Autumn fatigue - the science behind it and what we can do

Autumn is for many people the most beautiful season of the year. Trees and forests colored from yellow to dark red, a deep blue sky, the freshest air and clearest sight. 

Unfortunately not all of us can enjoy this time of the year that much because autumn fatigue or autumn asthesia hits them. In this article we will tell you everything about autumn fatigue, which changes in or outside our body lead to the symptoms that occur when someone’s suffering from autumn fatigue. Most importantly we will tell you what you can do about it.

What is autumn fatigue?
Many people are complaining about tiredness, no energy and a low mood in general during autumn. We tend to commonly say: I’m suffering from autumn fatigue but is this a real medical condition? The answer is yes and it is called: “Seasonal Affective Disorder” or SAD. It affects people as the seasons change but mostly during autumn or winter.

Which symptoms are typical for autumn fatigue?
As it is similar to the symptoms of depression they can vary widely. Everyone experiences it in a different way. The symptoms can be from something like a slight irritation to a severe depression that affects your day-to-day live.

Typical symptoms for SAD are:
  • irritability
  • bad mood 
  • negative self talk often with feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness 
  • low or no self-esteem 
  • tearfulness 
  • stress/anxiety 
  • lost libido 
  • social withdrawal
  • being less active than normal 
  • lack of energy 
  • sleep for longer than normal and find it hard to get up in the morning 
  • brain fog
  • food cravings (sweet or fatty foods)


As you can see, autumn fatigue can really affect you and your daily life. Many people are totally normal, enjoying their life during the summer months. When seasonal changes affect their body they might turn into the opposite, a socially withdrawn, depressive person. Let’s have a deeper look at this:

What causes autumn fatigue?
Several changes which come naturally with the change of the seasons can affect our body systems in a way it gets out of balance. Those changes are:

 

Changes in daylight and circadian rhythm
The change in the amount of light we are exposed to everyday influences the way our body reacts and adapts to the outside world in several ways.

Circadian rhythm or the body’s inner clock. When the sun sets and there is no light entering our eyes, the body starts to produce melatonin, a hormone responsible for feeling tired and sleepy. Day/sunlight inhibits the production of this hormone so it’s totally natural that we feel more energized in summer than in winter.

There is a theory that in SAD the change of the circadian rhythm due to daylight changes in responsible for the symptoms, although melatonin treatment couldn’t proof efficacy in all scientific findings.
Exposure to sunlight and vitamin D production: 
Vitamin D is produced when our skin is exposed to sunlight. Unfortunately it’s not that easy. The process starts, once UVB rays penetrate the skin and deliver this way the energy necessary to produce vitamin D from cholesterol, a fatty acid stored in the skin.

UVB rays can only enter the earth atmosphere through a certain angle. A good way to know if this is the case is looking at your shadow, that should be smaller than you. Furthermore, suncream blocks both, the healthy UVB rays and the health-damaging UVA rays.

Vitamin D deficiency can have many effects on health, such as:
  • depression
  • osteoporosis
  • weakness
  • chronic fatigue
  • depression
  • trouble sleeping
  • anxiety
  • weakened immune system
  • inflammation


Can you see the similarity with SAD symptoms? Boosting your vitamin D intake or production is very important when the season changes. Later on we will show you how.

Serotonin levels
Serotonin is our happiness hormone. A recent study showed that season changes can also lead to lower serotonin levels in the brain which can cause the feeling of depression.

Brenda McMahon and her colleagues from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark found that a certain protein that transports serotonin in the body, so it is not available for use, is 5% higher in people suffering from SAD than in those without symptoms.

Behavioural changes:
During the summer months we are super active, staying outside, being physically active, socialising, travelling. We are doing a lot of things that keep our minds busy and our mood high and motivated. This changes once the daylight reduces and the weather changes. We spend more time inside, less socialising, being less active physically. All these changes may contribute to a change in our mood or general wellbeing and thus to the development of SAD.

Changes in the way we eat
Summer is the season of a wide range of fresh fruit and vegetables, refreshing smoothies and tasty salads. During the winter months there is less variety of fresh produce available. Furthermore our appetite increases due to the cold weather. We tend to go for thick soups and warm, rich dishes. This can lead to a general feeling of uncomfortableness because of gaining weight or eating high caloric dishes that make us feel tired, bloated and not wanting to do exercise.

Who is affected?
This condition can basically affect anyone. People with a genetic history of SAD are more predisposed. So what can you do either to prevent or to combat with the symptoms once they occurred?

What can we do about it?
After all of this information it seems like autumn fatigue is inevitable and it hits us all in one way or another. Don't worry, there is actually a lot you can do. Let’s have a look at it:

Food

Let's start with one thing we all love to do, eating. A healthy and balanced diet will always help prevent your body from diseases, no matter what cause they may have.

Vitamins
Now, that we have less fresh fruit available it is more important than ever to give your body all the nutrients he needs. If you are struggling try our Super AntiOx Mix. It is naturally rich in many vitamins, like vitamin A, C, E and K. LINK. We have prepared some really tasty recipes for you, that will not only boost your immune system but also your mood.

Although the variety isn't that big, there are real vitamin bombs amongst the autumn produce. Just to mention the stars: beetroot, apples, pumpkin and pears. They are all very tasty and versatile to prepare and they’ll help you combat SAD and other autumn related health troubles like a cold for example.

Healthy fats
Healthy fats are super important for your cardiovascular systems and for your hormone production amongst others. Try to eat lots of salmon, olive oil and avocados. They are all rich in healthy fatty acids that will help your body go through this season happily and healthy.

Healthy carbohydrates
Processed carbs can mess up with our body and mind. Limit those foods in your diet. Try to go for healthy, complex carbs like legumes for example. They are a healthy all rounder and perfectly available any time of the year. A hot lentil-lemon soup with some coriander will spice up your mood on a cold autumn evening.

Other healthy carbohydrate sources are pseudocereals like quinoa, buckwheat or amaranth and they are all gluten free.

Physical activity
Exercise has been shown to increase serotonin levels many times. There is a wide range of scientific support. Being physically active supports your immune system, your cardiovascular systems and helps you to maintain a healthy body weight.

Go and get some fancy all weather clothes and you’ll not mind the rain when going for a run next time. And if you still do, the gym doesn't close because of bad weather and you will feel so much better afterwards. We promise you.

Mental activity

Mental health is as important as physical health. If you're feeling out of balance during this time of the year, try some relaxing techniques. The way we look at things depends on us and it can be changed. Sometimes we see the world more complicated than it really is.

Relaxing practices, like mindfulness, meditation or yoga have shown beneficial effects on our brain and state of relaxation. Not one of those “yogies”? Give it a try, you might be surprised positively.

Bottom line:
Autumn fatigue is a common term used for a medical disorder call seasonal affective disorder (SAD). There are a lot of people suffering from SAD in the world. Mood changes, tiredness, low energy up to depression-like symptoms are frequent. Responsible are natural changes the seasons come with, like reduced daylight or less exposure to sunlight and a respective change in our circadian rhythm. A healthy and balanced diet combined with physical activity and relaxing techniques is the best way to combat SAD.

 

Written by :Karin, Okami Bio's in-house nutritionist 

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