How to Shake off the Winter Blues
Can Taking Melatonin, Vitamin D or Blood Sugar Supplements Help Prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder?
When the weather outside becomes frightful...delightful is not always the word that comes to mind with how we feel.
As many as 10% of Americans may suffer from seasonal affective disorder and winter depression in the winter months.
But just as the sky becomes grey and cold, it doesn't mean that your mood has to follow suit!
What is Winter Depression?
Seasonal affective disorder can be a result of a disturbance in melatonin secretion.
Melatonin is a multi-dimensional hormone produced by the pineal gland and it's release is triggered by exposure to bright light.
In the winter the sun rises much later and sets much earlier and is thought to play a role into why mood wanes during the short days of the winter months.
Another thought that has been shown to be related but just part of the story is Vitamin D status.
Vitamin D is also a hormone that is produced when the body is exposed to sunlight. Many Americans living north of the Florida latitude are vulnerable to vitamin D deficiency.
Optimizing vitamin D status in the recomended 40-80 nmol/L range may help improve mood, as well as other functions of the body.
Melatonin at doses as low as 0.3mg may be affective as a long-term supplement to support sleep. Higher doses such as 3-5 mg may be safe over a few months to a year, doses at 10-40mg/day are only recommended for a few months, and doses at 100mg/day may only be safe for a day or two.
Melatonin has some side effect risks especially on the reproductive system where it may affect the release of pituitary hormones that can reduce fertility in both men and women. There is also mixed research on melatonin and seizures, with some studies showing protection and others suggesting harm.
Additionally, a less talked about conversation regarding melatonin is that serotonin is used as a precursor and serotonin abnormalities in winter depression are common.
Serotonin and SAD:
Serotonin levels can be affected by factors such as surges of insulin or excess caffeine intake. Supplements such as St. John's Wort, SAMe, and 5-HT may be helpful in supporting serotonin levels.
Medications for SAD:
Medically, agomelatine is an anti-depressant that targets melatonin receptors directly, other anti-depressants may help with seasonal affective disorder as well.
No one cause has been linekd with seasonal affective disorder, but ensuring vitamin D status, proper melatonin release, serotonin balance, and blood sugar regulation can go a long way in supporting mental health during the winter months.
Final Thoughts on Winter Depression:
As melatonin, vitamin d, and supplements such as St. John's wort supplements can have unintended side effects at high doses (or combination effects with other medications such as benzodiazepines, anti-depressants, and alcohol), it is recommended that you seek nutrition advice from a qualified nutrition professional with a postgraduate focus on nutrition such as a Certified Clinical Nutritionist or Certified Nutrition Specialist.
Don't let winter depression keep you from enjoying the winter months this year!