For many these dark, winter days can trigger feeling “blue,” moody, or even depressed. This particular winter, the symptoms may be even more pronounced with the strain of worry and loss of loved ones from Covid-19. A survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in June 2020 showed a 3 to 4 times increase in anxiety, depression, and substance abuse compared to the previous year.
The good news is that certain nutrients, foods. and plant medicines can be allies in brightening your mood and overall sense of well-being.
Vitamin D3 (cholecaliciferol) has been touted as a preventative for Covid-19. Researchers have found low levels of Vitamin D are associated with mood disorders including depression and SAD. Have your doctor check your Vitamin D levels to make sure you are in optimal range. Keep in mind that different populations have optimal vitamin D levels. For example, for African American people, at least 20 ng/mL is optimal, while for Caucasians, at least 30 mg/mL is optimal.
Caution: too much vitamin D can have damaging effects. I have patients who have over-dosed vitamin D, thinking they were inoculating themselves against Covid-19. Remember that every nutrient has a “Goldilocks,” just right amount, and too much OR too little can be a problem. According to Marcinowska-Suchowierska et al. (2018), some of the symptoms of over-dosing vitamin D include confusion, recurrent vomiting, abdominal pain, excessive urination, excessive thirst, and dehydration.
Fish oil, specifically eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA), have wonderful anti-inflammatory effects in the body. In addition, research shows that daily doses of 1 -2 grams of EPA and DHA can effectively prevent and treat depressive disorders. For stabilizing depressive moods, EPA seems to be more effective than DHA.
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) has many healing gifts, including antimicrobial, antioxidant, and neuroprotective effects. More recently, St. John’s wort has been celebrated for antidepressant effects, including its ability to modulate serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Most of the clinical research used doses of 300 mg three times a day.
Caution: see your doctor before taking St. John’s wort. This herb alters certain detoxification pathways in the liver and can affect the metabolism of other drugs. In addition, do not take St. John’s wort if you already are taking a serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) drug.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) can be as effective as fluoxetine for treating depression. Sanmukhani et al (2014) found that 1000 mg of the herb taken daily was as effective as fluoxetine. For those with major depression, combining turmeric with medications improved the response rate by 65 – 78%. Turmeric may also help reduce symptoms of anxiety (Esmaily et al., 2015; Nq et al., 2017).
Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) is an Ayurvedic herb that has become a popular herbal ally in the West. As an adaptogen, rhodiola helps the body adapt to physical, physical, and biological stressors. For those suffering with depression, 340 mg of rhodiola taken 1 – 2 times per day reduced symptoms of depression, insomnia, and emotional instability (Darbinyan et al., 2007; Ross, 2014).
Caution: rhodiola may not be appropriate for those with bipolar disorder. See your physician to know if this is a good fit for you (Brown et al., 2002).
These herbal allies, nutrients, and foods can brighten your mood and support you during these dark, winter months. Remember also that light exposure, physical movement, and time with friends and family (even if via telephone or Zoom!) can elevate your mood and improve your overall wellbeing.
For more information about using plant medicines safely and effectively, click here for Dr. Boice’s free report, “Seven Myths About Essential OIls.”
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