Author: Gino Salvatelli, Herbalist
Shorter days and longer nights during the winter season can take a toll on one’s emotional health. While much of seasonal depression is psychological, there are also physiological factors that can profoundly influence emotional health. A holistic approach is often the most effective way to support positive moods and minimize symptoms of seasonal depression.
1. Sunlight Exposure
Researchers believe much of seasonal depression is related to limited sunlight exposure. The lessening hours of sunlight during the winter season have a detrimental effect on the body’s ability to regulate hormones such as melatonin and serotonin. Both of these hormones support healthy energy levels, sleep quality and a sense of emotional well-being. Bright light therapy has been extensively researched for its ability to increase the body’s serotonin levels, which may be an option for those who can’t make it outside frequently.
2. Vitamin Supplementation
Reduced exposure to sunlight also negatively affects the body’s synthesis of Vitamin D. For this reason, many indigenous cultures from arctic regions around the world have consumed foods rich in Vitamin D, such as fish, liver and cod liver oil. Low levels of Vitamin D have been linked in a recent study to increased risk of depression, while high levels decrease the risk. Participants in the study also reported relief from symptoms of depression after supplementation (1). If you’d like to supplement your Vitamin D levels, 5000 IUs daily is a good amount during winter months. Additionally, low levels of B vitamins have also been linked to increased risk of depression (2).
Omega-3 fatty acids are usually found in fish and other seafood. Because the human body cannot synthesize these essential fats, we must obtain them from our diet or supplementation. In the largest study ever conducted of its kind, researchers found Omega-3 supplementation effective in treating depression (3).
Homeopathic medicine is an excellent way to gently support the body’s neurological health and balance. As hormonal balance is encouraged, for instance, one can expect an improved mood and a sense of well-being. Homeopathy is fundamentally different than conventional or even herbal medicine. It does not directly treat symptoms by suppressing them, but instead seeks to encourage the body in re-establishing systemic balance. It is therefore an elegant way of encouraging emotional and physical health without negative side effects.
Regular, vigorous exercise is a very effective way to reduce depression symptoms. Exercise stimulates the body’s release of endorphins, which are feel-good chemicals similar to morphine. Endorphins bring feelings of euphoria and a diminished sense of pain. Exercise also stimulates the immune system, which is beneficial as healthy immune system functioning is an important part of warding off depression symptoms.
Herbal medicine is a gentle, effective way to support emotional health. St. John’s wort, for instance, has been extensively studied as an alternative treatment for depression (4). St. John’s wort is believed to affect the brain’s production of serotonin. It should not be taken with antidepressants and may interact with other drugs, so it’s always a good idea to consult with your prescribing doctor before taking St. John’s wort.
The importance of a healthy, well-balanced diet cannot be stressed enough. Nutritional deficiencies of all kinds have been linked to depression, so it’s especially important to ensure you are eating well during the winter months. Animal foods rich in B-vitamins such as grass-fed beef, poultry, high quality raw dairy, wild fish and eggs are very important. Plenty of quality whole grains like brown rice, spelt, quinoa or buckwheat will help supply the vitamins and minerals necessary for hormonal and emotional balance. Don’t forget the lightly steamed or sautéed winter vegetables like kale, chard, and collard greens as well.
1 - Endocrine Society. "Treating vitamin D deficiency may improve depression." ScienceDaily. June 25, 2012. Accessed: DeStatus of Vitamins B-12 and B-6 but Not of Folate, Homocysteine, and the Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase C677T Polymorphism Are Associated with Impaired Cognition and Depression in Adults1,2,3
c. 17, 2012.
2 – Journal of Nutrition “Status of Vitamins B-12 and B-6 but Not of Folate, Homocysteine, and the Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase C677T Polymorphism Are Associated with Impaired Cognition and Depression in Adults Authors: Denish Moorthy, Inga Peter, Tammy M. Scott, Laurence D. Parnell,
3 - François Lespérance, Nancy Frasure-Smith, Elise St-André, Gustavo Turecki, Paul Lespérance, Stephen R. Wisniewski. The Efficacy of Omega-3 Supplementation for Major Depression: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 2010; DOI: 10.4088/JCP.10m05966blu
4 - Wiley-Blackwell. "St. John's Wort Relieves Symptoms Of Major Depression, Study Shows." ScienceDaily, 13 Oct. 2008. Web. 18 Jan. 2013.