Winter Blues: how to fight it with the right nutrition

Elena Casiraghi, PhD – Equipe Enervit
Winter Blues, also defined as seasonal affective disorder, is a psycho-physical situation that arises most in winter. Light, has a considerable impact on our daily life and our well-being. The rhythms of life are altered with each variation. Our life, and more generally the life of the animal kingdom, has been regulated since the beginning of existence by the alternation of light and darkness. The circadian clock that each individual possesses internally and that manages the daily vital rhythms such as body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate and much more, is dictated by the presence of sunlight and adapts to it. But there's more to it than that. Let's find out.

How the alternation of light and darkness affects our organism

Light influences the hypothalamus and this acts on the circadian clock in two different ways. One directly through the eye, and thus the sight of light, the other indirectly through the greater or lesser production of melatonin - a substance also known as sleep hormone - whose production increases in the dark and decreases in the light. In this case also with artificial light. Whenever there is a change in light exposure, the body must create a new adaptation.

As such, adaptation is the result of continuous stimuli, also called stressors, which lead first to adjustments and then, in the long term, to adaptations. Therefore, by intervening on these two planes, light reflected in the eye and production of melatonin, it is possible to help modify the circadian biorhythm and get used to the less available light.

Promoting the quality of sleep: This is how you make your dinner

A balanced diet is in itself a good guideline as it involves the consumption of food that promotes sleep quality and in the appropriate quantities. A source of so-called refined carbohydrates such as basmati or whole-grain rice or cereals or an accompanying portion of bread should never be missing from your dinner, especially if you are training in the late afternoon. Or even, if we wish, a little piece of dark chocolate that will stimulate serotonin with a positive impact on melatonin, the sleep hormone.

A diet too low in carbohydrates, on the contrary, can reduce the quality of sleep due to increased cortisol levels. Adequate protein intake at dinner also improves the quality of sleep. Among these, for example, chicken meat can be a positive choice because it is a food rich in tryptophan, an amino acid used by the body for the synthesis of serotonin and melatonin. The fats must also be beneficial to health: a dinner rich in saturated fats reduces the total time of sleep. Extra virgin olive oil, rich mainly in polyunsaturated fatty acids, is ideal for condiments, and therefore always remains an excellent choice. In the appropriate quantities, of course.

Theanine

Each season has its own needs and commitments for which energy is required from our body and mind. If further stressful factors such as cold weather or changing seasons are added to these, it is highly likely that vitality and efficiency will be affected. But there's some good news. To keep the right amount of energy and reduce fatigue, nature once again offers its precious support, which proves to be a valuable extra thanks to the theanine, an amino acid that is naturally concentrated in the leaves of green tea.

It is also present in matcha tea, a green tea originating in China, whose cultivation and processing technique was developed by Japanese Buddhist monks of which they are major consumers. And it is thanks to the fact that this substance is contained in the tea that the association between the consumption of the drink and the vigilant calm typical of these monks is born. For this reason, theanine could be a valuable support in managing periods of mental fatigue. After oral ingestion, the theanine can cross the blood-brain barrier and produce a relaxing sensation without making you drowsy. It also showed a positive effect in reducing stress and increasing good mood.

Theanine: from matcha tea to the vigilant calm of Tibetan monks

If much is already known about Omega-3, little is known about the theanine despite its history having deep roots in the past. Theanine is an amino acid most commonly found in tea leaves and in small amounts in Bay Bolete mushrooms. It has a molecular structure similar to that of tryptophan, the amino acid known as the precursor of serotonin, or rather, the neurotransmitter of serenity and pleasure. Theanine can be found naturally in both green and black tea.

It is also present in matcha tea, a green tea originating in China, whose cultivation and processing technique was developed by Japanese Buddhist monks of which they are major consumers. And it is thanks to the fact that this substance is contained in the tea that the association between the consumption of the drink and the vigilant calm typical of these monks is born. For this reason, theanine could be a valuable support in managing periods of mental fatigue. After oral ingestion, the theanine can cross the blood-brain barrier and produce a relaxing sensation without making you drowsy. It also showed a positive effect in reducing stress and increasing good mood.

Physical activity against winter blues

Winter blues exist just like Monday blues: we have to deal with them every winter and at the beginning of every week. But the good news is that it's a completely transitory state of mind. Nutritional strategies and daily and constant physical activity are two valuable tools to combat the malaise caused by lack of light. What could give rise to concern were pathological conditions such as depression and anxiety, situations of altered well-being that require deep intervention and a longer resolution time.

Here again, however, scientific research shows that there are two valuable tools to promote mental well-being and reduce the risk of degenerative situations.

  • People between 18 and 64 years of age have to practice at least 2 and a half hours a week or 30 minutes of physical activity a day for 5 days a week. The risk of depression and anxiety is significantly reduced doing it.
  • People who exercise less than 2.5 times a week are at risk of mood alteration, particularly anxiety. Not only how often we move, but also how we train counts: the various training methods can also affect mental well-being.

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