With the shorter days and colder temperatures of the winter months many people start to feel blue. For some people this is more serious and the shorter days lead to depression or seasonal effective disorder (SAD). This form of depression affects about 1% to 2% of the population.
SAD comes on during the autumn and winter months and usually subsides in the spring. It is thought to be triggered by more limited exposure to daylight. Symptoms include lethargy, loss of interest in once-pleasurable activities, irritability, inability to concentrate, and a change in sleeping patterns or appetite.
It is best to pre-empt slipping into the winter blues before symptoms begin if you know you are susceptible.
Here are some tips to help reduce the winter blues:
Foods - there is now convincing evidence that dietary improvements significantly reduce symptoms of depression. The good news is that highly specialised diets are not necessary. Just a healthy diet such as the Mediterranean diet is likely to be helpful (1). Foods that are associated with a lower risk of depression include:
• Olive oil
• Legumes such as peas, beans and lentils
• Fruits and vegetables (2)
Foods that are associated with an increased incidence of depression include sweetened drinks, sugary foods, fried foods, processed meats and baked products. These are best avoided (2).
Exercise – research shows that increased levels of physical activity can significantly reduce the odds of depression. Aim for 30 minutes a day of physical activity 5 times a week (3).
Spend Time In Nature – spending just 2 hours a week in nature has been shown to benefit mood and well being. Gardening, especially if done as part of a community group is particularly good for lifting mood.
Be Together – loneliness and isolation are major risk factors for depression. Try to find people to spend time with either by joining a club or hooking up with people you already know.
Re-set Your Body Clock – it may be that an out-of-sync body clock contributes to SAD. Light therapy using a full spectrum light for 30 minutes a day can help with this. It is also recommended to go to bed and get up at similar times each day.
Supplements to Improve Mood
Vitamin D – evidence suggests an association between vitamin D deficiency and depression (4,5). During the winter supplementation is particularly recommended as we can’t make vitamin D from sun exposure at this time of year. Take vitamin D3 along with K2 for maximum benefits.
B Complex - the B vitamins play a major role in brain health, mood and energy production. The neurotransmitter serotonin plays an important role in mood, satiety, and sleep. Tryptophan is the precursor to serotonin (6,7).Tryptophan needs vitamin B6 to be converted into serotonin. Eating tryptophan rich foods such as chickpeas, chicken, turkey, eggs, cacao, tahini, pumpkin seeds and bananas alongside B vitamins will maximise the effects.
Magnesium – along with the B vitamins magnesium plays a role in mood and energy production.
Probiotics – there is increasing evidence that the gut microbiota have an important influence over brain development, behaviour and mood. Having a broad range of gut organisms confers many benefits to physical and mental health. Additionally, there are various molecules made by these microbes that play a role in mood and behaviour such as short-chain fatty acids, neurotransmitters, and vitamins (8,9)