As the days grow shorter, considering the role of omega-3s in keeping everything sunny
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) was discovered by Dr. Norman Rosenthal after noticing that his own sluggish mood -- first noticed after moving from sunny South Africa to New York -- improved after exposing himself to bright light. SAD affects about 8 percent of people in wintry New Hampshire but less than 2 percent in Florida. Lack of sunlight may alter sleep-wake cycles by means of nerve signals from the eye to the brain's biological clock (the suprachiasmatic nucleus) with the help of melatonin from the pea-sized pineal gland.
Although Iceland's daylight diminishes, due to their near-arctic latitude, from over 9 hours on October 20 to just over 4 hours in December, its SAD prevalence of less than 4 percent is much lower than that of U.S. or European locations with equivalent levels of seasonal darkness. In fact, Icelanders are among the happiest people in the world -- despite their 2008 financial crisis, volcanic eruptions, and the predominant winter darkness.
In addition to their helpful social support and encouragement of out-of-the-box lifestyles -- the mayor of the city of Reykjavik, Jon Gnarr, who is also a comedian, as an example -- Icelanders believe that their high consumption of ocean fish and fish oil helps them cope. Oil-rich cold-water fish like salmon, cod, and sardines, fish oil supplements, and some plant-based foods like walnuts contain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which research on other mood disorders suggests have an antidepressant effect. We've known for quite a while that eating fish correlates negatively with major depressive disorder.