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It is estimated that approximately 35% of Canadians experience seasonal depression, or "winter blues", when the dark and cold weather sets in. Here in Quebec, as winter drags on every year, many people look forward to the warmer season. Symptoms of seasonal depression can include the following: tiredness and mood changes, difficulty waking up, lack or increased appetite, especially for refined carbohydrates (bread, pasta, sweets), increased sleep time, decreased concentration and a decreased level of motivation in general.
These changes are due to light reduction, which greatly impacts the hormones responsible for moods, energy and motivation. Although it is normal for the body to adapt to seasons change, in case of persistent depression, year after year, it is better to address the situation. Some natural solutions to prevent and reduce seasonal depression are available.
When sunlight hours reduce during fall season in Quebec, spending time outdoors every day can improve energy and mood. Being outdoor promotes a better oxygenation, improves vitality and provides higher level of energy which allows to easily resist the stress caused by seasons change. Moreover, contact with nature helps regulate the nervous system. A study has shown that only 20 to 30 minutes of daily activity in nature is enough to significantly reduce the level of cortisol, the stress hormone.
There is nothing like physical activity to get the toxins out. According to Chinese medicine, one of the major causes of illness is related to unbalanced emotions, which can affect the organs proper functioning. Emotions need to be experienced but also released. Sports allows to "move" the emotions in and out the body. From a biological point of view, physical activity helps the body to increase levels of dopamine and serotonin, hormones that contribute greatly to energy and good mood.
Upon waking up, the daylight reaches the back of the eye and stimulates the production of cortisol which helps generate and boost energy by inhibiting the secretion of melatonin. On darker mornings, the use of a light therapy lamp can be helpful since its exposure offers a spectrum closer than the one provided by the sun. A lamp with at least 10,000 lux used every morning for 15 to 30 minutes offers great results.
Vitamin D deficiency in the Nordic countries is very common. Approximately 30% of North Americans experience vitamin D deficiency, even during summer. Vitamin D is produced when skin is exposed to the sun's rays and small amounts of it is consumed in our diet. The problem is that there is not enough sunlight to synthesize vitamin D during the winter. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to several health problems including a higher risk of depression and fatigue.
Millepertuis (Hypericum perforatum)
Millepertuis is undoubtedly the most known and effective plant for winter blues prevention. The concentrate of St. John's wort flowers or flower buds are literally like sunshine in a bottle, reviving inner light. What could be better than having this plant in a medicine cabinet when the light reduces in fall and winter seasons?
Dosage and use: Being subject to seasonal depression every year may encourage to start St. John's Wort at least 1 to 2 months before the period when symptoms usually begin. The interaction and impact on the mood may take a bit of time to settle in the body. Scientifically, this plant has demonstrated antidepressant effects similar to certain types of medication, such as monoamine inhibitors.
Take 15 to 25 drops of fresh flower tincture, 1 to 5 times a day.
Precautions: This herb interacts with several drugs including immunosuppressants and antidepressants, and its use is not recommended before surgery. It is important to always consult a doctor in case of doubt and before combining this plant with any medication.
Lemon balm (Lemon balm officinalis):
Lemon balm is a very sweet, safe and effective plant to address stress issues and seasonal depression. It mainly tones up the nervous system. It is also a great ally for individuals in the process of letting go. It may also generate euphoric effects. Briefly, this plant is associated with joy and lightness. It lifts the spirit, brightens up and brings back smile. It interacts and works on the limbic system, involved among others in the emotional sphere.
Dosage and use:
Most therapeutic benefits are obtained through fresh or slightly dried plant.
Take 1 to 5 ml of the leaves tincture or aerial parts per day.
Combination with pentobarbital or hexobarbital could increase the hypnotic effect. Do not take if in case of hypothyroid or medication for thyroid conditions.
Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum):
Holy basil is a versatile and adaptogen plant to keep handy during the cold season. It influences the nervous, endocrine and immune systems. Its action and energy reduce feelings of despair and "darkness". It is also a plant that opens the heart and awakens the mind. Its effective for depressive emotions and low moods, as well as mental fog and lethargy. It provides energy without creating a stimulating effect. It is an intelligent plant, recognized to target specific needs. Holy basil also reduces the amount and impact of cortisol, the stress hormone, on the body.
Dosage and use:
Adaptogen plants are generally more effective if taken over a period of at least 1 to 3 months, since they reach their full therapeutic potential after a certain period of regular use. They can be used as tincture or flowering tops infusion.
Infusion: 1 teaspoon per cup. Cover and infuse for 5 to 10 minutes. Take ½ cup up to 3 times a day.
Dye: Take 1 to 5 ml per day.
May increase CYP-450 activity, which may accelerate drug and medication elimination. Not recommended during pregnancy and in case of low blood pressure or under medication for this condition.
In case of discomfort or unusual symptoms it is recommended to consult a physician. Pharmaceutical or medical treatment should not be discontinued without the assistance of a physician or other health care professional.
Matéria Médica : Flora Médicina school
MaryCarol R. Hunter, Brenda W. Gillespie, Sophie Yu-Pu Chen. Urban Nature Experiences Reduce Stress in the Context of Daily Life Based on Salivary Biomarkers. Frontiers in Psychology, 2019; 10 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00722