Winter is the time of year that we, in mind, body, and spirit, are most disjointed from the luxuriant warmth of the tropics. While one may value the sublime and ethereal effect that winter has on our chaotic lives (unfortunately my urban ramblings take a hit), the chill can take a heavy toll on us physically and emotionally. For those of us lucky enough to get away on a beach vacation, those are often more susceptible to illness and depression upon their return.
So, to the natural armory we go to pull us through the winter gauntlet!
First of all, when the sun does decide to shine, get out there, take off your shades, and stick you face in it! Just a little bit can make a difference. While I do confess to being a night owl, such a schedule in winter can really get you down. Humans do need sunlight to feel happy (there is something known as Seasonal Affective Disorder SAD, and women apparently are more likely to be significantly affected by this), and thinking that Vitamin D supplements will do the trick is missing the point. Actually, sun or other bright lights seem to regulate the production of melatonin, a hormone partially responsible for staving off depression.
There are a number of things we can put in our body to give us a natural lift. You will find that many of these are mutually exclusive for use with anti-depressive drugs, which interfere with normal brain activity, and keep you from being able to eat a whole host of goodies. Its best to stay on the natural side of the fence:
St. John’s Wort: Some would contend its effectiveness, but since this herb has many potential drug interactions, and should not be used with antidepressant medications (St. John’s Wort actually works in the same manner as MAO inhibitors, but less harshly), be wary of who are bunking it. The flavonol and hypericin in St. John’s Wort protect against toxic enzymes found in depressed people. Many people find it to be helpful for mild to moderate depression.
Vitamin C and B-Complex Vitamins (including Folic Acid): Yes, the everyday vitamin standbys are often found to be exhausted in depressed people, and Folic Acid (Brewer’s Yeast, then Wheat Germ are the best natural sources) can be very helpful in relieving depression, especially that linked to alcohol abuse.
S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe): This antioxidant has been used successfully to treat more serious forms of depression (but should not be used by manic depressives), and has been found to be more effective than pharmaceutical medications in some cases. It works quickly and generally has beneficial side effects. SAMe is best obtained from a supplement, (Nature’s Plus is once source), and is not to be taken if you are on prescription antidepressants.
L-Tyrosine: This Amino acid alleviates stress by boosting the production of adrenaline, and also raises dopamine levels, which can affect moods. For women using oral contraceptives, a deficiency of this amino acid, or L/D-Phenylalanine often causes depression. Again, do not use this if you are on MAO inhibitor antidepressants.
The following foods are high in Tyrosine: Bananas, yogurt, fennel, onion, garlic, strawberries, apples, watercress, & beets.
Super-unsaturated essential fatty acids are required for normal brain function, and can be obtained from oily fish, or flaxseed oil. Hemp and pumpkin seeds are also rich in these acids.
Vegetables and grains loaded with minerals and B-complex vitamins will help round out your body’s needs. Find a way to incorporate foods like carrots, broccoli/cauliflower, kale, spinach, alfalfa sprouts, nuts, legumes, soybeans, wheatgrass, spirulina, apricots, cantaloupe, and mango into your winter diet if you don’t already.
Too much saturated fat and simple sugars in your system can help fuel that roller coaster of guilt and depression. The overabundance of sugar in our lives (sodas are now the single largest source, accounting for about 1/3 of sugar intake in the U.S.) has been implicated in all that obesity you see around (especially with children), and let’s face it, being overweight is a surefire way to get bummed out. In general, avoid processed foods, refined sugar, and artificial sweeteners like aspartame, which has been linked to depression due to its methanol content.
Now, onto that bittersweet holiday that comes along to shock us out of our winter lull. Love it or dread it, Valentine’s Day is on its way, so what to do to make the most of it? They say eating chocolate brings about the same pleasures in the brain as having sex , so why not opt for the latter, ditch the chocolate (who wants the weight of slave/child labor that the international cocoa trade is known for on your conscience), and serve a concoction with some of the following natural aphrodisiacs to get you and your partner in the mood?
Yohimbe Bark: The extract from this West African tree skin is more well known as a natural male potency helper, but it has been shown in a study to boost female arousal when combined with the amino acid L-Arginine.
Ginkgo Biloba: The extract from the leaves of Ginkgo trees is known to alleviate circulatory disorders, and we all know that blood is in high demand in certain realms for a hot steamy session. Incidentally, Ginkgo is also recommended to restore a depressed mind to normal function.
Damaina: Used by past inhabitants of the Sonora region for arousal (has been known to produce erotic dreams), a tea made from the leaves of this plant can work as an aphrodisiac. The plant is actually named Turnera aphrodisiaca (no joke!).
Maca: This is a ground cover plant that grows high in the Andean region, where the natives believe an extract from the plant’s tubers boost strength, libido, and fertility, for both animals and humans. It hasn’t been tested in a human sex study, so you’ll have to try for yourself.
Muira Puama: The bark of this shrub from the Amazon region (known as a “potency wood” there) can be made into an infusion. A French study gave over 250 healthy women exhibiting low libido a combination of Muira Puama and Ginkgo, and 62% reported improved effects across the board. Find a source of powdered Muira Puama bark, and boil two tablespoons in a pint of water for 15 minutes, drink it then or later.
Here are some recipes for beverages to beat the winter blues
Banana Bummer Beater
– 1/2 to 1 Banana
– 1 cup Yogurt
– 1 small apple (cored)
– 1 tsp flaxseed or wheat germ oil.
Blend together and add a bit of water if it is too thick.
– 1 cup cashew nuts
– 2 cups chopped Cantalope or Mango
– 2 Tablespoons Wheat Germ
Blend together and add a bit of water if it is too thick. The cashews and these two fruits are all high in anacardic acid, an anti-depressive organic acid.
– 1 cup Apple juice, or solid equivalent
– 1 Tablespoon Brewer’s yeast
– 1 Tablespoon Spirulina, Blue-Green, or Chlorella Algae
– 1 Tablespoon Lecithin granules
– 1 teaspoon Ginsing granules
This concoction will cover most of the B-complex spectrum your body needs, with Ginsing for an extra boost.
Information for this article was gleaned from material written by Phyliss & James Balch, Steve Meyerowitz, & Michael Castleman.
Gregor Altman is a longtime student and willing participant of explorations in exotic cultures and cuisines. He has gravitated to those which make use of hot spices and medicinal botanicals. Recent involvements include managing a natural food producer in New Mexico, and volunteering at a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm on Long Island, New York. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.