The fact that seasonal changes affect our mood has been well-known for centuries. Nowadays, SAD (seasonal affective disorder, also called ‘seasonal depression’) is an officially recognized disorder that may require clinical treatment. However, a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that the effect of seasonal changes on a human brain is much greater.
‘Seasonal depression’ occurs only in a few severe cases, but the vast majority of people feel a little bit down during the cold season. This happens because the rate of dopamine and serotonin, as well as some other chemical compounds that affect our mood, changes with the season. However, the changes in cognitive abilities work a little bit differently.
During the course of the study that sought to prove seasonality of our brain activity, the scientists from the University of Liege in Belgium used MRIs and a series of tests on a group of subjects who were tested several times over a year. The original purpose of the study was to see how people reacted to sleep deprivation. The results produced by this research excited many neuroscientists all over the world and might have opened a new level of understanding to how our brain works.
In simple terms, the findings of the study can be explained in the following way:
- The overall cognitive function changes very little.
Except for the cases of people prone to SAD and suffering from mental disorders, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. In these cases, the changes are more pronounced.
- The factor that changes visibly is the ‘cost of cognition’.
This term denominates neural resources used during the process of cognition.
- The brain activity connected to sustained attention is the highest in the summer, and lowest in the winter.
The parts of the brain most affected by these changes are hippocampus, thalamus, and amygdala.
- The brain activity connected to working memory is highest in the autumn and lowest in the spring.
The parts most affected are the prefrontal and frontpolar regions of the brain as well as pulvinar and insula.
The Benefits of the New Discoveries
The most outstanding benefit of this research is the fact that it actually proves that seasonal changes do affect us. This fact has been suspected but argued for years, and this solid proof is the exact thing that was needed to push neuroscience in the right direction.
Despite humans moving beyond the constrictions of natural light cycles, due to the creation of artificial lighting, we still have a deep natural ‘programming’ that makes our bodies change with the seasons. A deeper understanding of the chemical processes that trigger these changes will allow scientists to develop more efficient medications for people suffering from various neural and mental disorders. Even the treatment of head trauma received in an accident might become more effective if different combinations of medications are used to make up for the natural changes in our cognition during the moment of the incident.
Regular people who do not require any specialized neurological medication can benefit from this research as well, because now you know exactly when your nervous system might require some additional stimulation. Taking Vitamin B-12 from Nature’s Potent might be the exact thing that will give you a cognitive boost during the winter and spring. Aside from its positive effect on the nervous system, vitamin B-12 also affects the health of your red blood cells. Therefore, it might reduce the risk of anemia common during the beginning of spring.