BLOG: Beating the Winter Blues Part III - 5 Natural Therapies to Busting those Winter Blues
Here’s a quick recap of the last two weeks of Beating the Winter Blues:
Part I: A description of what SAD & the winter blues are, who’s most at risk and the signs and symptoms.
Part II: Looking at the involvement of melatonin in SAD and the winter blues and 5 lifestyle tips to beat them.
Today we will explore nutritional supplements and herbal remedies to help you keep your sunny disposition and fight the winter woes.
1. Vitamin D
A lack of sun exposure means your body
has a lower chance of producing vitamin D. According to Statistics Canada, 40% of Canadians were below the cut off for sufficient vitamin D levels compared to 25% of Canadians in the summer. A direct association between vitamin D levels and risk of depression has been found. In studies of both healthy and depressed people, vitamin D supplementation was found to improve the depressive symptoms of SAD.
As a fat soluble vitamin, vitamin D is best taken in an oil based solution or with food. Dietary sources of vitamin D include: fish, eggs, dairy and soy. According to Health Canada, the 2012 updated Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) of vitamin D for those age 9-70 is 600IU per day, while those older than 70 years of age are recommended to take 800IU per day. DRIs are reference for healthy values, but it is strongly recommended that you see a health professional to have your vitamin D levels measured to determine a supplementation dosage that is effective for you.
Tryptophan is an amino acid that is the precursor to the production of serotonin (the “feel good” brain chemical ) and melatonin (our sleep promoting hormone). This is the amino acid found in turkeys that causes us to feel content and dopey after the Thanksgiving feast. Studies have found tryptophan to be an effective treatment for depression, and in two small studies, tryptophan was found to be more effective for SAD than bright light therapy and placebo.
In addition to turkey, tryptophan is commonly found in seaweed, spinach, soy protein and egg whites. Due to tryptophan’s potential to increase serotonin it is advised that those taking antidepressant medication (specifically SSRIs) avoid taking tryptophan as it can elevate serotonin to dangerous levels. Please speak to your health practitioner before taking tryptophan as a supplement.
For those following this series, there is no doubt that melatonin plays a large role in the occurrence of the winter blues and SAD, so naturally melatonin has made it to our list of supplements to consider. In a small study, patients with SAD taking melatonin between 3pm to 7pm for two weeks experienced a significant improvement in their depressive symptoms. As we’ve discussed melatonin is supposed to rise in the evening in response to darkness and suppress cortisol our “fight or flight” signal to allow our body’s to prepare for sleep.
Despite it’s somewhat central role, I prefer to reserve melatonin for those who haven’t seen any improvements with the appropriate lifestyle changes (see Part II). Melatonin can be quite powerful and can sometimes cause nightmares and feelings of being super drowsy or drunk in the morning. If this occurs it may be best to lower the dosage of melatonin.
4. Lemon balm
As one of my favorite herbs, lemon balm is well known as an antidepressant and anti-anxiety herb. It’s ability to calm irritable nerves and bowels seems to stem from its effect on the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA. GABA helps to calm a noisy nervous system and promote relaxation. I particularly like lemon balm for its soothing scent. You can try lemon balm as a nice cup of tea before bed or through the day as a relaxing tea.
5. St John’s Wort
Having a strong reputation in the realm of natural antidepressants, St. John’s Wort seems to have its effect on mood by maintaining levels of serotonin in the brain. Studies show that St. John’s Wort is effective in treating mild to moderate depression and has fewer side effects than pharmaceutical antidepressants which makes it a good candidate for the treatment of SAD and the winter blues, however St. John’s Wort, like tryptophan is contraindicated if you are currently taking antidepressant medication. Please consult your health practitioner before taking any herbal remedies.
So there you have it, 5 effective natural therapies for busting the winter blues. If you have any questions regarding naturopathic medicine or the use of natural therapies please feel free to contact me