Even for those who do not suffer a mood disorder, some decline in mood can occur accompanying the onset of winter, with colder weather, longer nights and the upcoming holiday season. Feelings of sadness, hopelessness or anxiety may manifest, along with disruptions in sleep, leaving one fatigued and irritable. The limited exposure to sunshine can produce depressive symptoms by disrupting our circadian rhythms. Fortunately, natural treatments have a very high rate of success. The combination of the following approaches may provide relief and offer a safe, natural, and effective alternative to the use of prescription antidepressant drugs.
- Morning light therapy. Light deprivation can disrupt circadian rhythms and neurotransmitter production. Exposure of the retina to morning light helps the brain to properly regulate its production of melatonin and therefore our sleep-wake cycle. If getting natural sunlight isn’t possible, a therapeutic light is an effective substitute; it corrects the body’s clock, restores normal melatonin production, and stimulates production of serotonin, a mood-elevating neurotransmitter. Light therapy is highly effective for depression and seasonal affective disorder; it has been comparable to the effects of anti-depressant drugs in several studies. It is an excellent tool for anyone who experiences sadness, fatigue or disrupted sleep patterns.
- Vitamin D. Vitamin D is thought to regulate mood by affecting daily biorhythms and serotonin production. Reduced exposure to sunlight during the day means less natural vitamin D production by the skin. Low circulating vitamin D is quite common and is associated with major depression. Studies of subjects with depression have found that vitamin D supplementation produces an improvement in symptoms and feelings of well-being.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. DHA and EPA play important roles in the brain, and low omega-3 intake is associated with depression. DHA is a structural component of brain tissue, and a the research suggests that EPA is the more important omega-3 fatty acid to supplement for improving depression symptoms. Dr. Fuhrman recommends DHA plus 500 to 1,000 milligrams of EPA per day for those suffering with depression.
- High-nutrient diet. Nutrition is extremely important for regulating mood. High antioxidant intake from colorful fruits and vegetables helps prevent oxidative stress, to which the brain is highly susceptible. Markers of oxidative stress are associated with a higher incidence of depression. Studies have also found a connection between higher vegetable and fruit intake and a positive mood. Low intake of folate, abundant in green vegetables, also correlates with depression.
- Regular exercise. Exercise is known to be as effective as antidepressant drugs or cognitive behavioral therapy for improving the symptoms of depression. Exercise increases production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of well-being, which is often low in individuals suffering from depression. In fact, antidepressant drugs most often work by increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain. Aerobic exercise plus strength training works better than aerobic exercise alone, and yoga is also effective.