Summer has turned its back on us and the days are starting to get shorter again. On the one hand, the golden light of autumn is a pleasant stimulus to our senses; on the other hand, the seasonal change and the earlier onset of darkness can influence our emotional state and our behaviour. This time we have tips on how to recharge your batteries and to enter the dark season in a good mood.
What’s up with the autumn blues?
Mood and energy fluctuations are often noticeable at this time of the year. With dwindling daylight, some people feel tired and listless. In addition, there can be an increased craving for carbohydrates, especially sweets.
One of the reasons for becoming melancholic in autumn is that, after summer, our bodies produce less serotonin, known as happiness hormone, but much more of the "tired maker" melatonin. Both are responsible for the day-night rhythm. Serotonin is produced in daylight, melatonin only in the dark. Both are formed from the starting material tryptophan, an essential amino acid.
How can serotonin levels be increased through nutrition?
To get to the bottom of this question, we'll delve a little deeper into biochemistry. It depends not only on what we eat, but also in what composition we do it. Serotonin is mostly produced in the digestive tract, but it cannot cross the blood-brain barrier to become effective in the brain. For this it needs certain conditions or building blocks:
Component 1: Tryptophan-rich foods Tryptophan is, as stated above, the source of serotonin. It comes in protein-rich foods, e.g. in foods such as fish, seafood, eggs, cheese, meat, seeds (especially sunflower seeds), nuts (especially cashew), soybeans, oats, chickpeas and bananas. But, in order for it to actually reach the brain, it must prevail against other amino acids. The higher the concentration compared to the others, the better the chances of absorption.
Component 2: Carbohydrates An intake of carbohydrates is known to result in the body releasing insulin and this causes, amongst other things, also an increased uptake of amino acids in the, with one exception – the amino acid tryptophan. For tryptophan, this means a "free path" to the brain, as the other supposedly competing amino acids migrate to the muscles. Therefore, a good balance of carbohydrates and proteins is crucial for serotonin formation. This is a good reason to eat, for example, bread, pasta, oatmeal, dates, bananas, warm milk with honey or even dark chocolate.
Component 3: Micronutrients Vitamins such as niacin (B3), B6 and folic acid are known as co-factors in the development of serotonin. This means they promote the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin. Fish, lean meat, cereal products, nuts, potatoes, milk and dairy products and legumes are rich in these vitamins. Folic acid is also found in green vegetables, especially in leafy vegetables. In general, serotonin is also classified as a neurotransmitter, in other words, a messenger that transmits signals between neurons. Lack of serotonin affects the mood, appetite, sleep, memory and temperature regulation.
In addition to serotonin, even greater attention should be given to a special vitamin to counteract the autumn “blues”: The sun vitamin D
For a positive mood, sufficient vitamin D supply is important. The UVB rays of the sun are crucial for the formation of vitamin D3 in the body. Foods only contain a low vitamin D content and here again only D2, which has less bioavailability for the body than D3. In autumn and winter, the daily requirement for vitamin D can usually not be met. Vitamin D is known for its important effect on bone metabolism, but the sun vitamin is involved in almost all areas of the body. These include, for example, the brain, the heart, the muscles, the immune system and the skin. In order to prevent the autumn blues, you should ensure a sufficient supply of vitamin D. A vitamin D deficiency can lead to fatigue and a weak immune system.
When it comes to your well-being, diet can play a vital role. Exactly what and how you eat is crucial to boost the mood barometer. Reach for tryptophan-rich foods. Remember, carbohydrates promote a good mood and certain vitamins can increase serotonin production. For sufficient serotonin production and vitamin D intake during autumn, you should also spend at least half an hour a day in the open air, especially in the sun. In addition, make sure you exercise and incorporate regular strength training, all of which contribute to a healthier and happier well-being.
Carmen und Jasmin Klammer Nutrition scientist and dietician
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Bahrami, A., Mazloum, S. R., Maghsoudi, S., Soleimani, D., Khayyatzadeh, S. S., Arekhi, S. et al. (2017, July). High Dose Vitamin D Supplementation Is Associated With a Reduction in Depression Score Among Adolescent Girls: A Nine-Week Follow-Up Study. Journal of Dietary Supplements, 1-10, doi: 10.1080/19390211.2017.1334736
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