by Dr. Will Cole
Winter can be a welcome time to spend quiet nights on the couch cozied up with your loved ones and favorite Netlflix shows. But after months inside with a gradually decreasing episode queue and a growing indent in your couch, winter can quickly become depressing. Close to 20 to 35 percent of people struggle with mild to severe forms of SAD – clinically known as seasonal affective disorder. In my functional medicine clinic I often see this spike in depression every winter. You are definitely not alone in feeling the winter blues.
So what’s the reason behind this phenomenon? One of the biggest culprits is your happy neurotransmitter, serotonin. In winter, your serotonin transporter (SERT) levels rise up to 5 percent which leads to less serotonin in the brain causing you to feel lethargic and depressed.
But thankfully there are many natural ways to increase serotonin and bring balance back to your hormones. Look no further than your self-care guide to SAD!
1. Support methylation.
Methylation is your body’s biochemical superhighway that is responsible for multiple different aspects of your health, including making serotonin. B vitamins are what primarily fuel methylation. These can be found in abundance in grass-fed beef, organ meat, and dark leafy greens like spinach.
2. Fuel your brain.
About 60 percent of your brain is comprised of fat and close to 25 percent of your body’s total cholesterol is found in your brain. In order to fight the blues you need to fuel your brain with healthy fats to give serotonin an environment to thrive in. Some of my favorite choices include ghee, wild-caught fish, coconut oil, and avocado. Just one more reason to load up on guac!
3. Up your protein intake.
Protein sources like meat and fish contain an amino acid called tyrosine which helps your body make DOPA which is converted to your neurotransmitter dopamine. The highest food sources are cage-free organic eggs, grass-fed ground beef, and wild-caught salmon. If you eat a more plant-based diet, legumes, nuts, and seeds also contain tyrosine.
4. Add in a supplement.
Vitamin D is one nutrient that every single cell of your body needs to thrive – including your mood and hormones. Sun is the most bioavailable form of vitamin D, but you aren’t going to be spending hours outside in the winter. Food is the next best source but it’s almost impossible to get enough vitamin D just through diet. You should be aiming for a range between 60 and 80 ng/mL. Running labs can show you where your starting levels are to determine the best dose for you which can be anywhere between 2,000 and 6,000 IUs per day.
5. Try St. John’s wort.
In Germany, this herb is suggested more often than anti-depressants. Even though more research needs to be done to determine its effectiveness, long-term studies have shown it can help stabilize mood.
6. Heal your gut.
Your gut is often referred to as your “second brain.” About 95 percent of serotonin is actually produced and stored in your gut. Keeping your gut healthy will help alleviate winter blues. Adding in a probiotic supplement and eating protiotic-rich fermented foods such as sauerkraut will help support a healthy microbiome balance.
7. Take nature’s chill pill.
There are not many things adaptogens can’t do. These plant and herb medicines help to restore balance to multiple systems of your body. Mucuna pruriens is one adaptogen in particular that is extremely powerful when it comes to boosting mood since it contains high levels of L-DOPA, the precursor to dopamine. You can find it in powdered form making it easy to add to your morning smoothie or tea!
8. Indulge in light therapy.
Blue-light boxes mimic the sun and have been shown to improve depression and the winter blues.
9. Wake up when the sun does.
Dawn simulators are a type of alarm clock that trades out a loud sound with a gradual increase in light similar to sunrise. Make sure to get one with full-spectrum light since that is the most similar to natural sunlight.
10. Inhale happy.
Time to place an order for some essential oils! Research has shown that lavender essential oil has a similar calming effect to lorazepam – the anti-anxiety medication that works to boost serotonin.
“Runner’s high” is a term used to refer to the feeling of happiness one experiences after an intense workout. Physical activity increases a production and release of endorphins. HIIT training sessions can be done indoors and will boost your heart rate.
12. Treat yourself to relaxation.
Infrared saunas are a great way to lower inflammation and detox your body. It’s a relaxing indoor activity that can greatly reduce stress which can wreak havoc on your gut and affect serotonin levels.
If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer in person as well as phone and webcam consultations for people across the country and around the world.
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