It’s common to feel different with the change of season, all of sudden you feel like snuggling inside, binge watching tv, and eating heavy warm food. But for some people winter brings with it a sense of dread. A good 80% of people we speak to have a change in mood during winter. Understanding the biochemical differences that take place in our bodies during winter may explain why you feel unmotivated, sluggish, or blue.
Seasonal differences affect brain serotonin transporters. Serotonin (a feel good chemical in the brain) is removed more quickly from the synapse meaning you have less chance to feel its effect before it is whisked away. The result? low mood, sadness, depression. Research shows serotonin transporters fail to down-regulate (become less active) in people who experience seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D).
Something else changes at times when there is less sunlight; our immune systems. According to a study led by the University of Cambridge thousands of genes were expressed differently depending on what time of year the samples were taken.
One gene in particular ‘ARNTL’ is less active in winter compared to summer. ARNTL suppresses inflammation; the body’s response to infection, harmful stimuli, infections, wounds, and any damage to tissue. Consequently, we have higher levels of inflammation in winter. There is now a proven link between inflammation and depression. Revolutionary thinkers like Maes, Raison, Bullmore, and Brogan have written about the role of altered immune mechanisms and inflammation in models of depression.
In the brain, inflammation redirects the use of tryptophan toward the production of quinolinate, instead of toward serotonin and melatonin. Increased quinolinic acid levels correlate with increased depressive symptoms. The increased inflammatory cytokines found circulating in the body during winter could also help explain why certain conditions such as heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis are aggravated in winter. Even general aches and pains can be felt purely because of the season.
But here’s the good news: there are, in fact, several steps you can take that will help with your mood:
• Knowledge is key; expecting your body and mind to perform at peak all year round will only lead to disappointment. Take comfort in knowing that there is a legitimate biological reason for your mood changing, use this time to rest and regenerate.
• Don’t stop! just go gently. Exercising (especially in groups) is important for your immunity, your mood, and it one of the easiest ways to increase endorphins including serotonin (more to come later on how exercise does this). Stretch, balance, and pilates are perfect.
• Eat comfort foods that are high in zinc, magnesium, and essential fatty acids. These nutrients are absolutely crucial in reducing inflammation and to balance your mood. Comfort food can still be healthy.
• Avoid overindulging in processed and refined food – they will only serve to increase inflammation and deplete feel good nutrients.
• Socialise – staying indoors and indulging your sorry thoughts will not help. One of the quickest ways to change your mood it to hang out with your friends.
• Get some sunlight, 20 minutes 3 times a week on the white parts of your body. If the weather or your work schedule doesn’t permit for this consider supplementing vitamin D3 (colecalciferol ). Test don’t guess your vitamin D levels before supplementing!
• Be sure there is nothing more sinister causing your low mood: hypothyroid, iron deficiency, trauma, and hormone imbalances are examples of other conditions which can manifest as depressive mood. Speak to a qualified practitioner if you suspect something else may be at play.
• Try some mood lifting and anti-inflammatory herbs; St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), Passionflower (Passiflora incarnate), Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea), and Withania (Withania somnifera) are remarkable herbs. They help to stabilise mood and giving you that lift you need to get you thru the winter blues. Always work with a trained practitioner to ensure no contraindications exist for certain herbs. They will also make the herbal tonic specific to your needs!
• Remember that the mood is temporary, it’s hard to imagine it will pass, especially when you are down in the dumps it’s hard to imagine you could ever feel differently, but it will pass.
Sandra is a Naturopath at Vixen Wellness Clinic contact firstname.lastname@example.org to book your consult.