Influence of timed nutrient diet on depression and light sensitivity in seasonal affective disorder.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Chronobiol Int, Volume 25, Issue 1, p.51-64 (2008)


Adolescent, Adult, Affect, Aged, Depression, Diet, Dietary Carbohydrates, Dietary Proteins, Feeding Behavior, Female, Humans, Menstrual Cycle, Middle Aged, Photophobia, Seasonal Affective Disorder, Sunlight, Surveys and Questionnaires, Time Factors, Treatment Outcome


<p>Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) patients crave and eat more carbohydrates (CHO) in fall-winter when depressed, especially in the evenings, and feel energetic thereafter. Evening CHO-rich meals can phase delay circadian rhythms, and glucose increases retinal response to light. We studied timed CHO- or protein-rich (PROT) diet as a putative therapy for SAD. Unmedicated, DSM-IV-diagnosed depressed women with SAD (n=22, 19-63 yrs) in the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle (present in 19) were randomized to nine days of eating approximately 1600 kcal of either CHO before 12:00 h (n=9), CHO after 18:00 h (n=6), or PROT after 18:00 h (n=7); only water was allowed for the rest of the day. Measurements included the depression questionnaire SIGH-SAD (with 21-item Hamilton depression subscale), Eating Behavior Questionnaire (DEBQ), percentage fat (by bioimpedancemetry), clinical biochemistry (glucose, cholesterol, triglycerides, TSH, T4, cortisol), and electroretinogram (ERG). No differential effects of diet were found on any of the studied parameters (except DEBQ). Clinically, participants improved slightly; the 21-HDRS score (mean+/-SD) decreased from 19.6+/-6.4 to 14.4+/-7.4 (p=.004). Percent change correlated significantly with menstrual day at diet onset (mood improved the first week after menstruation onset), change in available sunshine (more sunlight, better mood), and initial percentage fat (fatter patients improved more). Scotopic ERG amplitude was diminished after treatment (p=.025, three groups combined), probably due to greater exposure to sunshine in 14/22 subjects (partial correlation analysis significant). Keeping in mind the limitations of this ambulatory study (i.e., inability to control outdoor light exposure, small number of participants, and briefness of intervention), it is suggested that the 25% clinical improvement (of the order of magnitude of placebo) is not related to nutrient diet or its timing, but rather to natural changes during the menstrual cycle, available sunshine, and ease of dieting for fatter patients.</p>

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