If you’re feeling more gloomy than usual, you’re not alone – winter blues (or seasonal depression) is a real thing! Shorter days, the lack of sunlight, and colder temperatures can make anyone feel dull, unmotivated, and you guessed it… depressed.
Whether you’ve got the winter blues or you’re experiencing the more severe Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), research shows that our mental health in winter is closely related to gut health.
That’s right. Our moods are balanced by specific molecules that are, surprisingly, produced in the gut rather than the brain. Without a healthy gut, we start to feel out of balance, tired, and even depressed or anxious.
Thankfully we don’t have to suffer a whole winter of misery. Let’s explore the connection between the belly and the brain to better understand how gut health affects those seasonal blues – and what we can do to brighten our days!
Feeling Blue? Check Your Microbiome
Are you wondering how your gut could have anything to do with your mood? It’s strange to think that how we feel emotionally could be connected to our digestive system. Or is it?!
Science shows that much of the nervous system is directly linked to the digestive tract (the gut). In fact, there are so many neural connections in the gut that it has been dubbed the “Gut-Brain Axis” or enteric nervous system. Within this network, trillions of tiny microbes communicate with the brain and influence everything from our immunity to our stress response.
Meet Your Microbiome
You are not just you. Your body is home to over 100 trillion microbes – bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses – and many of them live in the gut.
While we tend to think of microbes as bad, foreign, or harmful, many are crucial for our health. Extensive research on gut bacteria shows that the microbiome helps digest food, regulate the immune system, protect against harmful bacteria, and produce vitamins we need to thrive. The human microbiome is even recognized as an “organ” of its own, without which the body would not function properly.
The Microbiome and Mood
Along with better digestion and a stronger immune system, research shows that the microbiome has a big impact on our mental health, too. Evidence from a growing number of studies shows that the gut microbiome can change our brain chemistry and influence anything from our emotions to our stress response to our perception of pain.
So, how do simple microbes control our emotions and behavior? They produce the exact hormones we need to feel mentally balanced and calm:
- Serotonin and dopamine: Gut bacteria produce a substantial amount (up to 90%) of the feel-good hormones we need to reduce stress and enhance our overall wellbeing. Low levels of serotonin and dopamine are linked to depression and other mood disorders.
- GABA: GABA is a calm-inducing neurotransmitter that quiets anxiety and improves your sleep. Studies show the gut microbiome impacts the amount of GABA in circulation.
- Melatonin: Melatonin is known for controlling the sleep-wake cycle. While quality sleep is essential for mood balance, melatonin itself has a stress-relieving effect. Melatonin is produced in both the pineal gland and the intestine.
Say Goodbye to Seasonal Depression with a Healthier Gut
If winter has left you feeling blue, there’s good news. You don’t have to suffer through the long dark days – you can boost your mood and energy throughout winter by simply taking great care of your gut health. Here are a few simple ways to get started:
#1: Fuel with Prebiotics
To ensure that the good bacteria in your gut are happy and flourishing, fuel them with prebiotics. Prebiotics are high-fiber carbohydrates that we cannot digest, but they just so happen to be the favorite food of healthy gut bacteria! Prebiotic foods act as fuel for the beneficial microbes in your gut, helping you keep a happy belly balance. Fuel your microbiome with more prebiotic foods like apples, barley, green leafy vegetables, avocados, bananas, and onions.
#2: Support with Probiotics
Probiotics, not to be confused with prebiotics, are live microorganisms that you can consume to improve your gut bacteria balance. Over time, our diet choices and lifestyle can deplete the “good bacteria” in the gut and sabotage our microbiome. Probiotics help to replenish a healthy microbiome balance and keep digestion regular.
You can get probiotics from your diet by snacking on fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and miso. But, getting enough probiotics each day to truly heal the gut can be challenging. AlignLife chiropractors recommend Aceva’s Ultrabiotic, a high-quality probiotic supplement, to help you get the necessary dose of good bacteria to restore your gut to health.
#3: Eat a diverse diet
The more diverse your microbiome is, the healthier it is. The best way to encourage a diverse microbiome with hundreds of different bacteria strains is to diversify your diet. Unfortunately, the Western diet is not very diverse and tends to be rich in sugar, fat, and processed carbohydrates. Studies show that people living in rural regions of Africa and South America have a more diverse diet and, therefore, a more diverse microbiome than those living in Europe and the United States.
Enjoying flavorful, vibrant, and diverse foods can keep your microbiome in tip-top shape. Reduce your intake of processed foods and refined sugar in exchange for a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
#4: Take a break
If you struggle to make time for yourself, remember this. It’s not just a break for you; it’s a break for your gut bacteria! Stress is one of the most significant factors that disrupt the health of the microorganisms in your gut. Unfortunately, as stress damages your gut bacteria, they cannot create those feel-good hormones like serotonin, and the stress cycle continues.
Managing stress regularly takes dedication, but it can start with simply taking a break. Set the alarm on your phone for a time during the day that you want to remember to take five. When that alarm goes off each day, honor it! Then, move on to more substantial stress relief tactics and breaks, like meditation, yoga, and keeping a regular exercise routine.
#5: Get enough sleep
The gut influences the sleep cycle by producing melatonin. As it turns out, your sleep cycle impacts your gut health, too! Irregular sleep leads to imbalances in your gut flora, increasing the risk of inflammatory conditions and mood disorders.
If your sleep is erratic, irregular, or disrupted, it’s time for a reset. The first step is to establish a healthy sleep-wake cycle by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day (even weekends!). Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
Feeling wired at night? Quiet the mind with Aceva’s Relax and Calm, then enjoy a peaceful, screen-free evening routine that lets your brain know it’s time to rest.
The Secret to a Well Winter (or Any Season) is Vibrant Gut Health
When the days are dark and dreary, and there’s no sign of spring, seasonal blues or depression can feel endless. For many others, these blues are just the tip of the iceberg as seasonal depression takes over for months. With a smart plan for better gut health, it doesn’t have to be this way.
You could turn your seasonal blues around with a healthy diet, stress-relief techniques, strategic supplements, and a gut wellness plan from an AlignLife chiropractor. Feel brighter, boost your gut health, and reap the rewards of winter wellness!
Want to say goodbye to seasonal depression? Find your local AlignLife chiropractor to start enjoying happier days, no matter the season!