Feeling SAD?

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Winter Blues.

Winter Blahs

Seasonal Affective Disorder.

SAD.

It's February. Are you feeling it?

Last week I talked about self-care and the routines that help keep me mentally healthy. Let's call today Mental Health Monday.

I've been keenly aware of mental health for a long time and in addition to the routines, the yoga, the meditation etc. that I discussed last week, there are some other key elements to mental health. I'll discuss some of them briefly, departing from my usual verbose style. Note, none of this is a replacement for advice from a healthcare practitioner:

Light Therapy

Light Therapy consists of exposure to daylight or to specific wavelengths of light. Basically, it simulates day light. Some studies show that it's as effective as antidepressants at treating SAD. Light therapy makes up for lost sunlight exposure and resets the body's internal clock. Also, sunlight generally improves mood.

English: Light therapie lamp Philips HF3319/01...
Light therapy lamp Philips HF3319/01 Energy Light. Light intensity compared to daylight (circa 11.00 a.m.). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Vitamin D

Here's some information that might be new to you: Known as the sunshine vitamin, Vitamin D isn't really a vitamin, it's a hormone. It's made on the skin when UVB from sunshine hits the skin. Only the UVB wavelength of light makes vitamin D. So now it will make sense when I tell you that pork from pastured pigs – pigs that spend a lot of time outside in the sunshine – has the highest amount of Vitamin D of any land animal. If you're a pork eater, eat lots of pastured pork in the winter.

Exercise

Staying active increases the production of feel-good chemicals. Even a walk outside. Try a walk around the block, then see if you can keep going. Or walk to where you need to run errands, because you have to go anyway (unless you have a lot to carry or the errand is filling the gas tank). A walk to pick up a few groceries or to the laundromat is a good kind of multitasking.

Borrow a dog if you don't have one

This one is part exercise (dog walk), part pet therapy. My dog sometimes gets borrowed. Cuddling and playing with a dog is highly therapeutic.

Borrow a baby or child if you don't have one.

Same idea. One of my favourite things about babies: When you smile at them, they smile back. It's hard not to feel something. Also, children are inspiring. They're full of wonder and innocence.

Herbal Supplements

St. John's Wort

According to this book, it's Nature's Blues Buster. The fact that the author is one of my family members is tremendously helpful. St. John's Wort is one of those subjects with conflicting study results – some studies say it doesn't work at all, that it's a placebo, some say that it works on mild-to-moderate depression. It works on mine, so whenever people claim that it, or anything else, is a placebo I say, “That's fine with me!” I'm all for a placebo that will keep me from feeling like shit.

English: St John's wort in Bahrenfeld, Hamburg...
St John's Wort

Ashwaganda, Astragalus, Rhodiola, Schisandra

I'm lumping these together because they're part of a class of herbs called “adaptogens”. Adaptogens help balance, restore and protect the body and modulate your response to stress. They go to work where you need it. Dr. Frank Lipman provide one of the best descriptions I've ever read:

Adaptogens work a bit like a thermostat. When the thermostat senses that the room temperature is too high it brings it down; when the temperature is too low it brings it up. Adaptogens can calm you down and boost your energy at the same time without over stimulating. They can normalize body imbalances. By supporting adrenal function, they counteract the adverse effects of stress.  They enable the body’s cells to access more energy; help cells eliminate toxic byproducts of the metabolic process and help the body to utilize oxygen more efficiently.

I use them when I'm starting to feel symptoms of adrenal fatigue. One of the symptoms that I tend to notice most (as opposed to those I don't notice) is physical anxiety without mental stress. Not all adaptogens are listed here, only a few.

Ashwaganda

Even the word makes me feel better. I really enjoy saying “ashwaganda”. To me, it sounds like the name of a place inhabited by natives, referred to as “ashwagandans”. Ashwaganda is considered one of the most powerful herbs in Ayurvedic healing. As an adaptogen, it helps the body adapt to stress. Furthermore, ashwaganda is anti-inflammatory, it protects the immune system and the brain and nervous system, and it improves learning, memory, and reaction time.

Say it: Ashwaganda.

Astragalus root

Astragalus, also fun to say, is used in Chinese medicine to boost immunity. It helps reduce stress and aging by protecting cells and DNA. Astragalus is found in some adrenal support formulas.

Rhodiola

Also known as roseroot, Arctic root or golden root. It's long been used in traditional Chinese medicine, in Scandinavia and in Russia. Like the others, it enhances the immune system. A study published in 2007 in the Nordic Journal of Psychiatry, showed that patients with mild-to-moderate depression who took rhodiola extract reported fewer symptoms of depression than those who took a placebo. It's long been used to treat anxiety. A small human trial of rhodiola at UCLA published in 2008, reported significant improvement in 10 people with generalized anxiety who took the herb for 10 weeks. Rhodiola appears to work faster than conventional antidepressants. (Source: Dr. Weil) Some studies have concluded that rhodiola is neuroprotective against toxins. It's also used to reduce the effects of prolonged and physical exhaustion that leads to fatigue.

Schisandra

Schisandra is a berry used in Traditional Chinese medicine. It helps balance hormones and improves the ability to deal with physical and psychological stress. It also reduces inflammation, improves cognitive function and is neuroprotective.

Schizandra

There are 2 adrenal formulas that I've used and like:

  1. AdrenaSense by Preferred Nutrition
  2. Adrenal-Pro by Can Prev

Finally, Take advantage of the sunny days! Don't let yourself stay inside because it's cold, bundle up and go get your face in the sun. Take a brisk walk, maybe with a borrowed dog. Go sledding or skating, and follow that up with a hot beverage of your choice such as a hot chocolate with milk or golden milk. You might feel better.

My current “thing”: Golden Milk

Just as I recently jumped on the smoothie bowl (with gelatin to make it mousse-like) train, I've also recently jumped on the Golden Milk train. As a wellness nerd, I've been a dabbler in Ayurvedic medicine for years. I can't spell “Ayurvedic” and “Ayurveda” (I always want to swap the first y & u) but I have a good foundation of knowledge in it. I took my first workshop in Ayurveda about a decade ago, and 3 or so years ago I treated myself to a day at a Ayurvedic spa for my birthday. So, Golden Milk fascinates me and I feel like I should drink more of it because it's good for me.

What is Golden Milk?

It's milk with turmeric and other spices. Turmeric makes it golden color.

Why Golden Milk?

Golden Milk has been used in India and China for centuries. It's a staple in Ayurvedic medicine and Chinese medicine for its health benefits.

Curcumin, one of the bio-active ingredients in turmeric, has over 150 potentially therapeutic activities, including anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial activity, as shown by research studies. Some studies have concluded that curcumin is effective in treating arthritis.  Turmeric can be used to treat wounds, cuts, rashes, bruises, insect bites, and swelling. One study shows that it helps wounds heal faster.

Golden milk has lots of fantastic ingredients. Here's a basic recipe that I recently posted to Instagram:

I've since changed the recipe a bit, adding a few more ingredients. I've made Golden Milk with almond milk, coconut milk and dairy (cow) milk. I didn't like it with almond milk at all. Coconut was my favourite. I made one cup with my favourite greens powder, but it tasted so bad that I threw it out. I've made it with cardamom, even though I'm not a fan of cardamon.

More information about health benefits follows the recipe:

So, this is my basic recipe for Golden Milk

Golden Milk
Print Recipe
Servings Prep Time
1 cup 2 minutes
Cook Time
5 minutes
Servings Prep Time
1 cup 2 minutes
Cook Time
5 minutes
Golden Milk
Print Recipe
Servings Prep Time
1 cup 2 minutes
Cook Time
5 minutes
Servings Prep Time
1 cup 2 minutes
Cook Time
5 minutes
Ingredients
Servings: cup
Instructions
  1. Simmer it all together, then blend in a blender.
Share this Recipe
 

Serve in your favorite mug, like I do.

My favourite mug is a Peet's coffee mug that my aunt bought me when I was visiting her in Berkeley a few years ago.

golden milk ingredients

Other Golden Milk ingredient benefits

I was hesitant to add pepper for awhile because I didn't want my golden milk too “spicy”, but now I add a few grinds because I was reminded that piperine, the alkaloid compound responsible for the pungency of black pepper, increases the bio-availability of curcumin. This means that it maximizes the benefits of curcumin. With a recent review of the scientific research showing that turmeric and curcumin might NOT be as beneficial as several studies suggest, I especially want it to be as bio-available as possible.

Coconut oil: This is one of my favourite ingredients ever. Coconut oil is one of my “deserted island” items. It's anti-viral, anti-bacterial, antioxidant, anti-fungal, anti-microbial, anti-parasitic, and anti-inflammatory. If you want to learn more about coconut oil from me, you can subscribe to my newsletter and get my “5 superfoods” e-course. Or, you can buy the full e-book for $9.

Cinnamon: It's heavy in polyphenols (anti-oxidants). It's anti-inflammatory. It helps lower blood sugar levels. Like coconut oil, it's anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. There's been some research done that shows that cinnamon can prevent and treat cancer. It's got vitamins, minerals and amino acids. A half teaspoon can have positive health affects.

Ginger: Ginger is part of the same plant family as turmeric. According to Ayurvedic medicine, it's an immune-booster. It's good for digestion and can help nutrients absorb better. It's anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal.

Honey: Honey has antibacterial, anti-fungal, antimicrobial and antioxidants properties and high nutrient value. It's another one you can read about in “5 superfoods”. (I've just given you 2 of 5.)

So there you go. Golden Milk. I've been adding turmeric to other things too, such as rice and oatmeal. I'm on a turmeric kick. It might be helping me recover from soreness from daily yoga sessions and when I work on my feet for several hours.

Enjoy.

Further Ayurveda resources:

To avoid overwhelming you, here are just a few that I reference most often:

-Yogahealer.com/Cate Stillman: I enjoy the website, the mailing list and the podcast. You can listen straight from the website. I listen to the podcast while walking the dog but then read the show notes on my computer. Look for it in iTunes, Stitcher or whatever other podcast app your phone uses. (I use Stitcher for Android.)

The Chopra Center

Everyday Ayurveda