Many people dread the winter season knowing it will bring heavy coats, runny noses, cold car seats, and low-back pain associated with shoveling snow. It’s also the time of the year when all you feel like doing is chowing down on your favorite comfort food and watching the expansion of your waistline. As the cold and darker months are upon us, why not make an effort to combat the moody blues with some basic remedies?
Physical movement is a sure cure for the winter blues. Exercising is important for maintaining physical fitness, and it can contribute positively to maintaining a healthy weight; building and maintaining healthy bone density, muscle strength, and joint mobility; promoting physiological well-being; reducing surgical risks; and strengthening the immune system. Frequent and regular aerobic exercise has been shown to help prevent or treat serious and life-threatening chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, type-2 diabetes, insomnia, and depression.
Physical activity also delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues. In fact, regular physical activity strengthens your heart and lungs, and promotes the circulation of blood through your blood vessels. When your heart and lungs work more efficiently, you have more energy to do the things you enjoy. Exercise also stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and less depressed. So, dust off those snow shoes, wax those skis, and enjoy the winter landscape.
Experience the Benefits of OPCs (Oligomeric Proanthocyanidins)
OPCs are organic plant compounds found mostly in fruits, vegetables, and certain tree barks. They are powerful antioxidants and “free-radical scavengers,” and they function as helpers to influence the body’s immune response to inflammation, allergy, and infection. There are more than 20,000 different types of bioflavanoids, of which OPCs are considered the most potent antioxidants. OPCs are derived from one or more of a combination of grape-seed extract, red-wine extract, and/or pine-bark extract. Proanthocyanidins regulate the enzymes which help to control crucial neurotransmitters (brain chemicals), such as dopamine and norepinephrine. These chemicals are involved in ‘excitatory’ responses in the brain. Low-grade winter depression may be caused also by low levels of these neurotransmitters. Fortunately, OPCs regulate the enzymes that control these two crucial neurotransmitters, thereby giving us better focus and elevated moods. Before you reach for your old bottle of anti-depressants, go for a shot of OPC.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Western diets have changed drastically over the past 150 years, during which time the ratio of fats from fish and wild plants to those from animals and vegetable-oil sources (especially in processed foods) has gone from 1:1 to 1:10. This switch has coincided with a sharp rise in the rates of depression in recent decades, suggesting that omega-3 supplementation could be one approach to treating depression and other mood disorders. Studies suggest that populations which eat more fish per capita, such as Japan (147 pounds a year) and Iceland (225 pounds a year), have unexpectedly low rates of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
St. John’s Wort
Hypericum performatum, known as St. John’s wort, is the most commonly used herb for treating depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), the clinical term for the “winter blues” (depression brought on from short day length). A summary of 23 clinical trials, including 1,757 outpatients, found that St John’s wort was as effective as standard anti-depressive medications for treatment of mild to moderate depression, and with fewer side-effects. Depression invokes an image of someone crying, sleeping, moping around the house, and avoiding social engagements. This is characteristic for many people, but it’s not the pattern for others. Low levels of the relaxation hormone serotonin are thought to play a role in this behavior. Low serotonin is a common thread in low-grade depression, and there are several natural ways to increase serotonin levels, including physical exercise (as stated above) and the use of St Johns Wort.
Current research indicates that vitamin-D deficiency may be linked to a wide range of health problems, including osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and, yes, depression. The best way to get vitamin D might seem obvious: Get some sun! But it also may be a good idea to consider vitamin-D supplements. In the winter, the low angle of the sun can make it difficult for some populations to get enough vitamin D, for example the elderly and those who live at northern latitudes.
If you’re not feeling yourself from the months of November through April, see a specialist in functional medicine. A prescribed non-invasive, drug-free protocol should be implemented, restoring balance to your system, and thereby relieving the symptoms of your winter blues.