Winter blues: Seasonal Affective Disorder linked to reduced sunlight, brain inflammation, say experts

Winter blues: Seasonal Affective Disorder linked to reduced sunlight, brain inflammation, say experts

Advise exercise, proper sleep schedule

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is primarily attributed to shorter days and reduced sunlight, which can alter brain rhythms and lead to inflammation in the brain, causing seasonal mood disorders, according to doctors.

Seasonal mood disorders are a type of mood disorder where depression or mania occurs during a specific season. In our region, fall or autumn depression is a common variant of seasonal mood disorders.

Speaking to the news agency—Kashmir News Observer (KNO), Dr Arshad Hussain, a Professor at the Department of Psychiatry at GMC Srinagar, explained that Seasonal Affective Disorder usually begins in Kashmir at the end of October and lasts until March due to seasonal changes. This disorder was officially recognised by R. E. Rosenthal in 1984.

According to Dr Arshad, the main symptoms of this mood disorder include sadness, lack of energy, reduced interest, fatigue, hypersomnia, and hyperphagia. While normal mood variations are common and part of evolutionary mechanisms, mood variations that lead to socio-occupational dysfunction and severe distress are considered a disease, particularly in winter.

He added that individuals with a history of depression are more susceptible to seasonal variations, and many of them experience an exaggeration of symptoms during the fall and winter. In other parts of India, seasonal mood disorders are generally less common because they don't experience the decrease in light hours as we do in Kashmir, Dr Arshad noted.

Besides shorter days and reduced sunlight, winter disorder has also been linked to the rhythm of melatonin release and vitamin D deficiency. Light appears to be crucial for optimal brain health, and suboptimal light supply to the brain triggers neuro-inflammatory processes in the absence of optimal nutrition, leading to depression. Other theories suggest a protective role of switched-off moods in harsh winters as part of evolutionary biology.

Dr Arshad advised that people should spend a considerable amount of time outside, with at least 30 minutes of sunlight exposure daily when the sun is out and around 2 hours on cloudy days. Additionally, maintaining a proper sleep schedule, engaging in regular exercise, staying busy, and adopting a nutritious diet can help prevent seasonal blues.

For those experiencing moderate or severe disorders, he emphasised the importance of consulting a psychiatrist and seeking treatment. Individuals with an existing mood illness and females among the general population are at a higher risk, he added.

Lifestyle modifications, such as spending time outdoors, engaging in physical activity, regular exercise, consuming balanced and nutritious meals, maintaining a healthy sleep-wake balance, taking vitamin D supplements before the start of fall, reducing carbohydrate intake, and keeping busy, can help prevent seasonal affective disorder among the general population

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