In the season of longer, dark nights and days that seem gray, many people report heightened feelings of moodiness or depression.
People spend more time indoors in artificial light and less time outdoors when temperatures drop. Late fall and winter are also associated with multiple sugar- and alcohol-filled holidays, starting with Halloween and continuing through Valentine’s Day — and research suggests that regularly consuming both can increase feelings of sadness.
About one in 20 American adults will develop seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — a type of depression that tends to start in the late fall and continue into the winter. Many others just feel a sense of blah vibes and a lack of motivation.
According to experts and research studies, there are several ways people can avoid feeling sad or depressed this winter.
A ketogenic diet is a high-fat, moderate-protein, very low-carb way of eating (usually less than 20 grams per day for first-timers) that has been around for over 100 years
Avoid carbohydrate-rich foods
A low-carb, ketogenic diet (KD) can reverse epilepsy, a neurological disorder, and type 2 diabetes. A study in May assessed the potential therapeutic efficacy of a ketogenic diet on a range of brain disorders, including depression, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and migraines.
A ketogenic diet is a high-fat, moderate-protein, very low-carb way of eating (usually less than 20 grams per day for first-timers) that has been around for over 100 years.
“I’ve personally been on a low-carb, keto diet for over 20 years for my own health, and have used it with patients for over 15 years, primarily for weight loss,” says Chris Palmer, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the chief of the Department of Postgraduate and Continuing Education at McLean Hospital, in a statement.
“I’ve found that the medical version of the ketogenic diet has antipsychotic effects and mood benefits in patients with chronic mental illness, so I’m pioneering the clinical use of the ketogenic diet in psychiatry.”
The authors state in the study published in Nutrients: ‘The review of the scientific literature shows that KD can influence not only the progression of neurological disorders, but also the course and outcome of their treatment’,
The researchers claim their review provides evidence that the ketogenic diet may provide therapeutic benefits in patients with neurological problems related to neuroinflammation or problems with brain energy metabolism.
When a person is in ketosis, they produce various ketone bodies that become alternative sources of energy for their brain and other organs.
Those include beta-hydroxybutyrate, which can increase the secretion of something called BDNF (brain-derived neurotropic factor), which has neuroprotective and neuroregenerative effects that improve a person’s mood.
“The effectiveness of KD has been proven in epilepsy and in other neurological diseases, such as depression, migraine or neurodegenerative diseases such as AD and PD,” the study concludes. “KD should also be considered as an adjuvant therapeutic option in other neurological conditions.”
“The effectiveness of KD has been proven in epilepsy and in other neurological diseases, such as depression, migraine or neurodegenerative diseases such as AD and PD,” the study concludes. ‘KD should also be considered as an adjuvant therapeutic option in other neurological disorders’
Get daily morning and afternoon sunlight
The sun is a free, natural antidepressant whose positive effects have also been known for a long time.
In 2017, Jeffrey Hall, Michael Robash, and Michael Young won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms that regulate circadian rhythm for everyone as on Earth.
Think of it this way: You have a clock in your head called the suprachiasmatic nucleus that directs your day-to-day behavior and how your body functions in relation to the sun in the sky.
Instead of spending all your time indoors staring at screens (computers, TVs, and smartphones), experts say it’s best to get as much sunlight as possible — even on cloudy or gloomy days.
“Your body is meant to be in the sun, and exposure to sunlight throughout the day is crucial to your well-being. In addition to producing vitamin D, an essential ingredient for overall health, sunlight also regulates your circadian rhythm by regulating the levels of serotonin and melatonin produced by your brain,” says Dr. Courtney Hunt, a nutrigenetics practitioner who studies how nutrition in the form of food and supplements affects a person’s genes and vice versa.
“People who don’t get enough sunlight have altered immune defense mechanisms that predispose them to excessive inflammation, which can lead to autoimmune diseases,” she states on her website.
Morning sunlight from sunrise tells your body to store melatonin for the day and produce cortisol and other hormones like serotonin and dopamine that you need to function. It also sets you up for a good night’s sleep the next night.
“People who don’t get enough sunlight have altered immune defense mechanisms that predispose them to excessive inflammation, which can lead to autoimmune diseases,” Dr. Courtney Hunt on her website
Afternoon light that contains UV rays helps you produce vitamin D through the synthesis of LDL cholesterol in your body. Vitamin D has many other positive effects, including strengthening your immune system and supporting healthy serotonin levels (lower serotonin levels are associated with feeling sluggish and in a bad mood).
If you need an extra boost beyond what’s available outside, experts recommend a red light therapy device or a bright light therapy box. They can both have mood and sleep-boosting benefits.
Stay active with weight lifting, HIIT and walking
While the mood-boosting effects of exercise are well known, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to stay consistent in the winter.
Physical activity is one of the best ways to stay energized throughout the day without the aid of caffeine or sugar, according to the CDC.
Researchers at the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School analyzed the cellular effects of both fasting and vigorous exercise for a February 2019 study.
Metabolic syndrome can predispose a person to neuroinflammation that eventually causes illnesses such as depression. One way to combat metabolic syndrome is through regular, rigorous exercise such as weightlifting, running, or high-intensity interval training.
Both metabolic interventions were independently shown to improve the internal cellular removal of so-called waste proteins that can accumulate and lead to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
It seems safe to assume that they would also have a positive effect on one’s mental well-being.
According to the CDC, “Regular exercise can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a combination of too much fat around the waist, high blood pressure, low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, high triglycerides or high blood sugar.’
Metabolic syndrome can predispose a person to neuroinflammation that eventually causes illnesses such as depression.