What causes the dip in mood?
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’re exposed to natural sunlight. And let’s face it, after months of being stuck indoors, most Canadians are battling low serotonin levels.
Production of serotonin is closely linked to the 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, add in chronic stress and out-of-control multitasking — two of the main causes of serotonin depletion — 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. Lets take a look at what you can do to ensure you keep your serotonin levels up:
1. Start pretending it’s summer
By this I don’t mean put on shorts and sandals and stand outside shivering — although the weather’s slowly creeping up. What you can do is engage in activities that get you excited for the warmer weather like planning your summer vacation (with a countdown on a calendar), booking some time at a cottage, confirming 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 know the smell of a barbecue makes me feel like summer is coming.
Find out what makes you feel good and put it into action.
2. Alleviate sadness with 5-HTP
A derivative of tryptophan, and one step closer to serotonin, 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) has been found to actually 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 pounds over 12 weeks, compared to two pounds in the placebo group.
Bottom line: 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.
3. Calm your brain with a B vitamin
I recommend that my patients keep a B-complex at their desk during times of stress. High total intakes of vitamins B6 and B12 are associated with a lower risk of 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.
Bottom line: 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 250 mg twice daily with food.
4. Smile 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.
Bottom line: My recommended dosage is 900 mg per day away from food, like on rising or before bed. It takes a minimum of 4-6 weeks to reach full effectiveness.
5. Add inositol to your smoothies
Naturally present in many foods, inositol improves the activity of serotonin in the brain. As a supplement, it’s 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. Inositol is very effective for calming the nervous system when mixed with magnesium.
Bottom line: Take 4-12 g per day.
6. Follow the light
There’s a pretty good reason that Canadians love their patios – after being stuck inside all 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 percent more calories, you’ll jumpstart your mood for the entire day.
Bottom line: Start with 2-3 short walks first thing in the morning and work your way up to doing it daily (when weather and schedule permit).
What helps boost your mood during a long winter? Let us know in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
-Article originally published April, 2013.
Natasha Turner, N.D., is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet, The Supercharged Hormone Diet and The Carb Sensitivity Program. She’s also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique and a regular guest on The Dr. Oz Show and The Marilyn Denis Show. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here.