The 1st of September marks the beginning of spring in the southern hemisphere and many of us are looking forward to longer days and warmer weather. Other than that, not much changes, but back in the 'old days' people's lives revolved around the seasons. Their daytime activities were dictated by the number of hours of sunlight and their diets contained seasonal foods that could be grown according to the climate. This cycle complimented the body's natural rhythms including its sleep/wake cycle and digestion.
Of course things have changed with the invention of electricity and we can now function 24/7 and obtain any food no matter what the season. But has this come at the detriment to our health? If we look at the increase in chronic diseases that are associated with stress and poor diet, the answer to this question is a definite 'yes'.
Whilst most of us probably wouldn't swap our modern lives for a pre-industrial version, we might be able to take some of its beneficial features and use them to improve our health. It can be as simple as choosing the produce that's grown in your region to spending some regular time in nature. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurvedic Medicine views spring as a time of increasing energy with lighter foods being recommended for healthy digestion.
Seasons also play a role in regulating our mood, with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) being recognised as depression or low mood that occurs during the winter months when daylight is at its shortest. Those who experience SAD report loss of interest in their day to day activities, feelings of sadness or irritation, reduced appetite and they often say they find it hard to sleep. Interestingly, treatment for SAD includes light therapy and symptoms often resolve naturally during spring and summer.
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that are involved in mood regulation, energy and our sleep/wake cycle. Serotonin and melatonin are needed to regulate these processes and are thought to be depleted in people who experience ongoing depression and insomnia. Often people who are diagnosed with depression or anxiety are prescribed medications such as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI) to prolong the effects of serotonin. Unfortunately, when there is not enough serotonin being made by the body, this may not be very effective.
With the gut being central to health, it's not surprising that it plays a pivotal role in serotonin production. The bacteria that reside in our gut are involved in the production of neurotransmitters including serotonin. Improving our gut health by eating a diet that contains plenty of fresh vegetables and whole grains is beneficial for serotonin production.
So with spring in the air, make a plan to get up a bit earlier and walk in the sunshine or take your lunch al fresco. It's also a good time to visit your local market and grab some of the new season fresh produce. These small changes can yield big improvements to your physical and mental health.