There is a lot to love about the colder months. It’s an excuse to add cinnamon, vanilla and cloves to everything; cosy up to an open fire and drink hot tea to your heart’s desire. However, the progressive reduction in hours of light, as well as the drop in temperature can deeply affect the state of our body.
The reduced availability of UV rays during the colder months impacts synthesis of vitamin D, which plays several important roles including maintaining bone health, stimulating production of serotonin (the ‘happy’ hormone) and supporting the immune system. As well as this, the natural decline in light itself can affect our biological rhythms, causing changes in mood and alertness.
With shorter days and often grey skies, many of us can find ourselves cooped up indoors, often over-indulging in TV and turning to comfort foods for warmth and energy. The combination of cold weather and reduced vitamin D can affect the immune system, leaving us more susceptible to catching a cold or flu – and thus making us even more inclined to stay indoors! It is no surprise then that conditions such Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression, also impacts millions of people around this time of year.
With all this in mind, here are our suggestions for keeping the body energised and balanced during the colder months.
Choose to eat mindfully
It can be easy to overindulge during the winter months, especially as heavier foods and indoor social settings become the focus. However, it is important to remember the direct impact which food choices have on how we feel. Over-doing it on refined and sugar laden foods can leave us feeling sluggish. A high sugar intake can inhibit the ability of the immune system to fight bacteria, leaving us more susceptible to catching a cold or flu.1 These adverse effects of sugar can also stretch to psychological health, as a parallel between increased sugar consumption and mood disorders such as anxiety and depression has been established.2 Sugar can be a tricky habit to kick, as it initially satisfies the craving centres of the brain; even providing a surge in energy, however, the subsequent blood sugar crash can result in irritability, low mood or anxiety. If you are feeling low and/or sluggish, try swapping refined carbohydrates such as rice, pasta and potatoes for sautéed greens such as kale, broccoli or Brussel sprouts instead.
Warm up your recipes
Smoothies and salads can become less appealing as the weather gets colder, but don’t let that be an excuse to miss out on nutrient dense fruits and vegetables. Sautéed greens make a great base for a warmer version of favourite salads; while soups and stews are a wonderful way to satisfy cravings for comfort in a nutrient dense manner. Make the most of winter staples by indulging in antioxidant-rich versions of favourite hot beverages. There are plenty of great recipes for antioxidant rich hot chocolate and turmeric lattes – just be sure not to go overboard on the sweetener!
Get outside every day, even if it’s grey
While the temptation to resist the outdoors can be particularly high during the colder months, push yourself to step outside daily – even if it’s just for 10 minutes! The natural light supports a healthy Circadian rhythm, while breathing in some fresh air is great for boosting energy levels. Double down on these benefits by going for a 30-minute walk or run. Exercise is a great mood-booster and it can help to reduce feelings of anxiety and stress; both of which can exacerbate depression.
Mind your sleep
Becoming complacent in sleep patterns during the darker winter months is easily done. However, too much or too little sleep can negatively impact energy, mood and the immune system. While the dark evenings are actually supportive of melatonin production (the sleep hormone), artificial light and the use of electronics can interrupt the body’s ability to create melatonin. While limiting use of electronics at night is a good option for many reasons, using an app such as f.lux, which converts screen light from blue to red after a certain time, can also reduce the impact of blue light on sleep.
Key Nutrients to Consider During the Winter Months
- Vitamin D: a vitamin D supplement is an essential part of a good winter wellness kit for most people. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to various conditions3 such as diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis – but also to depression, which can be particularly relevant if you experience SAD. A blood level of vitamin D above 50 nmol/L is considered sufficient, however research suggests that between 100-150 nmol/L may be a more optimal range – so if you are not sure, get your levels checked (NB please be aware some tests use alternative units – ng/ml – in which case 40-60ng/ml is optimal).
- Omega-3: EPA supports hydration in the skin by regulating oil production, which can be helpful during the colder weather as central heating may make us more susceptible to dryness. Omega-3 fatty acids are also important for adequate dopamine and serotonin – the feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain, which can support a more balanced mood. For these reasons, it is a good idea to consume plenty of oily fish (2-3 portions per week, choose smaller fish such as sardines, wild salmon, mackerel and herring) as well as omega-3 rich flaxseeds, hemp and chia. For those who do not regularly consume oily fish then a fish or algal oil supplement can be a convenient option. Pregnant women are advised to consume no more than one portion of oily fish per week (due to concerns about heavy metals) so again may want to consider an omega-3 supplement.
- Vitamin C: this powerful antioxidant is highly regarded for its immune supportive properties and rightly so. It supports the immune system by maintaining the production of pathogen fighting white blood cells, while also protecting immune cells from damage.4 It may even be useful for those suffering from poor circulation as it works to strengthen the walls of veins and capillaries and reduce inflammation. Seasonal foods such as oranges, berries, kale, Brussel sprouts and broccoli are all good sources of vitamin C – just remember that vitamin C is not very heat stable so including raw food sources daily will help increase intake.
- Zinc: this mineral should not be overlooked in the colder months as it is vital for immune function and also supportive of our skin and mood. Several studies have shown that taking a zinc supplement may reduce the overall length and severity of cold symptoms,5 while deficiency has been linked to depression, increased anxiety and irritability.6 Zinc can be found in a variety of foods such as pumpkin seeds, eggs, chickpeas, cashew nuts, oysters and crab.
- 1-3, 1-6 Beta Glucan: this specific type of polysaccharide is primarily found in mushrooms and yeast; boasting powerful immune supportive properties. Beta glucan has been found to activate the innate and adaptive immune responses which can be helpful to ward off unwanted infections during the winter months.7
- Vitamin B12: while all B vitamins are important, vitamin B12 is vital for maintaining a healthy mood and proper cognitive function.8 Low levels of vitamin B12 have been associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and other depressive symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog and low mood.;9. Eggs, offal and red meats are some of the best sources of B12; a supplement should be considered for those following vegan or vegetarian diets.
- Ashwagandha: this ancient medicinal herb which helps the body to adapt to stress may be beneficial to some during the winter months as it has been found to support brain function, lower blood sugar and cortisol levels, while helping to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.10,11
- Probiotics: while a good probiotic is often recommended year-round, it may be even more pertinent during the colder months as the gut houses as much as 70% of our immune cells. Increasing intake of prebiotic foods such as onions, leeks, garlic and oats; as well as probiotic foods such as tempeh, kefir, yogurt and live sauerkraut is a great place to start.
- 5-HTP: perhaps not a traditional ‘winter wellness’ supplement, 5-HTP is the precursor to serotonin (the happy hormone). Serotonin is involved in mood, behaviour, appetite and sleep regulation and so may be helpful if mood, sleep and cravings are an issue during the colder season. If you do consider 5-HTP, make sure that you are also getting enough vitamin B6 and magnesium as they are important co-factors required to help the proper conversion of 5-HTP to serotonin.
- The combination of cold weather and reduced sun exposure can affect our immune system, leaving us more susceptible to catching a cold or flu. As the days become shorter, many people may find themselves struggling more with low mood or even experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression.
- Choose to eat mindfully and be careful with the amount of refined and sugar laden foods you consume as these can greatly affect mood and the immune system. Warm up your favourite foods by using sautéed greens instead of salad greens and choosing a turmeric latte in place of your regular smoothie.
- Getting outside daily is really important for supporting wellbeing during the colder months as it helps to boost energy levels and regulate the Circadian rhythm. Maintaining good sleep hygiene is equally pertinent to avoid any negative impact on energy, mood and the immune system. Using apps which convert the light from electronic devices from blue to red can be useful in preventing disruption of melatonin production – the body’s sleep hormone.
- Vitamin D cannot be synthesised from sunlight during the winter months so it is an important vitamin to supplement. Low vitamin D has been linked to low mood as well as many other health conditions.
- Mind your immune system by eating well and ensuring that you are getting plenty of vitamins A, C and D and the trace mineral zinc. Probiotics and 1-3, 1-6 beta glucan may also be considered as further support for immune function.
- If struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder or changes in mood, then ensuring optimal intake of vitamins D and B12 as well as omega-3 is important. Furthermore, supplements such as Ashwagandha and 5-HTP may be useful for symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression.
If you have questions regarding the topics that have been raised, or any other health matters, please do contact me (Tracey) by phone or email at any time.
firstname.lastname@example.org, 01684 310099
Tracey Hanley and the Cytoplan Editorial Team
Relevant Cytoplan Products:
Vitamin D3 Drops – two drops contains 5ug (5ml contains 40ug).
Vitamin D3/K2 – intended for short term use. It is ideally used in conjunction with any of our multiformulae.
Vitamin D3 – a Wholefood supplement from lichen ideal for vegetarians and vegans.
Vitamin B12 (as hydroxocobalamin) – this sublingual hydroxocobalamin is a good option for those with both a folate and B12 deficiency, in order to prevent permanent damage to the central nervous system.
Vitamin B12 (as methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin) – contains a combined sublingual dose of 1mg (1,000ug) of active methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin.
Immunovite – contains beta-glucan, vitamin C, zinc and selenium.
Kid’s Immunovite – contains beta glucan, vitamin C, iron, zinc and selenium.
Acidophilus Plus – contains Lactobacillus acidophilus and a further 8 live native bacterial strains, plus a small amount of fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS). It is designed to have activity throughout the whole digestive tract.
Omega 3 Vegan – derived from marine algae – a vegan source of the important omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Two capsules provide 334mg DHA and 166mg EPA.
Krill Oil – providing 1000mg of krill oil (150mg EPA and 90mg DHA) per two capsules, as well as vitamin A, phospholipids and astaxanthin.
5-HTP Plus– 5-hydroxytryptophan (precursor to serotonin) with cofactors B6 and magnesium. This supplement is not suitable for those on antidepressant medication.
Vitamin A (5,000 iu per capsule) – not suitable for pregnant or lactating women, smokers or those who have ever smoked heavily, except under medical advice. Recommended for short-term use only, or as directed by your Doctor or practitioner.
Women’s Wholefood Multi – all-encompassing multivitamin and mineral including iron. Suitable for pre-menopausal women and teenagers (both boys and girls).
Wholefood Multi – all-encompassing multivitamin and mineral low in iron. Suitable for men and post-menopausal women.
- Yu S, Zhang G, Jin LH. A high-sugar diet affects cellular and humoral immune responses in Drosophila. Exp Cell Res. 2018;368(2):215-224. doi:10.1016/j.yexcr.2018.04.032
- Knüppel A, Shipley MJ, Llewellyn CH, Brunner EJ. Sugar intake from sweet food and beverages, common mental disorder and depression: Prospective findings from the Whitehall II study. Sci Rep. 2017;7(1). doi:10.1038/s41598-017-05649-7
- Umar M, Sastry K, Chouchane A. Role of Vitamin D Beyond the Skeletal Function: A Review of the Molecular and Clinical Studies. Int J Mol Sci. 2018;19(6):1618. doi:10.3390/ijms19061618
- Carr A, Maggini S. Vitamin C and Immune Function. Nutrients. 2017;9(11):1211. doi:10.3390/nu9111211
- Hemilä H. Zinc lozenges and the common cold: a meta-analysis comparing zinc acetate and zinc gluconate, and the role of zinc dosage. JRSM Open. 2017;8(5):205427041769429. doi:10.1177/2054270417694291
- Piao M, Cong X, Lu Y, Feng C, Ge P. The Role of Zinc in Mood Disorders. Neuropsychiatry (London). 2018;07(04). doi:10.4172/neuropsychiatry.1000225
- Stier H, Ebbeskotte V, Gruenwald J. Immune-modulatory effects of dietary Yeast Beta-1,3/1,6-D-glucan. Nutr J. 2014;13:38. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-13-38
- Ankar A, Bhimji SS. Vitamin B12 Deficiency (Cobalamin).; 2018. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28722952. Accessed November 7, 2019.
- Kimball SM, Mirhosseini N, Rucklidge J. Database analysis of depression and anxiety in a community sample—response to a micronutrient intervention. Nutrients. 2018;10(2). doi:10.3390/nu10020152
- Maity T, Adhikari A, Bhattacharya K, Biswas S, Debnath PK, Maharana CS. A study on evalution of antidepressant effect of imipramine adjunct with Aswagandha and Bramhi. Nepal Med Coll J. 2011;13(4):250-253. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23016473. Accessed May 2, 2019.
- Mishra LC, Singh BB, Dagenais S. Scientific basis for the therapeutic use of Withania somnifera (ashwagandha): a review. Altern Med Rev. 2000;5(4):334-346. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10956379. Accessed January 31, 2019.