goes show - the health nags have got it all wrong. Chocolate, wine, beer, red meat, cheese... none of these taboo foods will do you any harm if enjoyed in moderation.

If it's something you truly enjoy, then limit yourself to one a week, but don't ban it. Being happy and healthy are the key to a good life - not being a size zero.

Okay. That's it from me today. Enjoy your weekend, and I'll be back in your inbox on Sunday.

Yours, as ever


Ray Collins
The Good Life Letter

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