Dealing With the Winter Blues

  • Nature's Source

As we head into the holiday season, many Canadians will find their mood changes - either better or for worse. For some, winter time is a very happy, positive time of year. It may mean more time spent with loved ones, holidays and the New Year brings about happiness and joy. However, for many people, the winter months bring about times of sadness, low energy and overall depression in mood.

The aim of this article is to discuss seasonal depression as well as natural ways to address these feelings.


Seasonal Affective Disorder

Clinically, there is a difference between Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a subcategory of depression but is defined as having normal mood throughout most of the year and depressive symptoms at a particular time of year – usually at winter time. SAD is most prevalent in northern countries. 15% of Canadians report ‘winter blues’ but according to diagnostic criteria about 2% would be diagnostic of SAD. Usually, women suffer from it more. The symptoms of SAD are sadness, boredom, and irritability, increased need for sleep, low energy and fatigue. The intensity of these symptoms can vary from person to person. Some people are affected to the point it affects their everyday functioning, others feel depressed but can overcome.

Natural and effective ways to deal with SAD

Vitamin D[1]: in the summer months, we have skin exposed to UV rays from the sun – this is who much of our Vitamin D is made. However, in the winter months, as we cover up from the cold, we make less vitamin D. This change is especially noticed in northern climates, such as Canada.  Vitamin D status can be measured in the blood, preferable multiple times through the year to see how it changes individually. Vitamin D is important as its important in cholesterol and neurotransmitter synthesis. Low levels have been involved in the pathogenesis of depression. It influences nerves (brain cells), acetylcholine, serotonin, testosterone and thyroid hormone.  Nature’s Source and Nature’s Signatures stores carry a wide array of Vitamin D supplements.

Melatonin[2]: melatonin is a neurotransmitter usually made in the brain under circadian control. Once again, if circadian rhythms are off, melatonin synthesis may be off. Research has shown, melatonin supplementation is effective for some people suffering from seasonal affective disorder. Nature’s Source and Nature’s Signatures stores carry various melatonin preparations – sublingual, tablets, liquids, low dose and high dose. 

Bright Light Therapy[3]: it’s believed a part of SAD has to do with darkness and effects of sunlight on our brain. Certain functions in our brain are based on circadian rhythm – meaning certain things happen based on time of day. With winter comes more darkness and with darkness, our circadian rhythms can be altered. A person would usually buy a light box (emitting blue light) and sit in front of it for 30-60 mins a day. Studies have shown this to be effective for Seasonal Affective Disorder.


General Affective Disorders

There are also some people who report generally low mood year round. For some these feelings get worse around winter time, but not necessarily. This diagnosis takes thorough investigation of a doctor; there are no blood tests or diagnostic tests that can make a diagnosis of depression. A series of questions and a thorough personal history is what leads to a diagnosis. Depression and other mood disorders can be caused by a number of things, and as a result no one treatment works for everyone. Basic lifestyle changes like proper diet, exercise, social networking and meditation have all been shown to be effective. Two of the most common theories of what causes depression include: neurotransmitter dysfunction and nutrient deficiencies.


Natural and effective ways to deal with General Affective Disorders

Monoamines Neurotransmitter precursors[1]:monoamines are a certain class of molecules; serotonin is one that’s heavily associated with depression. The concept is low serotonin (low monoamine neurotransmitter) leads to depression. Many of the pharmaceutical drugs aim to increase the serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is not a supplement you can take, but its precursor, 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) is. 5-HTP can be converted into serotonin inside the brain. Clinical trials have shown 5-HTP to be effective in treating depression[4].

SAMe[1]: s-adenosylmethionine is what’s referred to as a methyl-donor. In order for our body to make certain things, a 1-carbon molecule called a ‘methyl’ needs to be provided. This is where SAMe comes into play. SAMe is what helps our body synthesise all the neurotransmitters. Research has shown depression sees a decreased production of SAMe. Defects in SAMe synthesis can lead to decreased serotonin and other neurotransmitters. In fact, research has shown that SAMe can be more effective that tricyclic anti-depressants for some people[5].

B Vitamins: B6, B12, Folate: These function together in many pathways; folate is commonly deficient in the north American population. In fact, 35% of patients with depression are folate depression and depression is the most common symptom of folate deficiency. On way their implicated with depression is a deficiency in these vitamins can lead to faulty manufacturing of certain neurotransmitters. Testing folate and B12 in the blood is a good place to start. Nature’s Source and Nature’s Signature Stores offer a wide array of B vitamins – either individually or in combination.

Zinc, selenium and chromium: Low levels of these can be due to various other conditions, and other symptoms may be present. It’s worth noting that micro-minerals such as these can have beneficial effects with depression[1].

Vitamin D: similar to as mentioned above with Seasonal Affective Disorder, Vitamin D is very important and has influence on nerves, neurotransmitters and hormones (amongst many other things). Lab tests can determine vitamin D status and supplementation can be effect in normalizing levels and improving well-being of depressed individuals[6].

Omega 3 Fatty Acids[1]: Omega 3 fat makes up the cell membranes of our cells, notably brain cells. More recent attempts to lower cholesterol in the diet have resulted in less favourable increases in omega-6 fatty acids and decreases in omega-3. Omega 3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and omaga-6 are pro-inflammatory. Research has shown that depression and affective disorders are associated with increased inflammatory cells[7], and furthermore, fish oil supplementation has been proven to be effective in treating depression [8].

Botanicals[1]:Herbs such as Hypericumperforatum (St. Johns Wort), Piper methysticum and Ginko Biloba have been thoroughly researched in depressed populations and found to be quite effective. When choosing herbs, it’s important to match the full symptom picture to the herb; as herbs have many functions and individualizing a treatment to an individual is the utmost priority.

With all supplements, it’s important to consider potential drug interactions and be aware of contraindications. Patients currently on anti-depressants must be cautious as mixing natural supplements and pharmaceuticals can potentiate the effects; something that must be avoided. Nature’s Source and Nature’s Signature stores offer all the supplements discussed here. The staff is highly trained and equipped to help match the best product to the individual.

Works Cited


J. Pizzorno, M. T. Murray and H. Joiner-Bey, The Clincian's Handbook of Natural Medicine, St. Louis: Elsevier, 2016.


A. Lewy, B. Lefler, J. Emens and V. Bauer, "The circadian basis of winter depression.," Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A., 2006.


H. Avery, D. Kizer, M. A. Bolte and C. Hellekson, "Bright light therapy of subsyndromal seasonal affective disorder in the workplace: Morning vs. Afternoon exposure," Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica. , vol. 103, no. 4, p. 267–274, 2001.


T. Birdsall, "5-Hydroxytryptophan: a clincially effective serotonin precursor," Alternative Medicine Review: a journal of Clinical Therapeutic, vol. 3, no. 4, pp. 271-280, 1998.


K. M. Bell, L. Plon, W. E. Bunney and S. G. Potkin, "Adenosylmethionine Treatment of Depression: A Controlled Clinical Trial," The American Journal of Psychiatry, Vols. 1110-4., p. 145.9 , 1988.


R. Anglin, Z. Samaan, S. Walter and S. McDonald, "Vitamin D deficiency and depression in adults: systematic review and meta-analysis," The British Journal of Psychiatry, pp. 100-107, 2013.


A. Miller, V. Maletic and C. Raison, "Inflammation and Its Discontents: The Role of Cytokines in the Pathophysiology of Major Depression," Biological Psychiatry , vol. 65, no. 9, pp. 732-741, 2009.


B. Grenyer, T. Crowe, B. Meyer, A. Owen, E. Grigonis-Deane, P. Caputi and R. Howe, "Fish oil supplementation in the treatment of major depression: A randomised double-blind placebo-controlled trial," Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, vol. 31, no. 7, pp. 1393-1396, 2007.


Mood Disorders Society of Canada, "Quick Facts: Mental illness and addiction in Canada," November 2009. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 16 Oct 2016].


E-mentalhealth, "Seasonal Depression (aka Winter Depression)," 25 Sept 2008. [Online]. Available: [Accessed Oct 2016].