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Dec. 12, 2022

5 Nutrients to Combat Wintertime Blues

5 Nutrients to Combat Wintertime Blues

December 12, 2022 | Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition


Winter is here, and with that, many challenges. Cold temperatures, cloudy skies, and shorter daylight hours often contribute to individuals feeling the “wintertime blues.” Do you fantasize about staying on a tropical island during the cold, dark winter months? Or feel like avoiding winter all together? Recent research may help perk up your mood in these cold, dark days.

Winter Blues

The winter blues affect people across the globe, but some are more likely to experience it than others. Women, especially in young adulthood, are more likely than men to experience a depressed mood during winter. Those who live in the northern latitude with long nights, short daylight hours, and cold winter temps are more prone to wintertime blues. Fatigue, lethargy, weight gain, and cravings for sweets and carbohydrates may occur. These symptoms resolve as daylight increases and the season changes.

Findings and Theories

Several findings and theories currently exist on the winter blues and the more significant issue of seasonal affective disorder. These include disruption of the circadian rhythm and altered clock genes and greater fluctuation of melatonin with season changes. Other findings include an imbalance in the production of serotonin, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters, insufficient vitamin D levels, and changes in retina (eye) sensitivity and iris pigmentation.

Cutting edge preliminary research suggest changes in parts of the circadian rhythm regulating the brain, glucose metabolism, oxidative stress, and mitochondria contribute to seasonal mood changes.

Light Therapy

One of the most studied and effective means of helping individuals with the dark days and the winter blues is to use light therapy. Light boxes of many types exist. Some light boxes are programmed to simulate early dawn as you awaken with 250 lux. More intensive light therapy boxes may provide 2500 – 10,000 lux. Full midday natural sun exposure is about 50,000 -100,000 lux.

Experts recommend that individuals use light therapy for 30 – 60 minutes at the same time every morning shortly after awakening. Other activities like reading and exercise may be done, but you need to face the light for its effectiveness.

Full spectrum light bulbs may be purchased at your local big box and hardware stores. These are not as intense as a light box, but they can provide more natural, brighter light. Make sure you open your curtains/blinds to let in daylight. Even on most cloudy days, natural daylight is brighter than artificial light.

If you have sensitive eyes, use nutrients to protect them from light-induced oxidative stress with light box therapy. More information may be found in the article “Protect Your Precious Eyes From Oxidative Stress.”

Nutrients and Winter Blues

A few key nutrients have been found helpful for the winter blues. These include vitamin D, melatonin, essential fatty acids, magnesium, and vitamin B12 as methylcobalamin. More research is needed to fully understand nutrient needs and benefits.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D activity in the brain is believed to affect many aspects of seasonal mood changes. Significant amounts of vitamin D are found in the hypothalamus, a key player in managing circadian rhythms. Vitamin D levels in your brain also affect serotonin and dopamine production. These neurotransmitters are involved with mood, energy, and appetite regulation. Insufficient vitamin D affects these functions.

More information about vitamin D may be found at:

New Discoveries Highlight the Importance of Vitamin D

Vitamin D and Your Immune System – Are You Getting Enough?


Melatonin supplementation has been shown in animal studies to regulate the circadian rhythms involved with the winter blues. Melatonin adjusts the synchronization of the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN) master clock genes.

Melatonin is released in your brain at night prior to bedtime. Melatonin levels naturally decline through the night and are minimal upon awakening.

Studies show that in individuals with the winter blues the levels of melatonin in the morning are higher than others. Bright light exposure upon awakening inhibits release of melatonin and is essential to entrain the natural circadian rhythm. Natural daylight and light therapy also stimulate the retina in your eyes to produce dopamine and inhibit melatonin.

More information about melatonin may be found in the article Melatonin, Mitochondria, Circadian Rhythms – Are You in Sync?

Essential Fatty Acids

It is also important to know that three fats used by your brain have been found very helpful with the winter blues. Your brain is comprised of many different types of fats, most notably are omega-3 DHA, phosphatidyl serine, and phosphatidyl choline. All three fats are involved with various aspects of circadian rhythm, mood regulation, and brain function and structure.

A recent study showed that individuals with mood changes in the winter had a 14% drop in blood levels of DHA and phosphatidylserine fatty acid components. Lack of intake and decreased metabolic conversion from other fats were considered significant factors for these decreased levels.

Other research demonstrated a seasonal shift in metabolism of omega-3 and omega-6 oils. Insufficient intake of omega-3 (DHA and EPA) and overabundance of omega-6 (vegetable oils – canola, sunflower, safflower, corn, soy, etc.) contributed to an inflammatory state within the brain, which promoted depressed moods during the winter season.

More information about these essential fatty acids may be found at

Omega-3 DHA and Phosphatidylserine: Two are Better Than One

Amazing Brain Nutrient Helps Memory, Learning, Focus, and Mood

Get Back In Sync and Sleep Better In 7 Days

Why High Quality DHA is So Important

Alpha GPC – A Smart Nutrient for Brain Health and More

Memory Neurotransmitter & Gut Health Linked


Studies suggest that a lack of magnesium either in your brain or throughout the body may contribute to negative changes in circadian rhythm. This contributes to poor mood and a decline in energy.

More information about magnesium may be found at

Vitamin D and Magnesium: Essential Partnership for Health

Insufficient Magnesium – Public Health Crisis Declared

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12, as methylcobalamin, is suggested to be a potential circadian rhythm regulator. A small clinical trial also showed improvement in mood with the use of light therapy and vitamin B12 methylcobalamin supplementation.

More information about vitamin B12 and methylcobalamin may be found at

Vitamin B12 Essential for Energy, Mood, and Overall Health

Many individuals have a greater need for the methylcobalamin form of vitamin B12 because of changes to gene function. More information may be found in the article MTHFR Gene Defects, Methylation, and Natural Support.

Healthy Diets

The Mediterranean Diet and the Nordic Diet, which are whole food diets with regular mealtimes, were found helpful in mood, sleep, and body clock regulations. These diets rely on whole grains like rye, barley, and oats, cold water fatty fish, legumes, and abundant vegetables and fruits, especially berries. Both diets avoid sugar and processed foods and vegetable oils, with limited amounts of red meat – the opposite of the Western diet.

Winter is indeed a season of cold temperatures and long nights that is stressful for many individuals. You can support your brain and mood with healthy choices to help alleviate the winter blues.

Optimize your nutrient intake of Vitamin D, RelaxaMag, Daily DHA and/or PhosphatidylSerine with a high-quality multiple vitamin like Daily Energy Multiple Vitamin that contains the methylcobalamin form of vitamin B12. Melatonin use in the evening may be helpful for some individuals. Use full spectrum lights or light box therapy first thing in the morning for additional support. You might find yourself saying goodbye to the wintertime “Bah Humbugs!”