Beating the Winter Blues – A Natural Approach
by Jodie Foreman BSc (Hons) MNIMH
As the evenings get darker and the weather gets colder, we are entering that time of year again when many people suffer with low mood and depression.
SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) affects an estimated two million people in the UK and the symptoms most commonly appear in the autumn. As with all forms of depression, the main symptoms of SAD include a low mood and a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities. Other depressive symptoms can include:
- Feeling irritable
- Feelings of despair
- Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
- Low self-esteem
- Feeling stressed or anxious
- Reduced sex drive
The conventional approach is to treat patients using antidepressants, light therapy, and sometimes, talking therapies. However, there are other alternatives to this in the form of herbal medicines and diet changes.
What can you do to help yourself?
Your diet has a huge impact on how you feel, and even small changes can make a big difference in terms of depression and anxiety.
Up your intake of essential omega-3 fats
Eat oily fish at least twice a week, seeds on most days, and supplement with omega-3 fish oils. The best fish for EPA, the type of omega-3 fat that’s linked with improving moods, are mackerel, herring/kippers, sardines, fresh tuna, anchovies, salmon, and trout. Tuna, being high in mercury, is best eaten no more than three times a month.
The best seeds are linseeds and pumpkin seeds. Linseeds are so small that they are best ground and sprinkled on cereal or stirred into yoghurt. Two tablespoons of ground seeds provide a serving. Linseed oil can also be used as a salad dressing.
When supplementing omega-3 fish oils, you are aiming for about 1,000mg of EPA a day for a mood-boosting effect. That means supplementing a concentrated omega-3 fish oil capsule (providing 500mg) once or twice a day, and eating a serving of any of the above fish three times a week.
Eat foods high in tryptophan
When ingested, tryptophan is converted by the body into serotonin, which works with two other hormones, noradrenalin and dopamine, to lift mood, promote relaxation and help deal with stress. By eating foods rich in this amino acid, you can affect your mood naturally. Tryptophan can be found at higher levels in foods like turkey, dairy products, nuts and seeds, beans, and green leafy vegetables – particularly spinach.
Eat a diet that will stabilise your blood sugar (known as the Low GL diet)
Blood sugar imbalances can play havoc with your mood, so choosing foods that have a low impact on blood sugar can help to avoid the mood ups and downs.
Avoid or reduce caffeine, sugar, refined carbohydrates and alcohol
Although it may seem that all healthy diet regimes limit these substances, it really is important to cut them down as much as possible, since they all directly affect the chemistry of the brain.
Herbal medicines that improve mood and lower anxiety
Treating depression using herbal medicines is by no means clear-cut, and what may work well for one person, may not for another if not properly prescribed. In my years of practice, I have seen many patients suffering with low mood and have prescribed differently for all of them, as there is no one-size-fits-all approach to mental health.
However, here is an insight into the kinds of herbs that may be helpful:
Nervine tonics are fundamental to any long-term change in an individual’s ability to cope with their lives and make changes, which will improve their wellbeing. They include herbs like oats, borage, and St. John’s wort.
Nervine relaxants may be helpful in the short term, or if a patient is also feeling anxious. These include herbs such as skullcap, valerian, and passionflower.
Herbalists often focus on the liver function when dealing with patients who have low mood. Bitters, which improve liver function, will often bring about dramatic changes for some patients. It is not always enough to just treat the nervous system when dealing with depression; often the digestive/detoxification process needs attention too. Bitter herbs include dandelion root, gentian, and angelica.
Another category of herbs that can be useful is adaptogens. These types of herbs help the body to cope with stress and directly affect the adrenal glands. Herbs in this category include ginseng, borage, and ashwagandha.
Some of the herbs mentioned are available over the counter, and can help support a balanced mood and nervous system.
For more information and free advice about how you can improve your mood naturally, call the team at Foreman & Jones Herbal Dispensary, Hythe, on 01303 760001.