Utilizing Vitamins to Help Cope with the Wintertime Blues

Vitamins and supplements can help combat SAD // Photo credit: JPC-PROD/iStock/Getty Images Plus

We are deep into January and winter is in full swing. The holidays are over, and some people might start to feel the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD usually starts in the fall when the daylight hours dwindle and continues until late spring until the light cycles begin to change. It is also believed to be caused by an imbalance of the brain and not enough light which increase melatonin, which causes us to sleep more. It is believed that lower levels of sunlight decrease the amount of serotonin which affects mood.

Common among women, symptoms include depression, fatigue, social withdrawal, craving for carbohydrates, and an overall feeling of malaise. I caution patients, especially women, to make sure they’re getting enough exposure to daylight and not light from computers and or cellphones. 

I often tell my patients to expose themselves to sun during dawn and dusk for 15 minutes without sunglasses. This helps your body produce more melatonin and serotonin in the brain. During these months, I often give my patients an extra 1000mg of vitamin D a day to for extra protection against SAD and other deficiencies

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Vitamin D is not a vitamin, but actually a hormone. The difference between a hormone and a vitamin is that the body cannot make vitamins. Unlike vitamin C, which we get from our diet and supplements, our bodies can make vitamin D if exposed to the sun. Just like plants, we need vitamin D to help with biological functions. In fact, most modern diseases are caused due to a lack of vitamin D including bones, breast, colon, and lung disease. 

There have been hundreds of positive studies and meta-analysis done on the benefits of vitamin D. It’s been proven that humans have been walking the planet for thousands of years and need sunlight to help with biological functions. During these cold months it helps to expose yourself to sunlight and eat lighter meals to compensate for effects brought on by SAD.

Here are other supplements that can help with SAD:

Vitamin D: Even here in South Florida, which is known for intense sunlight, almost all of my patients are vitamin D deficient. In fact, most people in this country are deficient especially during winter.  Vitamin D plays a critical role in our mood for both men and women. Since we spend most of our time inside during these cold months, we need to supplement with vitamin D. Aside from taking D3 in supplement form, try incorporating D3 rich foods like rice, almond and coconut milk, Salmon, and eggs into your diet. 

B vitamins, including B12, Folate, B6: Throughout my practice, I have noticed that vegans, vegetarians, and patients who have digestive disorders like Crohns disease do not get enough B vitamins or can’t correctly convert them in the stomach. For these patients, I recommend supplements. Vegans and vegetarians do not get enough B vitamins from plants and it’s imperative that they supplement B vitamins to reach and maintain appropriate levels. You can purchase a good multivitamin with high amounts of B vitamins or find one of the countless formulas that you can take at a separate meal (I like lunch) to help with stress and elevate mood. A multi-B has the full spectrum of B vitamins and the correct (or higher) RDA amounts in them. The only thing you need to watch is you may have bright yellow urine. Not too worry, though, as excess amounts are urinated out. 

Good sources of B vitamins include all animal products, green leafy vegetables, and even fortified cereals. Remember, leafy vegetables provide a different type of B vitamin so make sure you are getting sufficient enough amounts of both B12, B6, and folate.

Probiotics: These are another one of my personal favorites for every reason and health concern in the body. Thanks to modern diets like those with too much sugar, estrogens, fat, junk food, and refined foods, most of our microbiome’s flora is out of whack with more bad bacteria than good. These bad bacteria affect our mood. Having a good balance of probiotics taken at bedtime can help long term with mood and boosting immunity during the winter. I like at least 25 billion units with at least 10 different strains of bacteria.

L theanine: This is the superstar of amino acids. It increases levels of serotonin and boosts alpha waves in the brain. It is found in green tea, but the easiest way to get a healthy dose of L theanine is by drinking matcha. It is a whole vegetal drink as opposed to green tea which is fermented leaves. One cup of good organic matcha can have you feeling great immediately. If you have a caffeine sensitivity, drink decaffeinated green tea instead. I recommend that patients try matcha instead of green tea since it has 136 times more antioxidant power than regular green tea. L theanine relaxes the mind, and when combined with the caffeine, creates a sense of calmed alertness, while antioxidants help protect the body against aging and disease. The active compound, ECEG, has been proven to help people lose weight as well. Matcha is a simple drink that you can incorporate into your daily routine that will have you looking and feeling great, healthy, and calm from the inside out.

Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3s are known to help improve depression, ADHD, concentration, focus, cognitive function, mood, brain health, and almost every other health condition while lowering inflammation. Once again, for vegetarians and vegans, they have to be extra careful supplementing. Although they can get DHA from chia, purslane and nuts, you cannot get EPA—the other fatty acid in fish oil, and both are important. If eating fish isn’t your thing, I suggest supplementing. I like to see at least 2000 total milligrams of omega-3s of both DHA and EPA. Make sure to read labels carefully as you can have high amounts of omega-3s but not EPA and DHA.  Also, it takes about three weeks to get a blood therapeutic level on omega-3 fatty acids, so keep that in mind if you begin to supplement. When using a supplemental form of omegas, you need to take them with a meal and with fat. Consult your healthcare practitioner if you have an autoimmune disorder, mood disorder, or cardiovascular issue since you may need a higher dose. Patients on blood thinners should also consult with their physician. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, chia, purslane, and fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, and herring. 

Evening though springtime is right around the corner, you can begin feeling better now and boost your immunity for the upcoming months.

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