Beat the Winter Blues with these 5 Key Nutrients!

There’s a distinct chill in the air, and judging by the sudden ambush of Christmas adverts, I’d say it was November, and thus, winter. ‘tis the season... in which we develop an unhealthy infatuation with our beds. Is it just me, or are you too, reluctant to emerge from the comforting cocoon that is the duvet? I don’t think there’s anything quite as agonising in life as the sound of the alarm going off when it’s still dark outside.

If you have the discipline to jump out of bed with enthusiasm come rain or shine, then you have my seal of approval. You get extra points if you lace-up and head off to the gym, too, because that’s doubly impressive.

If, however, that isn’t you – worry not.

Winter Blues

This time of year is notorious for feeling the blues. Why? Well, some experts suggest that seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may be the culprit; limited daylight hours are thought to interfere with our body’s natural production of hormones, affecting things like mood and sleep patterns. Whilst the obvious solution is to hop on the nearest flight to Barbados, for most of us, this (likely) isn’t an option we have at our disposal.

Thankfully, there’s a plan B; it’s quite possible that certain nutrients can offer therapeutic effects, and lacking in these may impact our mindset, as well as our physical health.

Below, you’ll find a list of key nutrients that may help to bring a bit of inner sunshine to your life (even when it’s bleak outside).

Vitamin B12

A pretty phenomenal nutrient, Vitamin B12 is required for the formation of red blood cells, alongside folate (folic acid). It improves the absorption/function of iron in the body, and so usually, one of the first signs of deficiency is anaemia, coupled with feeling lacklustre. It’s also important for the healthy production of nerve cells, plus DNA and RNA; low levels can eventually lead to damage of the nervous system. Luckily, we only need a very small intake (0.0015mg daily) to prevent deficiency.

Interestingly, low intakes of B12 have also been linked to depression, though scientists are not completely clear as to why.

Naturally occurring in foods of animal origin, fish, poultry, red meat, liver, eggs and dairy products are the best sources. There’s some evidence to suggest that B12 is found in things like seaweed/nori, Spirulina and barley grass, and but it’s believed to be an unreliable form of the nutrient. Thus, if you’re vegan, fortified foods or a B12 supplements are your best bet.

Niacin

Niacin – or Vitamin B3 – has many roles in the body. It assists energy metabolism, and helps to dilate blood vessels, increasing circulation and causing a ‘flush’. For this reason, you’ll often come across nicotinamide or nicotinoic acid (other forms of the nutrient) in pre-workout products; they tend to create a nice pump! Niacin is found in a wide range of foods, including beef, turkey, salmon, mushrooms, sunflower seeds and peanuts.

Studies suggest that niacin can be used therapeutically to help you relax and induce a more restful sleep. It’s also thought to improve mood and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Since niacin is water-soluble, overdose is unlikely (if not impossible); instead, it’s best to aim for the ‘flushed’ effect, which may be achieved by taking a 25mg supplement, three times daily. You can gradually increase this quantity, if wished.

Tryptophan

The Amino Acid tryptophan forms part of the structural proteins of the body, but it is also the precursor to the serotonin pathway. As a neurotransmitter, serotonin helps to regulate sleep patterns, the stress response, appetite and mood; low levels of tryptophan have been linked to depression, owing to an interference in serotonin production (often dubbed ‘the feel-good’ neurotransmitter).

Since tryptophan is thought to be destroyed by heat, nuts (especially cashews), seeds and bananas are among the best sources of this amino, along with cold-pressed whey protein. Including these in your diet helps to maintain an optimal intake.

Vitamin D

Our bodies require Vitamin D to absorb calcium, needed for healthy, strong bones. The majority of this nutrient is synthesised via exposure to natural sunlight; given our noticeable lack of sunshine here in Blighty, it’s not surprising that levels are apt to fall low.

Interestingly, there is a relationship between depression, fatigue, and vitamin D deficiency. However, it’s not clear whether low levels of this nutrient are the cause or effect of this.

The recommended daily intake for vitamin D is 10μg – said to be obtained by exposing the skin to 20-30 minutes of sunlight, around three times a week. However, the cooler months present more of a problem, so a supplement is recommended. Dietary sources include oily fish; eggs, dairy products and mushrooms may provide useful quantities.

Omega-3s

The essential fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid (EPA and DHA), found in oily fish, play an important role in the formation of nerves, and contribute to cognitive function. They also help to reduce inflammation, and maintain healthy joints.

Omega-3s are said to help alleviate depression and other, related issues.

Eating two portions of oily fish per week, such as salmon, herring or mackerel – or taking a 1,000mg daily supplement is said to deliver maximum benefits.

So there you have it; eating really does make you happy :)

Until next time,

Zoe

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About the Author

Zoë is a qualified nutritionist; she holds a BSc in Human Nutrition (Hons), and is currently working towards her certification in sports nutrition, awarded by the ISSN. What you eat can greatly impact your health, well-being and exercise performance. Therefore, Zoë is here to support you in reaching your goals by helping you to make informed dietary and supplement choices.
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