Does your mood tend to sink in the winter? You might be suffering from seasonal affective disorder or “SAD”. Shorter, darker days are a well-known trigger for the “winter blues”. The good news is that there are many natural ways in which you can elevate your mood, without resorting to chemical antidepressants.
What causes winter depression?
Most of us have experienced bouts of gloom in the winter. If you’re feeling down in the dumps, it’s not a product of your imagination. Lack of daylight is probably to blame. Our eyes need to absorb an adequate amount of light to switch off production of the sleep hormone melatonin. It is thought that people with SAD over-produce melatonin, which makes them feel lethargic and depressed.
The chemical trap
It’s vital to address SAD, because any kind of depression will affect your ability to enjoy life, interact with others and work properly. Symptoms can include low energy, being less sociable, sleeping more, eating more and having less interest in sex. Just like regular depression, many health professionals often treat SAD with antidepressants.
However, we now know that these psychotropic drugs, most of which act on levels of serotonin (the hormone that regulates mood), are in most cases ineffective and even dangerous. Large studies have shown that the effects of antidepressants on SAD are nonexistent, or at best, similar to a placebo.
And although the positive effects of antidepressants are far from proven, their adverse side effects are numerous and well-documented: suicidal tendencies, increased violent behavior, stroke, glaucoma, sexual dysfunction – the list goes on. Antidepressants also create dependency and many people have a hard time regaining their psychic balance after using them.
Fortunately, when it comes to seasonal blues and other mood disorders, natural, effective and less toxic alternatives to chemical antidepressants do exist. I recommend using either one of these serotonin-enhancing herbs (not at the same time, never with SSRIs and not for children either)
5 HTP naturally stimulates serotonin in your brain. It’s aprecursor nutrient of serotonin that your body makes from tryptophan (an essential amino acid that you get from food). As a supplement, 5 HTP is made from the seeds of Griffonia, a plant originally from Africa. Unlike chemical antidepressants that artificially retain the serotonin produced in the brain, 5-HTP helps your body produce more. Several studies have proven the effectiveness of this natural nutrient to restore serotonin levels and help improve mood, depression, anxiety, insomnia and promote the feeling of satiety after eating.
St. John’s wort: Once called “God’s grace” or “the blessed herb,” this home remedy is now widely accepted as a mild antidepressant. Within the last 20 years, studies have shown that one of its components indirectly helps to increase the mood-boosting brain chemical serotonin. One drawback of St. John’s wort, however, is that it increases skin sensitivity. When you’re taking it, be sure to slather on sunscreen before you head outdoors. Don’t take it with contraceptive pills either, as it can decrease their effectiveness.
Aside from supplements, there are other ways to boost our levels through diet. Greens (spinach, kale, arugula, celery, cabbage, cauliflower), lentils, oranges and papaya are good sources of vitamin B6 and folate – vital for producing serotonin and dopamine (low levels of both are linked to depression). Chili peppers and cayenne contain capsaicin, a compound that sends a message to the brain to release endorphins – the body’s natural painkillers that enhance mood.
Chocolate boosts serotonin and dopamine (no wonder we crave it when we’re feeling down), while carbohydrates increase serotonin levels by boosting your brain’s ability to use tryptophan. Just remember to focus on healthy complex carbs like whole grains and vegetables – not cakes and cookies!
Eat tryptophan containing foods This will ensure that you have plenty of tryptophan, the amino acid (which your body uses to make 5 HTP) needed to make serotonin – the feel-good hormone. Turkey, chicken, milk, potatoes, pumpkin, sunflower seeds, turnip and collard greens, and seaweed are good sources.
What NOT to eat
Then there are foods work the other way. And it’s the usual culprits:
White, refined, processed foods and sugars. People with SAD crave comfort foods like starchy carbs and sweets. But eating those things will make you look and feel worse. After the “quick high” comes the slump.
Alcohol. Initially relaxing, but your mood plummets once the buzz wears off. In the long run alcohol is a depressant that interferes with your body’s ability to produce serotonin and other vital brain chemicals.
Get outside every day You know how good it feels to walk outside in the sun. Reasonable exposure to sunshine allows your body to produce vitamin D, which is excellent for morale and mood.
Vitamin D deficiency is common, even in the South of France. Don’t use sun cream unless you are going to be out longer than half an hour. It blocks vitamin D production and contains chemicals that are often carcinogenic. I recommend everyone takes a vitamin D supplement during the winter months.
Finally, don’t forget to exercise It’s one of the best things you can do to balance your circadian rhythms and combat the winter blues. Just an hour of outside activity each day is all you need – you’ll feel the better for it!
Find out more about 5-HTP and St. John’s Wort nutritional supplements and lots more advice on how to overcome SAD and other mood disorders by doing the Foodwise “Energy and Mood” plan at: https://www.foodwise.life/program/energy-mood
Treat yourself to this mood-boosting treat from The Clever Kitchen!
Clever Cherry Mood – Boosting Brownies
Cacao boosts endorphins – our body’s natural opiates – and increases serotonin levels. Sour cherries also increase serotonin and help improve mood
- 5 cups dried cherries
- 2 cups walnuts
- 1 cup raw cacao powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup dates (roughly 4)
- 1/2 cup almonds, chopped
Soak 1 cup of cherries in water for an hour. Place 2 cups of walnuts in your high-speed blender or food processor and blend into a granular flour. Add 1 cup of cacao powder and 1/4 teaspoon of salt to the mix and process until smooth.
With your food processor running, slowly add 1 cup of soaked cherries and 1/2 cup of dates and process until smooth. Fold in 1/2 cup of cherries and 1/2 cup of raw chopped almonds.
Press the brownie batter into a silicone or lined pan and freeze for 2 hours to set your Clever Brownies.
Remove them from the freezer, cut into 8-12 brownies, dust with more cacao powder and enjoy!