6 Ways to Beat the Winter Blues
As the days get shorter and the nights get colder, even the best of us can get a little down.
This time of the year, many of my patients seem to struggle with the darker days and thus their moods are often affected.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as winter depression or winter blues, is a mood disorder in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year experience depressive symptoms in the winter months, when the days are shorter, darker and rainier.
Experts say that SAD affects 40 million North Americans, and that 75-80% of that figure are women.
SAD has also been observed in children who may be irritable, have difficulty getting out of bed, and experience problems in school during the fall and winter months. The lack of sunlight can cause symptoms like fatigue, oversleeping, overeating, carbohydrate cravings, mild depression, irritation and loss of pleasure and interest in life.
The specific cause of SAD remains unknown, but there are several ideas about where it comes from. One theory is that the reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may disrupt the body’s internal “biological clock” (circadian rhythm) causing your hormones, sleep and mood to become unbalanced. Melatonin and serotonin seem to be key players in this imbalance, as both hormones plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
There are many natural approaches that can provide considerable relief for winter blues sufferers.
6 essential supplements to help you with the winter woes include:
1) Vitamin D supplementation
Research supports a connection between low vitamin D levels and SAD. Only catch? Vitamin D (fun fact: Vitamin D is actually a hormone!) needs UV B sun exposure in order to be processed in the body, so be sure to get outside for your daily walk if you start taking it.
2) 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)
This supplement is the precursor to serotonin, our “happy hormone.” When taken orally, it helps increase serotonin levels in the brain, thus alleviating many of the symptoms of SAD.
3) Omega 3 Fatty Acids
People who suffer from SAD have been said to be deficient in fish oils. Omega-3s are important for all around brain function, inflammation, skin/hair/nail and heart health.
4) B Vitamins
B vitamins are also effective in helping maintain adequate serotonin levels.
5) Adrenal Support
The adrenal glands control everything from sleep, to appetite, to mood and the body’s ability to cope with stress. SAD might be caused by an increased secretion of the stress hormone cortisol by the adrenal glands. Support the adrenal glands with herbs such as Siberian ginseng, Rhodiola and Ashwagandha.
This supplement helps to maintain the body’s circadian (sleep) rhythm. Melatonin supplementation may relieve the symptoms of SAD because it increases brain melatonin levels as well as suppresses cortisol secretion (see above).
So even though winter can be varying shades of grey and blue, your mood needn’t be. By incorporating a few of the supplements listed above into your daily routine, you can help to regulate yourself, and better enjoy a beautiful, relaxing winter season.
Most importantly: relax, slow down and breathe.
Milaneschi Y. et al. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010.
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H.S. Yu and R.J. Reiter eds. Melatonin Biosynthesis, Physiological Effects and Clinical Applications. 1993.