Cold Weather Mood Shock: Avoid the Winter Blues

January 11, 2010 | Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist

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 Cold Weather Mood Shock: Avoid the Winter Blues
The combination of a lack of sun and cold weather invariably strains your mood as well as your metabolism. It is an energy-depleting form of stress, similar to having a daily argument with someone. If your energy systems are already low or your plate is full with things to do, the addition of this weather stress can be significant.

This year’s deep freeze sets the stage for a long and potentially difficult winter. On the eating side, the cold triggers “hibernation metabolism” and the desire to eat more sweet food. This urge is helped along by the holiday season. Invariably, the lower your energy the more food you will crave.

Additionally, the combination of cold and longer periods of dark causes your body’s internal clock to stress out – otherwise known as the winter blues. Melatonin is the primary hormone that governs your body’s clock. Melatonin does its work at night, synchronizing repair and getting you ready for the next day. During winter months peak levels of melatonin are not produced at the right time of night. Instead, your body can try to keep making more melatonin even after you’ve woken up – all in an effort to reach the “proper level.” This can make your daytime feel like nighttime. It can get so bad it feels like you are dragging a 100 pound lead ball around with you. This is a distinctly different kind of low energy feeling – you just feel as if you are dragging and can’t get in gear. You will crave sugar to spark your energy (a genetic urge), but eating it produces only a short term benefit before you return to the state of sluggishness (along with weight gain).

Supplemental melatonin can markedly improve this problem.* I recommend Melatonin in 0.5 mg capsules, as this way you can easily control for the exact amount you need. 3 mg capsules may also be used, especially when the higher amount is needed.

Some people take melatonin all year long (usually 0.5 to 1.5 mg per day), as the proper levels of melatonin decline with age. Many individuals past age 40 are lacking around 0.5 mg of melatonin and notice they sleep much better when taking some before bed, even in the summer.* Many other people only need melatonin when it is darker and colder.* In general, the colder and darker it is the higher the dose that is needed. The right dose of melatonin helps you to go to sleep better and wake up feeling more refreshed – as well as not having that dragging feeling during the day. A dose that is too high gives a mild headache or groggy feeling, more or less producing the symptoms that it is supposed to be getting rid of.

Melatonin is normally taken before bed. Start out with lower amounts and work your way up as needed until you find the right amount for you. The number may change if the temperature drops 20-30 degrees and stays there for a while. A small percentage of people have the symptoms of needing melatonin but it either doesn’t seem to help or doesn’t seem to feel right on any dose. These people should try taking melatonin first thing in the morning. Doing so may signal to the brain that levels are now adequate; the brain stops trying to make more – thus the “sleep hormone” will no longer be produced in the day.

The energy of the sun is poorly understood by modern science and Western medicine. In fact, the industry of surgery-promoting cosmetic specialists want you to think that being in the sun will kill you unless you have toxic sunscreens on. The sun’s interaction with your skin produces vitamin D, a nutrient woefully lacking in the winter in northern climates. Vitamin D is vital to calcium metabolism, proper immunity, good mood, and breast or prostate health. During the winter at least 2,500 IU of vitamin D should be consumed in the form of dietary supplements.*

Additionally, the sun also produces photon energy. Photon energy is stored in cell membranes. Your ability to do so is based on the amount of omega 3 fatty acids in your diet. For example, along the equator there is plenty of sun and very little omega 3 fatty acids in the food. There is no winter blues. In the north, the traditional Eskimo diet was very high in omega 3 oils all year long (whale blubber and other deep sea fatty fish). There was no winter blues until Eskimos started eating the omega 3-lacking Western diet. In the traditional Eskimo diet the high concentration of omega 3 oils in summer months would store up photon energy of the sun adequately to get them through the winter months. This is of course why every person likes a winter vacation in the sun – to get some photon energy back into the brain.

Knowing this information, I routinely tell my clients who I know are prone to the winter blues to increase their essential fatty acid intake during the fall, so as to prepare for the winter.* This would mean taking 3 capsules of Daily DHA or Leptinal per day. Boosting up these essential fatty acids in the winter is also a good idea and will generally help boost mood.*

The fastest way to get photon energy back into your brain in the winter months is with an oil called squalene.* Squalene is an ideal winter-time supplement. It is also the very best product for reducing dry or cracking skin.* A dose for this purpose is 3-6 capsules per day. It is undesirable to have cracking skin in the winter, as germs can simply march right on in to one’s body. Squalene is also one of the best supplements to help a person warm up, especially in the extremities.* A person whose hands are always cold or whose extremities react poorly when exposed to cold typically notices dramatic improvement on 3-6 capsules of Squalene per day.*

The unique structure of squalene enables it to hold and deliver oxygen and photon energy.* Like an essential fatty acid, squalene has many unsaturated bonds. However, unlike an essential fatty acid, these unsaturated bonds form 3 stable rings of 6 isoprenoid units that are not prone to oxidation. This means that squalene can carry oxygen and photon energy without being damaged. This unique “transporter property” of squalene enables it to deliver lacking nutrients vital to brain function.* Not only does squalene help skin and circulation, I have seen it routinely boost mood in the winter months.* The common dose is 3-6 per day.

Many nutrients help your body make energy and any of these can be boosted up in the winter, as needed, to support a better energy level. A better energy level will invariably produce a better mood, since your brain uses energy as a communication molecule to produce neurotransmitters. The above energetic suggestions are based on the unique stress that colder and darker days pose to your mood and metabolism.* Enjoy the winter!

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