`SAD' dulls the taste buds

It appears that sweetness, not just light, is something people afflicted with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) need more of during the winter months. Researchers at the Minneapolis Veterans Administration Medical Center made the discovery when they compared the taste acuity of a group of SAD sufferers with the tasting ability of people who did not have the condition.

The SAD group needed a greater amount of sugar in a sweet solution placed on their tongues in order to be able to tell that it was different from plain water. The same went for distinguishing between unflavored water and water that had been doctored with bitter and sour flavors. Moreover, the SAD group was unable to distinguish between drops of sweet-, sour-, and bitter-flavored water. They could detect only that the liquid wasn't plain water.

The dulling of taste acuity was not reversed even with daily, therapeutic light treatment that was strong enough to lift the SAD group's depression--a hallmark of the condition. Salt was the one taste that was not affected.

The findings may help explain why some people with SAD tend to gain weight during the winter, speculates head researcher Paul Arbisi, PhD. "To compensate for the blunting of flavor perception, those with SAD might choose foods that are most intense in taste, especially combinations of fats and simple sugars," he says.

An earlier study at the Psychiatric University Clinic in Basel, Switzerland, seems to point in a similar direction. Researchers there found that some SAD sufferers appear to "rely" on extra helpings of sweet foods such as chocolate, cake, and ice cream.

The good news: the predilection for sweets goes back to normal in the warmer, sunnier months.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is more than the winter doldrums. From fall to spring, the daily lives of the estimated 15 million SAD sufferers in the U.S. may be waylaid by depression that is characterized, in part, by significant changes in customary sleep patterns, appetite, mood, and social interactions. The National Institute of Mental Health suggests consulting a physician or mental health professional for proper diagnosis and treatment. To learn more about SAD, contact:

The National Mental Health Association, NMHA Information Center, 1021 Prince Street, Alexandria, VA 22314-2971; 1-800-969-6642.

D/ART (DEPRESSION Awareness, Recognition, Treatment), 1-800-421-4211.

The National Institute of Mental Health, Public Inquiries, 5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, MD 20857; 301-443-4513.

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