As the seasons change from fall into winter, we watch birds fly south, whales migrate, and leaves fall off trees. At the change of seasons in nature, all creatures make a major lifestyle transformation while most of us humans just add or take away a sweater. According to Ayurveda, the transitions from one season to the next,–known as ritu-sandhi (ritu=season, sandhi=junction), are the most important times of the year. It is said that if one doesn’t change their diet and lifestyle according to the seasonal change, the door to ill health remains open. Whether you change your diet, herbs, and lifestyle, or do a seasonal cleanse or detox, it’s best to make sure some type of seasonal adjustment is made to maintain balance.
I have many articles and videos that describe the ideal seasonal routines for each season, including Dr. John’s Daily Routine: Fall and Winter Edition. In this article, however, I want to discuss the possible causes of feelings of melancholy, heavy mood, or sadness as we transition from fall into winter.
In This Article
The Winter Sun’s Impact on Serotonin
During the summer months, we get more sun, which helps the body manufacture more serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that supports happiness and a stable mood. In one study with 101 healthy men, they found that serotonin in the brain was lowest in the winter. Their rate of serotonin production was higher in the summer and rose rapidly as the intensity of the summer daylight increased. The human skin is a powerful serotonin generator that is activated by sunlight (which is, of course, more intense during the summer season).
During the winter months, with the intensity of the sun too weak to trigger the amount of serotonin required for mood support, many experience bouts of sadness due to low serotonin levels. Fortunately, nature had a plan to replenish the needed serotonin during the winter with a harvest of serotonin-boosting foods and herbs.
Herbal Mood Support for Winter
One of the most effective serotonin boosters is a fall-harvested root called Bacopa monnieri. Bacopa has been shown to support the production of tryptophan (5-HT), which is a natural precursor to serotonin. The bacosides present in bacopa have been shown to improve cognitive function and mood by supporting neurotransmitters GABA and serotonin linked to mood support.
Chickpeas (garbanzo beans), a fall-harvested legume, have been shown to carry a significant amount of free tryptophan. About two-thirds of the tryptophan in chickpeas is free, meaning the molecules are not bound to a protein and can act as precursors to serotonin production.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is also a fall-harvested root good for winter consumption. It has been shown in both animal and human studies to support the body against stress, bouts of worry, sadness, and sleep issues. While the mechanism for these actions is manyfold, ashwagandha is known to boost mood through serotonin and GABA pathways.
To support common fall and winter issues of sadness and worry, I formulated a product called Happy Caps. This product got its name when I was with the New Jersey Nets NBA basketball team. I used this product to help the players cope with stress. The players named it their Happy Caps. It combines Bacopa, Skullcap, Passion Flower, and Brahmi (Centella asiatica) – all of which are well-studied for mood support.
See also Happy Caps for Winter Mood Support
Exercise for Winter Mood Support
While winter is a dormant season in nature, it is not a time for us to be sedentary, particularly if we struggle with seasonal mood issues. Study after study has shown regular exercise is a natural way to boost serotonin levels. Keeping a consistent exercise routine, and breathing through the nose while exercising, is a good way to stave off the winter blues.
Vitamin D Deficiencies Linked to Seasonal Sadness
While studies linking vitamin D3 deficiencies to seasonal sadness are mixed, it is important to realize that it is much harder to get adequate amounts of vitamin D3 during the winter months. At latitudes north of Atlanta, there is minimal UVB radiation available for the body to manufacture vitamin D from the sun. While there is plenty of UVA which can cause a sunburn, the sun is too low in the sky to make vitamin D from the sun in the winter. Our ancestors got their winter vitamin D from organ meats, which is not on the menu of most Westerners. As a result, it is important to supplement with vitamin D3 during the winter months.
Getting a vitamin D test should be a part of your annual checkup with your primary care provider. The goal of a vitamin blood test is between 50-80 ng/mL. A typical dose of LifeSpa’s Liquid Sun Vitamin D3 is 4 drops (4000 IU) a day from October through April.