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December 2, 2021
Another work day is done! You look outside wondering what to do with the hours ahead of you and…darkness. Cold, wet, darkness. It feels gloomy and depressing and with the wind fully out of your sails while slogging home to the evening routine you start to wonder if feeling so low is just a blip, or if you’re heading into months of Seasonal Affective Disorder (a.k.a. “SAD”).
Seasonal Affective Disorder isn’t something to try to shrug away. It is accepted as a legitimate form of depression with an onset in autumn and a natural remission in spring (usually), and while the depression is often characterized as mild to moderate it can have a negative impact on daily activities, work productivity, and social connections.1
As with any physiological and psychological shift in ourselves nature has provided herbs, nutrients, and superfoods to help shore up our resources and soften the impact. Here are some of our favourites to keep our minds and bodies calm and peaceful for the next few months until the rebirth of spring.
Plant greens contain chlorophyll and chlorophyll contains magnesium.2 Magnesium is a key mineral for support relaxation of muscles and mind, has been shown to improve sleep quality, and may have a direct effect on prevention of/treatment for depression.3
Well managed blood sugar gives us an advantage to avoid the compounded effect of sugar blues on top of winter blues, and protein at each meal helps to stabilize blood sugar throughout the day (and overnight).4
B vitamins are necessary for the conversion of food energy (fats, proteins, and carbs) into cellular energy, as well as being key for nerve health.5
Lion’s Mane Mushroom helps to mediate anxiety, depression, focus, and concentration.6 An edible mushroom with a long history of use, Lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceum) may have benefits beyond the brain that extend to supporting the immune system, regulating inflammation, and healing the digestive tract. Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) is a mildly stimulating adaptogen (herb to help us adapt to change) that gives physical and mental energy a positive nudge.
The so-called “sunshine vitamin” has strong evidence for mood regulation and immune support.8 It’s also a cofactor for the absorption of oh-so-important minerals from our food.7 Recommended daily intake was increased in Canada from 1000iu per day to 2,500 iu per day thanks to increased recognition of the vital role it plays in supporting our physical and mental health!
With more than 2000 years of documented use in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) is an amazing tonic to help treat and prevent weariness in both body and mind. It’s an adaptogen (which supports adrenal health and our ability to adjust to life’s constant changes), a nerve tonic, a kidney and liver tonic, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, heart tonic, all-around-superstar mushroom!8,9
A long-time favourite of herbalists when working with low mood and depression, St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) has renown as an immune tonic herb.10 It helps to moderate serotonin levels (our “happy” neurotransmitter that is the target of many anti-depressant medications)11 and therefore is a good option for many people with mild to moderate depression.
St. John’s Wort does warrant a few notes of caution however. It can alter liver detoxification of certain medications so anyone using prescription medications should speak with a qualified health care practitioner before trying St. John’s Wort.12 It can also cause photosensitivity13 – skin reactions to intense light – which is not such an issue during Canadian winters unless those taking it seek out the sun through flying south or visiting tanning booths.
Whether we embrace the cold, dark reality of winter or resist it we can support our bodies and minds through the seasonal changes. Stick to a wholesome diet with supportive nutrition, and resilience-boosting herbs and mushrooms. This is also an excellent time of year to explore meditation and journaling. We can look at this time as an opportunity nature has given us to rest and regenerate, preparing for the rise in energy and daylight that will come again with the spring.
By Miranda Wiley, Naturopathic Doctor
Dr. Wiley is a Vancouver-based Naturopathic Doctor and graduate of the Boucher Institute in New Westminster. She has over 30 years experience in the Natural Health industry.
Learn more at drmirandawiley.com