Dr. Stacie J. Stephenson, chair of Functional Medicine at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, shares ways to support a healthy mind and body as we transition from winter into spring.
It can seem like winter will go on forever but, of course, spring is imminent, so the time to start getting ready is now. Making sure you get the right vitamins and minerals, as well as consuming the proper diet, can help you greet the new spring with a healthy mind and body.
One of my favorite winter health-boosters is vitamin C. Not only does it support your immune system to help you avoid colds and flu viruses, but it can get you in shape to better combat spring allergy season and the upswing in colds and allergy symptoms that often come with a change of seasons. Fortunately, citrus is in season during winter, so I recommend having half a grapefruit, an orange, or a couple of clementines every day throughout the winter. I also take vitamin C supplements year-round. I take a lot, but if you’re just starting, try 500 mg per day and work up gradually to about 2,000 mg per day. Going up too fast can result in stomach pain and diarrhea, so go slowly.
In the winter, people tend to crave comfort food, but if you’re living on macaroni and cheese and pizza delivery, you’re not going to feel great in the spring. It’s important to keep vegetables in your diet, so try to get a serving or two of veggies at both lunch and dinner. Seasonal choices include winter squash (like butternut and acorn squash), beets, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower, sweet potatoes, and dark leafy greens like kale and collards. A hearty homemade chicken soup full of vegetables will help your body fight off viruses while also giving you that feeling of warmth and comfort.
Fighting Winter Depression
Winter is also a time when many people suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is basically a seasonal depression that reportedly occurs because of less exposure to full-spectrum light during the long winter days. Research has shown that people in the most northern areas, like Alaska, have the highest rates of this disorder.
Besides affecting your mood, SAD can also affect health behaviors. People suffering from depression are more likely to make poor dietary choices (often overeating sugar and fat) and are less likely to make the effort to exercise, especially in winter when that may involve going out to the gym. It can also increase the rates of other unhealthy habits like smoking, overusing prescription or over-the-counterpain killers (even ibuprofen has negative health effects), and under- or over-sleeping.
When there is a lack of sunshine, it’s very important to get enough vitamin D3, the sunshine vitamin, which also boost your mood and help you prevent SAD. I recommend taking 2,000 to 5,000 IU per day.
Another great remedy for SAD includes sitting in front of a full-spectrum light for a period of time each day. Research shows that full-spectrum light can actually alter your brain chemistry to improve your mood in just a couple of days. You don’t need a prescription to purchase a full-spectrum light box.(Read more about the healing effects of light here.)
Another easy, free remedy for SAD is to engage in cardiovascular exercise. There is quite a lot of research demonstrating the mood-boosting effects of cardio, demonstrating its effectiveness in treating depression. Do anything that gets your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes per day. Elliptical trainers, stationary bikes, rowing machines, or classes like spin or Zumba are all good cardio options. Cardio may be the last thing you feel like doing, but once you do it, you will feel better immediately. If you can only make yourself do one extra thing on a dark winter day, make it cardio.
Finally, omega-3 fatty acids in the form of fish oil have been shown to help alleviate symptoms of depression. You can eat more fatty fish, but taking a high-quality, mercury-free fish oil supplement daily will give you an even better boost. If you avoid fish oil supplements because of the after-effect of burping that fishy taste, try my secret for eliminating that unpleasant side effect—keep your fish oil in the freezer and take the capsules frozen.
If you’ve been working out, eating your veggies, and keeping your omega-3, vitamin D3, and vitamin C levels in good shape, you should be primed for spring.
This article is part of our series on detoxing. For more, read “9 Tips to Detox Your Closet.”