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Beating the Winter Blues with Herbs

Updated: Jul 29, 2021

January can be a tough month for many of us. The post-holiday letdown coupled with grey skies, a snow-covered world, reduced activity as well as the cold temperatures of winter can all lead to what is known as the “Winter Blues.” The Winter Blues (often called Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD) involves feelings of sadness, depression and loss of energy and can have a serious impact on daily life. While we can’t do much about the weather, we can address some of the underlying contributing factors to this condition.

The first area to address is our digestive system. The holiday season often sees us indulging heavily on rich foods, sugar and alcohol and unfortunately those holidays pleasures come back to “haunt us” come the New Year.

Studies now show that if our digestion isn’t working well then our brains won’t either. So it is very important to make sure your liver, gallbladder and pancreas are all supported to function optimally and to make sure our good digestive flora is well populated. We are fortunate that roots of herbs such as chicory, elecampane, dandelion and burdock are able to do all of these things! All are digestive bitters and help to tone and stimulate our digestive system. They also contain inulin, an insoluble plant fibre that helps produce oligosaccharides which can increase the amount of friendly bacteria in the gut, while simultaneously reducing the number of harmful bacteria. There is a demonstrated link between an increase in good bacteria in our gut and a decrease in the symptoms of depression.

It is really common with all the sugar of the holidays to see people have post-holiday blood sugar issues. These will make people tired and lethargic, often leading them exhibit depressive symptoms. Make sure you cut back on extra sugar if experiencing these issues after indulging. As expected, using herbs to help balance blood sugar levels can also be helpful in the fight against depression. Foods such as oatmeal, blueberries and cinnamon are good additions to your diet as well as blood-sugar balancing herbs such as fenugreek, devil’s club and gymnema.

Another category of herbs to consider when addressing the Winter Blues are what are known as adaptogens. Herbs with this action have a direct effect on our HPA axis (hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands) helping our bodies adapt to stress and to balance our endocrine and nervous system functions. They can help to balance blood sugar, serotonin levels (which impacts depression) and our immune function. Some of the best known herbs in this category are ginseng, eleuthero, rhodiola, maca, ashwagandha, astragalus, reishi, and schisandra berry. These herbs work slowly, over several weeks to months, to restore balance to the body.

There are also a wide variety of herbs that fall into a group called nervines, which are often able to help gently balance to nervous system and elevate mood. Most people have now heard of the antidepressant action of the herb St. John’s Wort, and that it is a possible alternative to conventional medicine in some cases. It truly is a great herb and works well for many people. Other herbs that have the ability to elevate mood include skullcap, which is an all-round nervous system tonic that supports serotonin uptake; rosemary and ginkgo, two herbs that help to improve circulation to the brain and gently stimulate the neurological system; gardenia, which is called the “happiness herb” by Chinese herbalists because it is said to unblock emotions and assist with liver functions; and gotu kola, the premier herb for neurological disorders in traditional Indian medicine (Ayurvedic) and it is said to “ground” the brain, eliminating brain fog while increasing concentration and an overall sense of well-being. The list of valuable nervine herbs goes on, including lemon balm, vervain, kava, linden, peppermint, basil, and yerba mate.

In addition to herbs, Vitamin D has been shown to play a major role in preventing depression (especially Seasonal Affective Disorder) and should be supplemented at 1500-2000mcg daily during the winter months. You can also add uplifting essential oils such as sweet orange, bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, clary sage, rose and lavender directly to a diffuser or, when diluted in a carrier oil, they can be applied directly to the skin.

So if you suffer from the Winter Blues”don’t despair, there are many natural options for helping you find “the sunshine in your life” again this winter!

All material contained herein is provided for general information purposes only and should not be considered medical advice or consultation. Contact a reputable healthcare practitioner if you are in need of medical care.

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