MindCheck Monthly: Beating the Winter Blues – Nutrient/Naturopathic Perspectives


Is winter getting you down? … If so, you might consider a Nutritional and Naturopathic approach that can help you maintain a balanced mood year round.

MindCheck provides in-depth information on Orthomolecular and Naturopathic approaches to achieving mental and physical health.  This series by Dr. Ray Pataracchia ND is endorsed by the Mindful Network – ‘A Better Future for Children’s Mental Health’.  Here we explore nutrient and lifestyle perspectives on health syndromes that when treated benefit both the body and the mind.

Winter as a Trigger for Depression

Kids, adults, and the elderly are all affected by the weather.  Our moods can and often do shift when weather changes.  For those of us who have depression, mild or severe, winter can be extremely difficult.  The feelings associated with depression can linger and interfere with daily activities. The negative thought rumination can be so debilitating that it interferes with thought processing and reduces overall mental stamina.  If poor sleep is present in addition to the depression, mental functioning worsens.

Herein we point to several biochemical reasons for this so-called ‘winter blues’ and discuss what can be done to support the body from a Nutritional and Naturopathic perspective.  Lab testing is pivotal in figuring out which biochemical pathway is imbalanced and how severe it is, and there are 15 syndromes commonly associated with optimal physical and mental health.

Here we focus on vitamin D deficiency which is common in the winter months, the primary nutritional and naturopathic syndromes of depression, and lifestyle factors.  In the vast majority of mood disorder cases, the primary syndromes include heavy metal excess, thyroid/adrenal burnout/imbalance, under-methylation and protein deficiency. 

By correcting the primary imbalances associated with depression we often simultaneously correct digestive, immune, and energy pathways and therefore overall health at a physical and mental level.  Both kids and adults benefit greatly when the primary health imbalances are corrected.  This approach puts us in a position to achieve life-long and continued health.

Vitamin D Deficiency & Winter Blues

Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin and when it is low during the winter months all of us notice that our mood is dampened.  For some of us this can be a pivotal time of the year, a time when mental setback or relapse looms.  Vitamin D helps form that feel good chemical serotonin.  Vitamin D is associated with thyroid metabolism which is pivotal in mood disorders (see below) and overall mental functioning.  Vitamin D helps us maintain calcium levels and calcium deficiency is associated with fast oxidizer subtypes of depression which can be assessed with lab testing.  Women under 40 use calcium and vitamin D to restore bone tissue.

Vitamin D Deficiency: The BodyMindLink

Physical health symptoms associated with Vitamin D deficiency include external bone structure loss, frequent infections, thyroid conditions, and fast oxidizer subtype symptoms (see below).  Mental health symptoms associated with Vitamin D deficiency include ‘winter blues’ (seasonal affective disorder, SAD), depression, anxiety, bipolar depression, and some cases of OCD and psychosis.

Fast oxidizers have particular physical and mental health symptoms.  Physical health issues of fast oxidizers include being underweight, ‘failure to thrive’ (kids), abdominal weight gain (cortisol excess), high blood sugar, high (or high normal) blood pressure, warm body temperature, oily skin, easily sweating, and loose or frequent bowel movements.  Mental health issues of fast oxidizers include mind-running, anxiety, irritability, aggressiveness, and select cases of ADD and bipolar disorder.  ‘Mind-Running’ is a classic fast metabolic mental health issue seen commonly in ADD kids and adults.

Heavy Metal Excess and Winter Blues

Riding our body of unwanted metals is associated with overall health.  Heavy metals destroy brain tissue and disrupt brain cell metabolism at various levels.  Lead, mercury, cadmium, and aluminum destroy brain tissue. They are widespread in air, industrial waste, dental fillings and household chemicals.

Copper (considered a heavy metal when in excess) excess can also over-stimulate the brain.  Copper is found in dental fillings, cigarettes, animal feed, and plant sprays (vegetarian consumption).  After WWII, we see changes in society which could have contributed greatly to copper accumulation in the human population.  At that time we see that homes were built with copper water pipes (a source for copper leaching into the water supply) and also the start of wide-spread use of birth control pills (these estrogen containing pills promote the retention of copper at the bone level).  Copper toxicity is a zinc deficiency syndrome.

For more details, please read my review on heavy metal excess in kids and heavy metal excess in adults suffering with depression and behavior disorders.

Heavy Metal Excess: The BodyMindLink

Physical health symptoms associated with heavy metals include rapid up/down fatigue (especially with mercury), headaches, allergies, high blood pressure, joint pain, and mental symptoms that wax and wane.  Copper toxicity is associated with rheumatism and gum bleeding.  Mental health symptoms associated with heavy metals include poor memory (mercury), poor learning (lead), and nervous irritability.  Copper toxicity is associated with poor verbal-intellectual learning, irritability, paranoia (frontal brain cortex stimulation), psychosis, anxiety, hormonal cyclic depression, PMS, bipolar disorder, OCD, and ADD/ADHD.

Thyroid/Adrenal Imbalance and Winter Blues

Thyroid or Adrenal Burnout are extremely common in mood disorder.  The low thyroid state results in sluggish body and brain metabolism.  When you have encountered continuous stresses in life your thyroid gland gives out on you.  Iodine is often needed to make thyroid hormones and deficiency is quite common.  Low adrenal metabolism or adrenal exhaustion often coexists with low thyroid states; the adrenal gland manufactures and regulates the release of stress, sugar, and electrolyte hormones.

The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists have changed their perspective on ‘What range of thyroid blood levels is considered ‘normal’?‘.

For more details, please read my review on thyroid imbalance in kids and adults suffering with depression and behavior disorders.

Thyroid & Adrenal Compromise: The BodyMindLink

Low thyroid symptoms that affect your physical health include fatigue, constipation, muscle pain (fibromyalgia), joint pain, obesity, hair thinning, muscle weakness, dry skin, and high cholesterol.  Low thyroid symptoms that affect your mental health include poor concentration, brain fog, psychosis, depression, anxiety, and bipolar depression (often a high to low thyroid pattern).  Low adrenal symptoms often overlap low thyroid symptoms; low adrenal symptoms include stress intolerance, waking in the middle of the night, dizziness, blurring vision, mid-afternoon fatigue, and lower back pain.

Under-Methylation and Winter Blues

In this condition you basically have difficulty making adequate amounts of brain neurotransmitters (brain communication chemicals) on demand. This is associated with B12 and folic acid deficiency.  For more details, please read my review on undermethylation in kids and adults suffering with depression and behavior disorders.

Under-Methylation: The BodyMindLink

Under-methylation symptoms that affect your physical health include fatigue, heart disease & strokes, seasonal allergies, and medication burn-out.  Under-methylation symptoms that affect your mental health include poor concentration, depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, behavior disorders, and psychosis (schizophrenia).

Protein Deficiency/Breakdown and Winter Blues

Most brain chemicals are made from the protein from the diet.  Kids and adults can break down their protein so fast that it results in a deficiency state.  North American diets are high in carbohydrates and low in protein.  Patients that do not eat 3 solid high-protein meals a day are more likely to be protein deficient.  For more details, please read my review on protein deficiency in kids and adults suffering with depression and behavior disorders.

Protein Deficiency/Breakdown: The BodyMindLink

Protein deficiency/breakdown symptoms that affect your physical health include fatigue, bone matrix weakening, tiredness after meals, not reaching developmental weight/height (‘failure to thrive’), problems putting on weight, and hair loss.  Protein deficiency/breakdown symptoms that affect your mental health include anxiety in stomach (a symptom seen in generalized anxiety disorder, GAD), ADD/ADHD, irritability, depression, and psychosis.

Lifestyle Considerations to Fight the Winter Blues

Basic lifestyle considerations to help you maintain optimal mental and physical health during the winter include getting outside to soak up the sun, drinking adequate water (often we decrease water intake in the winter), exercising regularly (bundle up and get out, walk, try some winter sports), socializing regularly, getting a good sleep, and eating regularly (often high protein foods help; breakfast is the most important meal of the day).

Disclaimer: Information provided is not to be used for self-assessment, diagnosis or treatment.  We advise the public to discuss these topics with their health care provider or book an appointment with our Toronto clinic.