Seasonal Depression Food

I’m not sure if it was the allure of the snow-capped mountains and prospect of new beginnings in Canada or the fact that my current husband had placed a love spell on me, but I found myself moving away from the southern United States and into the frigid climate of Calgary back in 2007.  As my first winter approached I realized I had gotten myself into a bit of a pickle: why did Fall come and go so quickly?! Why didn’t Spring start until April, sometimes May?! And how did anyone survive these long, dark, cold days?!

I remember the first job I had downtown: I would drive to work in the dark, sit in an office with no windows, rarely have time for lunch away from my desk to get some sunshine and fresh air, then drive home in the dark.  Needless to say, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or seasonal depression, set in quickly and aggressively.  Had I known the tools I know now, perhaps I wouldn’t have found myself crying everyday after work. 

We have various tools to balance our health: food, lifestyle and mental strength to name a few.  Here are few ways you can combat SAD with food, a.k.a. “Natures Medicine”, as well as some lifestyle suggestions:  

  1. Light Therapy: since SAD is directly related to the amount of sunshine we get, light therapy has been proven to improve our serotonin production.  In the darker months, our body produces more melatonin and uses serotonin to make it, depleting our stores of serotonin.  Light boxes can be purchased but don’t look directly at the light.  Sit in front of the box at an angle for 30 minutes a day, wearing eyeglasses if necessary. 
  2. Exercise: for mild to moderate depression, exercise has been touted as the #1 recommendation.  Frequent exercise increases our beta endorphins, in turn, heightening our mood.
  3. Natures Medicine:
  • Serotonin, our “happy” neurotransmitter, is converted from tryptophan in the body.  In the winter with less sunlight, the body uses serotonin for melatonin production, decreasing our “happy” neurotransmitter.  Eating foods high in tryptophan, like turkey, eggs, nuts and seeds, can help this imbalance.   L-tryptophan or 5-HTP is also available as a prescription from your Dr.  
  • Vitamin C is needed for serotonin production and to metabolize tryptophan, which we can get from bell peppers, strawberries, and oranges.
  • Iron is a precursor for serotonin; think beets, lentils, leafy greens, grass fed beef and liver.
  • Foods high in folic acid and B6 such as lentils, and leafy greens can be helpful in mild depression and are also needed for tryptophan metabolization.  A B-complex supplement is also beneficial to nourish the nervous system and support nervous system disorders such as anxiety and depression.
  • Research shows a vitamin D deficiency might underlie seasonal affective disorder.  The skin, bloodstream, liver, and kidneys all contribute to the formation of fully active Vitamin D.  Vitamin D2, derived from plants, does not have all the same functions as the cholesterol-based animal form of Vitamin D.  Animal-derived forms of vitamin D, such as cod liver oil, ghee, grass fed butter, and egg yolks, can be converted by the body into Vitamin D3.
  • Ensure adequate complete protein. Serotonin is amino acid based, therefore our body requires sufficient protein in the diet to facilitate its production.  Non-animal sources include hemp seeds and quinoa.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids help nourish brain cells, supporting the nervous system.  These healthy fats (DHA and EPA) also help maintain a healthy emotional balance.  Seek wild, not farmed, fish like salmon, hemp seeds and cod liver oil and look for EPA/DHA supplements. 
  • Reishi mushroom is an adaptogen that helps to balance the nervous system and regulate hormones.  Boil dried reishi as a tea and make a decadent elixr with coconut butter, honey or maple syrup, lucuma, cacao powder, and vanilla powder.

*These suggestions are in no way medical advice nor should they replace your health care providers recommendations.   If you are suffering from moderate to severe depression, further action may be warranted.  Please see your health care provider for additional guidance.