This article was originally published in April 2013 and has been updated.
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), pain sensation, 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 vitamins, we run a greater risk of serotonin deficiency. We may experience a dip in serotonin in relation to physiological causes, 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 — one of the main causes of serotonin depletion — it’s no wonder many of us suffer from depleted serotonin.
Let’s take a look at what you can do to ensure you keep your serotonin levels up:
1. 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.
2. 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 study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Vitamin B6 in particular supports the production of serotonin in the brain.
3. 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.
4. Add inositol to your smoothies
Naturally present in many foods, some studies have shown that inositol improves the activity of serotonin in the brain. As a supplement, it may be effective in 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.
5. 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.
Start with two to three 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.
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.