Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Beat Those Wintertime Blues!

Although the days are starting to get longer (yay!), the dreariness and cold temperatures of winter can be really hard on many people. It's not just you if you've notice an increased appetite for sugar and starches, and as you button up your jeans, you can find it more difficult to get the job done in the winter. As the alarm goes off, you hit the snooze button a half dozen times, dreading getting out of that warm bed and into the cold.

Once you get to work, people with SAD find it difficult to concentrate, even becoming more easily irritable with co-workers. Although you know it's not healthy, you find yourself being drawn to stimulants like coffee or sodas, thinking they might help you overcome fatigue. You feel a low grade depression as you look at the weather channel hoping for warmer, brighter days.

Characterized as a low-grade depression, people with SAD may sleep too much, have little energy, and crave sweets and starchy foods. This low-grade depression can start to set in during the Fall and Winter months, but usually clears in the Spring.

The reason behind this “Disorder” is decreased environmental stimulation to the brain. To keep us upright, the muscles of the spine have to fight gravity thus creating a constant stimulus to the brain maintaining its survival. Along with gravity; sound, vision, and touch, are all important stimulus to the brain, and oh yeh, let’s not forget light. I’m sure you can relate to waking in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, and you do everything possible to keep from turning on the lights knowing that the lights will wake you up. All forms of light increase the function of the brain. When the light in the environment diminishes, so does the output of the brain. So this so called condition is merely momentary decreased brain activity as a consequence of changes in our environment.

So, how can you shake off the Winter Blues?

Many people dread the winter months knowing that it will bring heavy coats, runny noses, cold car seats, and low back pain associated with shoveling snow. This is also that time of the year when you are really trying to not lose focus on your New Year's resolutions, but that lethargic & depressed part of you just wants to settle in and chow down on an old comfort food....all the while watching the expansion of your waistline expand and those feelings of depression grow.

The good news is that we are on the down hill side of winter here in the Northern Hemisphere, so there is no time like the present to make an concerted effort to combat the moody blues with some basic, tried and true natural remedies.


Physical exercise is a sure cure for the winter blues. We all KNOW that body movement is so important for physical fitness and can be a very positive way to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. It's also essential for building and maintaining healthy bone density, muscle strength, and joint mobility; promoting physiological well-being; reducing surgical risks, and strengthening the immune system. Along with a primarily plant based diet, 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 helps the circulation of blood through your blood vessels. When your heart and lungs work more efficiently, you'll 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 go enjoy the winter landscape. Join our RFR group - Rehabbers Walking the Walk.

Nutritional Remedies

Experience the benefits of OPC’s, or Oligomeric Proanthocyanidins. OPC’s are organic plant compounds found mostly in fruits, vegetables, and certain tree barks. They are powerful antioxidants, "free-radical scavengers", and 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 OPC's are considered the most potent antioxidants. These OPC’s are derived from one or more of a combination of grape seed extract, red wine extract and/or pine bark extract. Proanthocyanidins regulate enzymes that help control crucial neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) such as dopamine and norepinephrine. These chemicals are involved in 'excitatory' responses in the brain. That low grade winter depression may also be caused by low levels of these neurotransmitters. Fortunately, OPC’s regulate enzymes that help control these two crucial neurotransmitters, thereby giving us better focus and elevated moods. Before you reach for your old bottle of anti-depressants, reach for another helping of fresh fruits & veggies, as well as considering a supplement of one of the extracts listed above.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Western diets have changed drastically over the past 150 years, during which the ratio of fats from fish and wild plants to those from animal 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 that eat more foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids have unexpectedly low rates of SAD. Look to add more walnuts, flax oil & seeds, hemp products, olive & olive oils, leafy greens & pumpkin seeds to your diet.

St John’s Wort

(Hypericum performatum) is the most commonly used herb for treating depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), the clinical term for the "winter blues," or 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.

Vitamin D

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 may also be a good idea to consider vitamin D supplements (this is an excellent one). 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.

This post was written with the help of Dr. Robert Zembroski is a board-certified chiropractic neurologist and the director of the Darien Center for Integrative Medicine. He has maintained a successful private practice for 15 years in Darien, CT. For more information visit www.darienim.com.
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