Perhaps it’s the end result of a long winter, the erratic weather, or too many months since your last vacation. Although Spring is a time of renewal and new beginnings – many people enter Spring feeling more down than usual only to perk up once we get closer to summer. Here are some tips on how to make this transition through the seasons happier and less stressful so you can welcome Spring with a smile on your face.
What causes this dip?
Though serotonin is typically recognized as a brain chemical, the majority of this neurotransmitter is produced in our digestive tract. Serotonin exerts powerful influence over mood, emotions, memory, cravings (especially for carbohydrates), self esteem, pain tolerance, sleep habits, appetite, digestion and body temperature regulation. It is often thought of as our “happy hormone,” especially because its production increases when we are exposed to natural sunlight. And let’s face it, after months of being stuck indoors most Canadians are battling low serotonin levels come Springtime.
Production of serotonin is also closely linked to availability of vitamin B6 and the amino acid tryptophan. If our diet lacks sufficient protein and vitamins, we run a greater risk of serotonin deficiency. We may experience a dip in serotonin in relation to physiological causes, dieting, low protein intake, digestive disorders and also stress, since high levels of the stress hormone cortisol rob us of serotonin. When we measure our current lifestyle against all the elements necessary for the body’s natural production of serotonin, the wide-ranging epidemic of low serotonin is certainly not surprising. Add in chronic stress and out-of-control multitasking—two of the main causes of serotonin depletion—and it’s no wonder many of us suffer from depleted serotonin. In my professional opinion, serotonin deficiency has become an epidemic of equal proportion to obesity. I also believe this parallel is no coincidence. Here are my favourite methods to boost serotonin:
Start pretending it’s summer: Now I don’t mean put on your shorts and sandels and stand outside shivering, although I have seen people do this before as soon as the weather rises above zero. What you can do is engage in activities that get you excited for the warmer weather, such as planning your summer vacation (with a countdown on a calendar), booking some time at a cottage, confirming potential camping weekends, going for a pedicure (after a winter hiding in boots everyone needs a good pedicure) and even rescuing the barbeque from hiberation. I am convinced that even the smell of a good barbeque makes me think–and feel–like summer is coming. Find out what makes you feel good and put it in action.
Alleviate sadness with 5 HTP: A derivative of tryptophan and one step closer toward becoming serotonin, 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) has been found to be more effective than tryptophan for treating sleeplessness, depression, anxiety and fibromyalgia. As an added bonus, it has a positive influence on your weight and can curb an out of control appetite – another reason why it’s a great supplement going into the warmer months. In one Italian study, women who took 5-HTP lost 10.3 pounds over 12 weeks, compared to 2.2 pounds in the placebo group. I recommend taking 50-400 mg per day, in divided doses throughout the day or before bed. This product should be taken for at least 4-6 weeks to reach full effectiveness.
Calm Your Brain With B vitamins: I recommend that my patients keep a B-complex in their desk during times of stress, however it can also be a day-saver when it comes to mood. High total intakes of vitamins B6 and B12 are associated with a lower risk for depressive symptoms over time in community-residing older adults, according to the results of a cohort study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Vitamin B6 in particular supports the production and function of serotonin, melatonin and dopamine in the brain. Take 50–100 mg before bed or a B-complex once daily. If you find yourself suffering from fatigue and chronic stress, in conjunction with depression, you may want to add in additional B5, also known as pantothenic acid. This is fuel for the adrenal glands and it can prevent certain types of depression as well as provide support for your central nervous system. Take 250mg twice daily with food.
Smiling with St. John’s Wort: This herb has been proven effective for easing mild to moderate depression. It appears to work as a natural SSRI (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor) by preventing the breakdown of serotonin in the brain. It takes at least 4-6 weeks to reach full effectiveness. Recommended dosage is 900 mg per day, away from food.
Add inositol to your smoothies: Naturally present in many foods, inositol improves the activity of serotonin in the brain. As a supplement, it is an excellent choice for alleviating anxiety and depression and supporting nervous system health. I use it in powdered form and add it to my daily smoothie or a glass of water before bed. Take 4-12 grams per day. Inositol is very effective for calming the nervous system when mixed with magnesium.
Follow the light: There’s a pretty good reason that Canadians love their patios – after being stuck in side for an entire winter, we can hardly wait to get some fresh air and sunlight. Heading into the sunshine, even on a cool day, is the quickest way to boost your mood (and burn some belly fat). If you do this first thing in the morning on an empty stomach you will not only burn 20% more calories, you will feel jumpstart your mood for the entire day. Start with 2-3 short walks first thing in the morning and you work up to doing it daily, when weather and schedule permits.