Hello everyone! Please excuse the time lapse between blogs – it was a very busy summer but I’m now back with a vengeance and armed with a nice long list of juicy topics to write about! Before I start the blog in earnest you may be interested to know that I’ve started practising from Bridge to Health in Uxbridge two days a week. It’s an integrated health clinic and what Mathieu, the lovely owner, likes to call a ‘body and mind’ clinic. This philosophy is exactly what inspired me to join them and I’m very excited about the prospect of working there. The team are all really lovely and if you’re ever in the area please fell free to pop by and say hello.
Ok, so sitting here watching the day end at 4.30pm (*sad face*) I decided that looking at how our hormones are affected by the seasons (particularly autumn) would be a good topic to write about. What I like about this topic is that it gives us the opportunity to broaden our scope a bit and look at different hormones like melatonin, serotonin and insulin.
For many people autumn is a bittersweet time – aesthetically it is very pleasing – just think of all those striking reds, yellows and oranges dominating even the most urban and concrete of settings, but this beauty always seems to be marred by the sadness that we are making our way into the grimmest and harshest of seasons. Autumn also seems to be a busy time – I’ve yet to come across someone who wasn’t rushed off their feet at this time of year. Whether this is related to the fact that even though most of us left school years ago there’s still a part of our inner child that always clings on to the rhythms of the academic year, or whether it is a reflection of a deeper, older rhythm which drives us to make one final push at hunting and gathering before winter sets isn’t really clear (maybe a bit of both?)
What is clear is that we all feel change is upon us and as with any period of change it is important that we support ourselves in the best way we can. Let’s look at three hormones that might offer the key into helping us cope better.
The first one is melatonin – although mainly known as our sleep hormone, melatonin also exerts many other effects in the body and is a powerful antioxidant, a strong anti-inflammatoy modulator and an anti-cancer agent. Hooray for melatonin! My blog on Jet Lag Confusion also talks about melatonin, so you might want to take a little look on what I had to say on it there. People with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) have been found to produce too much melatonin at night (this is what can make them feel sleepy and unmotivated during the day). So, whilst we are not all SAD sufferers, most of us can probably identify with that feeling of lethargy and lack of motivation that sets in when the nights start getting longer. So, how can we balance our melatonin? (Remember that melatonin supplements aren’t sold in the UK so we need to think of alternative strategies). Well, it would seem sensible to me that a good place to start is to increase your exposure to natural sunlight. Melatonin production is heavily influenced by exposure to light and a good way of reducing production is to expose yourself to as much daylight as possible. (Note, I said DAYLIGHT, this doesn’t mean spending hours staring at your phone or tv at night!) So, get out as much as you can and make an effort to look up at the sky – try a ten minute lunchtime walk or longer strolls at the weekend, or, failing that just try to take a break from looking at your screen and try to look out of the window a couple of times an hour.
Along with an increase in melatonin, a decrease in serotonin (our feel good neurotransmitter) has also been linked to the onset of SAD. Happily, melatonin and serotonin are both made from the same raw material – an amino acid called tryptophan. ‘But wait’, I hear you cry, ‘if we want to decrease melatonin shouldn’t we eat less tryptophan-rich foods???’ Good point. Well, sadly (as in most cases), it ain’t that simple. Just consuming less of something doesn’t necessarily mean it will have a lowering effect within the body. Most things exist within a very complex web of interdependence and melatonin and serotonin are no exception. By increasing foods that are rich in their raw material you simply encourage them to reach their own innate balance. Isn’t that amazing?
So, what foods are rich in tryptophan? Well, sesame seeds, sunflowers seeds and turkey are all pretty good sources. Salmon, chicken and oats aren’t bad either. There’s a theory that tryptophan needs insulin to cross effectively into the brain so quite often the advice is to eat tryptophan rich foods with some carbs. Simple solutions include just adding a handful of sesame or sunflower seeds to your daily smoothie – there’ll be enough carbs in here to ensure absorption. Or just have some roasted salmon with a lovely side serving of mashed celeriac – done!
The last hormone I want to talk about is insulin – our lovely blood sugar balancing friend. Did you know that there are more diagnoses of Type II Diabetes in the winter than any other season? Whether this is because or blood sugar is naturally higher in winter or whether it’s because we eat more sugar because we feel miserable is unclear. The point is we need to be mindful of this and really make sure we eat a diet that helps to stabilise our blood sugar, avoiding massive spikes. So, how do we do this? Simple: lots of veg, a decent amount of protein and a small amount of complex carbs (wholegrain preferably). And eat three good meals a day, no snacking please.
So there you go, some thoughts on how by balancing these three key hormones we can support ourselves through this period of change. I hope you’ve learnt something and I hope it’s helped. So, what are you waiting for, get out into the daylight (or failing that, look out of your window!)