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by Dr. Will Cole
Your body is wonderfully made of trillions of cells. Those cells all speak to one another through your hormones. Your mood, digestion, sex drive, weight, and digestion all depend on healthy hormones. As the days become colder and shorter, it can be a time of reflection spent sitting by the fire, sipping warm drinks, and spending time with family and friends.
But as beautiful as the winter months can be, they can also do a number on your hormones. If you feel more lethargic, irritable, down or depressed in the cold months, you’re not alone. A shocking 20 to 35 percent of us either have seasonal affective disorder or the milder “winter blues.”
Why? The answer lies in your hormones.
This Is Your Thyroid, Adrenal + Sex Hormones In Winter: SAD
A study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society found that shorter days increased levels of both melatonin and DHEA as well as actual physical changes to the adrenal glands, your main stress-response system. Increased DHEA, which makes estrogen and testosterone, further leads to hormone fluctuations, which can impact your mood.
Several studies have also found that iodine, an essential nutrient for healthy thyroid hormones, and TSH, the brain hormone needed to wake up the thyroid, were both adversely affected during winter months.
Another factor is the “happy” brain hormone or neurotransmitter, serotonin. SERT (serotonin transporters) levels in people with SAD were shown to be 5 percent higher in the winter. The higher levels of serotonin in the winter indicate less serotonin in the brain, which can lead to feelings of depression.
Take-home message: A perfect storm of hormonal changes can leave you feeling SAD and blue.
Warm Up Your Hormones Plan
Let’s winter-proof your hormones so you can feel your best:
- Try light therapy boxes. Blue-light therapy boxes, which are basically little sunlight machines, have been shown to warm up winter blues.
- Boost your vitamin D. Your sunshine vitamin is needed for healthy hormones and mood. Get your levels tested and shoot for an optimal range of 60-80.
- Sniff some essential oils. Try diffusing essential oils to boost your mood. Citrus blends like lemon and bergamot as well as poplar are some of my favorites to diffuse in my home and functional-medicine health center.
- Get outside. Breathe as much fresh air as you can. For those of us in cloudy areas in the winter, take advantage of any sunny days you can in the winter. If you can, escape on a little vacation somewhere warm and sunny for a few days.
- Consider a dawn simulator. Dawn simulators are alarm clocks, but instead of being awakened by an obnoxious noise, these little guys produce light that gradually increases, just like the sun. I suggest the ones that use full-spectrum light, which is closest to natural sunlight.
- Sweat more. I am a big fan of infrared saunas during the winter months (or anytime!). Sweating and light are good for your hormones and stress levels! Find one at a local spa or, if you have the space and money, invest in one yourself.
- Get moving! Make sure to be active as much as you can during the colder time of the year. I like hot yoga for this, because it combines movement, strength training, and heat all in one class! Find a local hot-yoga studio and bring on the sun salutations!
- Go adaptogenic. Feed your hormones some healthy food medicine. I like using blends of adaptogens such as ashwagandha and mucuna pruriens in different liquids to balance my hormones. Check out my 3 Elixirs To Boost Your Thyroid, Adrenal + Sex Hormones for the recipes!
I originally wrote this article for mindbodygreen.