Niagara Gazette


December 2, 2013

NATURAL HEALTH: Tips to fight the winter blues

Niagara Gazette — Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression that affects many individuals especially in regions that experience longer and colder winters. The farther north you are from the equator, the higher your incidence of suffering from this very real form of depression.

In most cases, SAD occurs each year around the same time. Common symptoms include depression, sadness, inability to concentrate, lack of motivation, increased carbohydrate cravings, weight gain and longer sleep patterns. Many become frustrated because they have a difficult time “snapping out” of these feelings.

Women are more likely to suffer SAD and most fall between the ages of 20 and 40. The short daylight hours seem to play havoc with our body’s internal clock and interfere with our normal biological rhythms that regulate all of our physical and psychological functions. Symptoms generally become worse in January and February. As spring approaches, symptoms will typically diminish as the days get longer.  

As a mild sufferer, it seems quite obvious as to what the cause is. Going to and from work in the dark, the bitter cold and the predominantly cloudy skies don’t leave us feeling very optimistic or energetic. Sorry if I just brought you down. In just a few more months this too shall pass.  

Vitamin D3 supplementation is the most beneficial when it comes to preventing or minimizing SAD. The necessary dosage is between 4000 iu and 10,000 iu to keep your levels between normal during the winter months. You will also be less likely to suffer from a cold or flu.

Low serotonin levels — the happy hormone — are more common in the winter, as it seems that exposure to sunlight helps to raise these levels dramatically. That wonderful feeling of “spring fever” is a result of optimal serotonin levels.  

I personally would love to bottle that feeling and offer it to all my patients.

Fortunately, sunlight is not the only way to raise these levels. Light therapy has been shown to be beneficial to those who suffer. There are special lamps, bulbs and light boxes that are widely available. There are even alarm clocks that gradually brighten your room as you wake up, to simulate the light of dawn.

A diet high in omega-3 fats can dramatically improve serotonin levels in the body. Take at least 3 grams daily of high-quality fish oil and try to incorporate wild salmon, walnuts, avocados, flax seed, olive oil and other omega-3-rich foods into your diet. This will help to improve your mood and lessen the severity of SAD, as well as other forms of depression including bipolar disorder.

Foods containing tryptophan are also helpful, because tryptophan converts to serotonin. Avocados, bananas, turkey, sunflower seeds, mung beans, lobster, asparagus, spinach, pineapple and tofu contain high levels of tryptophan and will have the best “mood-lifting” effect on people who consume them. Magnesium and vitamin B6 affect the rate in which tryptophan converts to serotonin. Most individuals are deficient in magnesium and would benefit from incorporating supplementation.

Exercise is essential for mood improvement. It will also raise serotonin levels. Regular physical activity helps fight fatigue and depression, especially if you exercise during the day or near light sources. Keep in mind that outdoor light, even when the sky is overcast, is often brighter than light boxes, so an hour spent outside during the day can help ease symptoms of SAD and prevent episodes of depression. Find an outdoor hobby that you can enjoy throughout the winter months such as skating, skiing or walking.

Find the sun! Planning a vacation to a sunny destination can have a very positive effect on your mood — a light at the end of the tunnel. Anticipation of a warm, sunny vacation can have a very positive effect on your mood. For those who are not able to get away, even a short drive on a sunny, cold day will expose you to more light than staying home — so take a ride.  

Unlike the birds that fly south for the winter, most of us just need to ride this out. Hopefully the tips listed above will help ease you through and keep you energetic and optimistic all winter long.

Catherine Stack is a doctor of naturopathy and a certified nurse midwife. Her practice is located at Journey II Health in Niagara Falls. Contact her at 298-8603 or at her website at


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