Fitness Friday Flashback :: Natural Remedies for Depression
This Fitness Friday Flashback is from February 2011. The last few days have been sunny around here, but it’s still too cold (for me) to enjoy the outdoors. Too much indoor time can trigger my depression. If that’s you, maybe this post will help.
All I know is that it’s February, and the sun has shined in Kentucky maybe five days since November. Here is the view from my kitchen window, a.k.a. where I spend about 50% of my stay-at-home-mommy day.
Now imagine that it’s about 35 degrees. Not that I’m complaining. Except that I am.
Louisville averages 193 sunny days a year. And that means the other 172 days are not. Sunny. At all. I realize it’s not the gloomiest (most gloomy?) place to live, but for a girl who lived in Florida for 8 years and has fought major depression for the last 9 years, every gloomy day (especially when they are strung back to back to back) wreaks havoc on my mood.
So I thought now would be a great time to discuss some natural remedies for depression, being that the sun is not scheduled to appear again until oh, I don’t know, like APRIL.
And just a little caveat: if you suffer from major depression and you have suicidal thoughts or cannot function, please go to your doctor and get help. Seriously. Don’t bother with herbs or sunlamps. Just get help. For the rest of you who are just trying to fight the winter blues, here are a few natural remedies that may help boost your mood until the sun reappears.
5HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan): This is a nutritional supplement which raises serotonin levels. This is not for everybody–for instance, people with heart problems should not take it. Also, you should only take it for a short period, to bump up serotonin levels, which will then stay elevated. I have taken 5HTP with pretty good results.
St. John’s Wort: Throughout history, herbs have been used as ancient remedies to treat disease and illness – including depression. St. John’s Wort is the most commonly used. But there are dozens of others that supposedly work well. For a comprehensive list of depression herbs, visit this page: herbs for depression.
S-Adenosyl Methionine: SAM or SAM-e (pronounced “sammy”) is a natural compound all mammals manufacture that may alleviate the symptoms of depression. I wrote about my great experience with SAM-e here.
Vitamin D:This is potentially the most critical nutrient to staving off depression. Sunlight is the best source of this vitamin, but, it’s impossible to get adequate sunlight during the cold dreary months. Especially when it looks like this:
Liquid sources of this vitamin tend to best absorbed. Also, D3 is the natural type of vitamin D, while vitamin D2 is synthetic and not as well-absorbed by the body. Most people require at least 400 IU of vitamin D daily. Most experts now recommend 1000 IU; however, sometimes more is needed but higher doses should only be used under the guidance of a qualified health professional. I wrote about the benefits of vitamin D here.
B Vitamins: These vitamins are critical to moods and helping the body to deal with stress, so a B-complex supplement can help. B-vitamin deficiencies are linked to emotional imbalances as well as many other functions so it is important to obtain adequate amounts on a daily basis — for most people that includes a 50 mg B-complex supplement daily.
Selenium, Magnesium, and Iron: These are also critical in dealing with depression and alleviating anxiety and mood disorders. A multi-mineral supplement can supply essential minerals and trace minerals.
Omega-3s: Preliminary studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish oils (not flaxseed) may be effective for treating depression. Taking a daily supplement may have other benefits to cardiovascular health and has few or no known side effects. I talked extensively about the benefits of fish oil here.
Exercise: Depression often causes feelings of hopelessness that lead to inaction, so the last thing you’ll feel like doing is exercise. But studies suggest that regular, moderate physical activity may lessen depression symptoms as much as some medications can. Exercise also releases endorphins (feel-good hormones) that help boost your mood for hours after your workout. Plus, when you exercise, you look better which makes you feel better. It’s all good.
Diet : Food has a tremendous effect on mood. Here are some general guidelines to follow when choosing foods to beat depression.
Depression diet don’ts:
• Avoid or reduce alcohol, sugar, and caffeine (including soft drinks)
• Avoid fast food and other ‘junk meals’ low in nutrients
• Avoid or reduce sugar and artificial sweeteners (in fact, I would tell you to NEVER consume artificial sweeteners, ever!)
Depression diet do’s:
• Balance each meal with adequate protein, fat, and complex carbohydrates
• Eat lean sources of protein such as fish, poultry, legumes, nuts, and seeds
• Try to mix in at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day—the brighter and more colorful, the better.
• Choose fresh, whole foods over processed foods.
Light Therapy: The world-renowned Mayo Clinic estimates that at least 10 to 20 percent of the population suffers from some sort of seasonal depression brought on by shorter days. Some estimates indicate there are millions of North Americans who suffer from a more extreme version of “winter blues” called seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
At this stage of the research, the disorder seems to be related to insufficient light and the resulting hormonal disruptions caused by the pineal gland. When the pineal gland believes it is in darkness, it secretes a hormone called melatonin, which has sedative properties.
Light therapy (also called phototherapy) consists of exposure to daylight or to specific wavelengths of light using lasers, light-emitting diodes, fluorescent lamps, dichroic lamps or very bright, full-spectrum light, for a prescribed amount of time and, in some cases, at a specific time of day. This has been proven to relieve the disruptions caused by insufficient light.
Right now, I’m sitting in my house with every single light burning brightly in my kitchen, dining room and living room. My neighbors probably think I’m getting ready to show my house to prospective buyers or something. But it really helps me a lot to have it bright in here on these dreary days.
Get outside: Bundle up and take a brisk walk outdoors. Just getting the fresh air pumping through your lungs can make a big difference. Even if it looks like this:
Take off the sunglasses: Wearing sunglasses limits the amount of natural light that travels the path from the eyes to the pineal gland, thereby increasing the risk of suffering from the winter blues. Of course, it is important to take certain precautionary measures when sunlight is strong.
Speaking of sunglasses, I’m off to make some spring break plans. I see a beach, an ocean and some sunshine in my future. Hang on friends, spring is just around the corner. (Update 2013–no spring break plans this year. Oh no!!!!!! Sunshine and warm weather, hurry up! Instead of spring break plans, I’m going through this post and implementing some of my very own suggestions, STAT.)
Q4U: What are YOUR spring break plans?
Resources for this post:
Linking up with Jill Conyers for her weekly Fitness Friday Blog Hop
I was born and raised in the south. In fact, it is hard for me to get too hot. I love the sun and I hate February. I blogged about that at the first of the month. Even though we can have cold, dreary days in March. They seem much more transient. I can deal with them better somehow. I don’t think I have SAD, but I definitely get the winter blues. I know better than to move any further north.
Yes, Lori…you are a smart girl. Moving back to a dreary-winter climate was not a good decision for my health, for sure.
I love this post! There are so many natural remedies… when we moved to Tx a year ago, my winter blues disappeared and the only change was all the sunshine! I love that you included exercise as well, that always helped me too.
Thanks, Laura. So glad you get the sunshine all winter. Makes a huge difference.
I love this post. I seem to comfort eat when I am indoors to much. Good to know about this. Maybe I just need to add more Vit D and exercises indoors. Thanks
Vit D has made a big difference for me. Let me know if your changes work!
Hi Sandy. I just posted about SAD last week or so. I seriously think I have it worse this year than ever before. The gloominess is overwhelming. No definite plans for spring break yet.
I can’t recall if you commented on my fruit/sugar post. I’m curious. What are your thoughts on eating fruit and the sugar content. Do you limit the amount of fruit you eat?
Jill, I was doing great this winter, until a few weeks ago. I restarted the SAM-e and that seems to have helped a lot. You should try that!!
I usually do not limit my fruit intake, though, I know many health people suggest it. I did when I was doing X2 and following the diet guide, but it was hard for me. On a normal day, I eat 3-4 servings of fruit a day. I’m not sure if that’s good or not. I don’t eat much other sugar, except honey in my morning coffee. I don’t eat processed foods, rarely eat bread, and I prob only have dessert once a month.
I need to go back and look at your sugar post. I think I missed that one.
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As I’m stressed, I usually take a short walk and breathe fresh air outside. Just very simple but really best remedy ever.