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Winter is upon us. It’s barely sunrise when we leave for work and past sundown by the time we get home.  And now the rains set in with day after day of gloomy gray skies.

Does the winter get you down?

For many in the Pacific Northwest, these dark months bring a kind of depression – also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. Up to 20% of people suffer from SAD, which can range from mild moodiness to more serious symptoms such as fatigue, sleep disturbances, changes in appetite, even a lack of interest in life. SAD is thought to be caused by the decreased light of the winter months. It is more common the farther you are from the equator.

While more serious symptoms of depression may require medications, there are a number of natural remedies that are often helpful.

The first one is light. Installing full spectrum lights in your home can literally brighten your day. Many people benefit from light boxes which are designed to simulate daylight. The light box works best during the first hour after you wake. Set it about 20 inches in front of you but don’t stare into it. The treatment only takes twenty or thirty minutes while you read or eat breakfast. Check with your doctor if you have an eye disorder or are on medication that may be affected by bright light.

Exercise is one of the best ways to boost your serotonin – your “happiness” neurotransmitter. Twenty minutes of gentle aerobic exercise is all it takes. If you can, put on your raingear and take a walk or bike ride.

Vitamin D levels go down in winter – and here in Portland we are generally deficient even at the end of summer. So make sure you take at least 2000 IU of vitamin D3 per day.

My favorite supplement for SAD is DL phenylalanine. 500-1000 mg in the morning can help boost your mood and make you feel more alert. Don’t do higher doses though, since it can make some people jittery and raise their blood pressure. If you have a condition known as PKU, this is NOT for you.

So, if you live in the Pacific Northwest, don’t curse the rain. Just turn on your bright lights, take your supplements, turn up the music and dance out the winter blues!

By Jennifer Means, ND, LAc

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