Five natural ways to beat the winter blues

(Photo: Buena Vista Images / Getty Images)(Photo: Buena Vista Images / Getty Images)By Michelle Schoffro Cook
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The days are getting shorter. Fall has arrived in all its resplendent beauty. While the changing colors are lovely, insufficient daylight may find you down in the dumps and more tired than usual.

The Cleveland Clinic estimates that at least 10 to 20 percent of the population suffers from some sort of seasonal depression brought on by shorter days. An additional 4 to 6 percent of North Americans 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.

There are numerous symptoms of the winter blues, but the main ones usually appear in the colder season and include:

  • Change in appetite, particularly for sweet or starchy foods
  • Weight gain
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Tendency to oversleep
  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Decreased ability to concentrate
  • Irritability
  • Decreased energy

Whether you have full-blown SAD or feel a milder case of the seasonal blues, here are tips to help bring some "light" back into your days.

1. Get outside

Bundle up and take a brisk walk outdoors during your lunch break or after work to get some sunlight. Outdoor light is beneficial even when it's cloudy outside.

2. Change your bulbs

Increase exposure to light indoors by replacing light bulbs with full-spectrum light bulbs. Unlike standard office and home lights, full-spectrum lights contain a range of rays from ultraviolet to infrared, with rainbow colors of violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, red, and a multitude of shades between.

Full-spectrum lights have a color temperature greater than 5000K and a CRI of over 90 -- whether or not they're labeled as "full-spectrum" depends on the manufacturer. Read all about full-spectrum lights and other green lighting options in Love Your Light Bulbs.

Another way to get more light inside is to open curtains or blinds and sit beside windows when you can. Trim tree branches that block light from entering your home.

3. 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.

5. Exercise regularly

Regular exercise helps relieve stress and anxiety, which according to the Mayo Clinic, can increase seasonal affective disorder-type symptoms. The Cleveland Clinic recommends 30 minutes of exercise three times a week. Better yet, get your exercise outside.

5. Eat your vitamins

Deficiency in any nutrient can cause an imbalance to the body which may result in a worsening of the winter blues or seasonal affective disorder. It is important to try to eat a well-balanced diet to help your body cope with seasonal changes.

Vitamin D is potentially the most critical nutrient to staving off SAD. Sunlight is the best source, but, let's face it, it's not always possible to get adequate sunlight during the cold weather.

You can also supplement with vitamin D. Liquid sources of this vitamin tend to best absorbed. Most people require at least 400 IU of vitamin D3 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.

All the B-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.

By following these simple steps, you can do much to keep the dark days bright, and keep those winter blues at bay.

Michelle Schoffro Cook, BSc, RNCP, ROHP, DNM, is an international best-selling and seven-time book author and doctor of natural medicine, whose works include: The Life Force Diet, The Ultimate pH Solution, The 4-Week Ultimate Body Detox Plan, The Phytozyme Cure, and HealthSmart News. Learn more at www.DrMichelleCook.com.

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