Bree Panuco, Author at Wakunaga of America

Add Enzymes to Your Holiday List

What Are Digestive Enzymes

Digestive enzymes break down the proteins, carbohydrates, and fats in the foods you eat. From the moment you sit down to your holiday feast throughout the entire digestion process, your body produces these enzymes. But the catch is that the natural enzymes in your system are made in limited quantities. So eating too much food—and the wrong kinds of food—can overload your digestive system, causing the typical after-effects of those holiday indulgences: bloating, flatulence, abdominal pain, and more.

Types of Digestive Enzymes

 There are many types of enzymes and they all play an important role in the digestive process. Four of the main digestive enzymes are:

  • Amylase, which is produced by the salivary glands and pancreas, digests starches into smaller molecules which are more readily absorbed.1
  • Lactase, which is found in the small intestine, breaks down the lactose in dairy products.2
  • Lipase breaks down fats, including triglycerides, and absorbs fat-soluble vitamins.3
  • Protease, which is made in the pancreas, helps the body digest dietary protein.4

The Benefits of Digestive Enzymes

Whether you overindulge a little this holiday or have an ongoing gastrointestinal issue, digestive enzymes can provide the relief you’re looking for. Here are five common digestive conditions that benefit from enzyme support.

Indigestion. Functional dyspepsia—often called chronic indigestion—is one of the most common functional gastrointestinal disorders, affecting more than 20 percent of the population.5 But supplemental  enzymes can blunt the effects of indigestion. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study appearing in the Journal of Medicinal Food, 40 patients were randomly assigned to receive either an enzyme combo that included amylase, protease, lactase, and lipase or a placebo. After the 60-day trial period, the patients taking the enzyme blend exhibited a reduction in their symptoms, whereas those taking the placebo did not.6

Fermentable carbohydrate digestion. Beans are infamous for causing flatulence. That’s because the body has trouble breaking down the complex carbohydrates in beans and other high FODMAP foods such as garlic, onion, wheat, and several fruits and vegetables. However, enzymes can help reduce the severity of your flatulence. And the proof is in the pudding (or rather in the bean dip): a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial on healthy volunteers showed that those who consumed digestive enzymes during a meal of cooked beans saw significantly diminished intestinal gas production and gas-related symptoms.7

Lactose intolerance. This digestive disorder results from a lactase deficiency in the small intestine, which prevents the body from fully breaking down the lactose in milk and other dairy products. Symptoms can include bloating, abdominal pain, gas, and diarrhea—and it’s common in patients with gastrointestinal tract diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease. Because some holiday traditions like that glass of eggnog are admittedly worth it, over-the-counter digestive enzymes like lactase can help prevent lactose indigestion by 50 percent.8

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD, which encompasses Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, is a chronic inflammatory condition that can do permanent damage to the digestive tract—and symptoms can have a severe impact on a person’s quality of life. Yet, in a study conducted at an Italian university, patients who received a supplement containing digestive enzymes reported reduced abdominal pain, bloating, and flatulence after four weeks of treatment.9

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Unlike IBD, IBS doesn’t have the same enduring inflammatory effects on the intestines, though symptoms can still be fairly intense. Digestive enzymes have a long track record of relieving post-meal IBS symptoms including diarrhea, abdominal distension, flatulence, bloating, and a feeling of fullness.10

How to Get More Digestive Enzymes

There are two natural ways to increase your digestive enzyme count: through supplementation and through the foods you eat.

Supplements. As the previous examples demonstrate, taking a digestive enzyme supplement can effectively help manage a variety of gastrointestinal issues. To enhance digestive support even further, opt for a supplement that combines digestive enzymes with probiotic strains shown to support healthy GI function. This combo not only aids digestion, but experimental data show that it dramatically lowers harmful LDL cholesterol while increasing beneficial HDL levels.11

Foods. Digestive enzymes also occur naturally in plant foods, and eating them can improve your digestion. Pineapples, mangoes, bananas, avocados, raw honey, ginger, and fermented foods like kefir and sauerkraut are all good sources of digestive enzymes as well as important vitamins and nutrients. On the flip side, be sure to also cut back on highly processed foods, which can put a strain on your digestive system and overwhelm your enzymes’ ability to efficiently break them down.

Support healthy digestion this holiday season with a high-quality digestive enzyme supplement. From preventing discomfort following a big meal to addressing a recurring condition, these enzymes offer a natural way to achieve digestive bliss all year long.

What Are Nootropics?

How Do Nootropics Work?

Nootropic herbs and nutrients contain high amounts of antioxidant, neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, and immune modulating compounds that work to rejuvenate brain function and reduce neurodegenerative effects. For example, nootropics increase acetylcholine (a compound that acts as a neurotransmitter) and oxygen levels while delivering enzymes and key hormones to the brain.1 In doing so, they protect brain tissues from neurotoxicity by eliminating damaging free radicals, acting as an antiplatelet to prevent blood clots, and improving the brain’s ability to rewire itself in response to stimulation—a process known as plasticity.2

What Are the Benefits of Nootropics?

The brain-enhancing impacts of nootropics are especially beneficial for two specific conditions.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Marked by inattention, distractibility, nervous energy, and poor executive function, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can significantly affect all aspects of daily life, from school and work performance to personal relationships. To cope, sufferers often turn to prescription drugs that carry a slew of side effects. But, nootropics can help alleviate the impacts of ADHD without having to go the pharmaceutical route. By improving attention, concentration, hyperactivity, anxiety, and the ability to deal with frustration, nootropics offer a natural solution to managing symptoms.3

Dementia. Research suggests that nootropics may be an effective preventive and therapeutic for Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the most common form of dementia. In one study review, nootropics appeared to reduce cognitive deficits by acting as antioxidants, calcium-channel blockers, and acetylcholinesterase inhibitors to improve memory and learning. What’s more, these compounds’ neuroprotective activities have been found to decrease the beta-amyloid accumulation, synaptic dysfunction, inflammation, and oxidative stress commonly found in those experiencing AD.4 And a recent clinical trial involving 583 patients with mild to moderate dementia found that those taking nootropics had less cognitive decline than those taking a placebo.5

Enhance Cognitive Health with Plant-Based Nootropics

You can up your mental capacity naturally with a combination of botanicals known to promote sharpness, mental acuity, and attention.

Aged Garlic Extract (AGE). Studies show that AGE improves memory retention and the ability to learn new information. That’s not surprising since this unique herb boasts potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and neuroprotective properties.6 Preliminary research suggests that AGE also increases the survival of specific nerve cells (neurons) in the hippocampus—the area of the brain, thought to be the center of emotion, memory, and the autonomic nervous system.7 AGE may help guard against Alzheimer’s disease (AD) by discouraging the buildup of amyloid-beta plaque, which is the primary hallmark of the disease.8

Ginkgo biloba. This ancient herb has been shown to improve both mental acuity and focus. A 2023 review of 256 studies found that standardized ginkgo biloba extract can effectively increase blood flow to the brain and enhance vascular permeability. The researchers noted that these benefits are especially useful for anyone experiencing cognitive problems, such as delayed reaction time and reduced global functioning (a measure of how much a person’s symptoms affect their day-to-day life).9

Siberian ginseng. This unique form of ginseng, also known as eleuthero, not only boosts brainpower, it also acts as an adaptogen to ease the negative effects of stress on the brain. This is important since high levels of stress damage the brain’s ability to learn, form new memories, and retrieve existing memories.10  Siberian ginseng has also been shown to increase acetylcholine in the hippocampus, thereby improving communication between neurons.11 Plus, preliminary research suggests that eleuthero might safeguard cognition by helping the brain to maintain its ability to regenerate after experiencing beta-amyloid damage.12

 Healthy Habits for Improved Brain Activity

Though a nootropic supplement can go a long way toward providing an improvement in your cognitive function, it’s not the only step you should take to enhance your mental acuity. Here are a few more ways to get the most out of your brain.

Diet. Boosting your brain power through food is an easy way to stay sharp at every age. Whole foods diets, such as the Mediterranean or Nordic diet, are linked to a lower risk of cognitive decline and dementia. On the other hand, consuming a diet high in saturated fats and refined carbohydrates can lead to impaired cognitive function.13

Exercise. Physical activity doesn’t just influence your cardiovascular system; a wealth of research shows that it also supports cognitive function, particularly for those experiencing mild cognitive impairment (MCI). One meta-analysis found that engaging in regular physical exercise improves global cognitive function, executive function, and delayed recall in MCI patients.14

But to get the most brain benefits, take your workout outside. Exercising outdoors—even a 15-minute walk around the neighborhood—can improve cognitive performance and increase the neural responses associated with attention and working memory.15

Sleep. Subpar sleep habits are directly related to poor memory and an increased risk of dementia. Fortunately, researchers have determined the optimal amount of shuteye you should get every night. In a study of 479,420 adults, they found that sleeping seven hours per night was associated with the highest cognitive performance, and for every hour below and above, cognitive performance decreased.16

Nootropics are a great way to give your mental acuity a lift, whether you suffer from a lack of focus or slight cognitive impairment. They are typically very well tolerated, but it’s wise to always talk with your doctor before starting a new supplement.


Natural Ways to Improve Diabetes Wound Healing

How Diabetes Affects Your Feet

Diabetes significantly increases your risk for cardiovascular issues, including reduced blood flow. That’s important because poor circulation leads to less oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood reaching your extremities. It also compromises the microcirculation that protects the skin and soft tissues of your feet.1 That means, if you have a wound on your foot, this reduced blood flow may not be strong enough to deliver the oxygen and nutrients necessary for successful healing.

To make matters worse, diabetes also causes nerve damage—a condition called diabetic neuropathy. And that can result in tingling, pain, and numbness in your feet. If you’re unable to feel your feet, you may not notice when something goes wrong.

The Dangers of Slow Would Healing

Without the proper microcirculation or feeling in the tissues of your feet, even a seemingly inconsequential cut or blister may turn into big trouble. Because diminished blood flow can dramatically hamper your body’s ability to heal, a foot wound that’s slow to heal can easily turn into an ulcer. If you’re not careful, a diabetic foot ulcer can become infected and lead to gangrene. And that can result in amputation—of a toe, a foot, or even a part of your leg to prevent the infection from spreading. Diabetic foot ulcers aren’t just a major cause of lower limb amputations and disability but also death.2

Improve Wound Healing with Aged Garlic Extract

Aged Garlic Extract (AGE), has a long history of heart-healthy clinical results like lowering blood pressure. But several recent studies show that AGE also has the potential to improve microcirculation and facilitate wound healing.

A 2019 study published in the International Wound Journal evaluated AGE’s effects on microvascular blood flow and skin tissue perfusion—two elements key of wound healing. After randomly giving 122 patients either 2,400 mg of AGE or a placebo daily for one year, the researchers noted that the AGE group showed preserved, and even enhanced, skin microcirculation. What’s more, none of the people in the AGE group reported any negative side effects.3

A more recent investigation looked at AGE’s effect on peripheral tissue perfusion (the ability of capillaries in the body to deliver blood to the limbs) in patients with cardiovascular disease. This time, 93 volunteers took a daily dose of either AGE or a placebo for one year. The researchers found that AGE supplementation restored peripheral tissue blood flow and increase microcirculation in patients with arteriolosclerosis and coronary artery disease.4 Both are common cardiovascular conditions associated with diabetes.

Another clinical trial investigated the effects of Aged Garlic Extract on a new marker of arterial stiffness in the leg called the cardio-ankle vascular index (CAVI). The three-month trial of 65 type 2 diabetics showed that AGE had a positive impact on endothelial function and supplementation reduced CAVI when compared to healthy controls.5

More Ways to Improve Wound Healing

As promising as these results are for AGE, there’s more to improving wound healing than just taking a supplement every day. Your lifestyle habits are also worth upgrading, and strategies that focus on your heart health will give your circulation—and your healing power—a boost. Here are some effective ways to increase your ability to heal, especially when paired with AGE.

Be a little more physically active. Getting your heart rate up is key to better circulation. One of the best times to get moving is right after a meal. Just a few minutes of light-intensity walking can considerably control post-meal glucose levels compared to continued sitting.6 Not only that but a 2021 study showed a direct link between non-weight-bearing exercise, like seated workout movements, and wound size reduction.7

Focus on circulation-enhancing foods. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in salmon, walnuts, and flaxseed, are associated with a noticeable improvement in vascular function and reduced blood pressure.8 Antioxidants, like those in tomatoes, spinach, and eggplant, have also been shown to  promote diabetic wound healing.9 And dietary fiber, particularly from fruit like pears, apples, and oranges, appears to protect your arteries from atherosclerosis and is associated with lower cardiovascular disease risk.10

Don’t forget about vitamin D. Those with diabetes tend to be deficient in vitamin D.11 But boosting your intake of the “sunshine vitamin” can have big benefits on blood flow. In one study, 24 weeks of high-dose D supplementation was shown to improve skin microcirculation, as well as inflammatory markers, in patients with type 2 diabetes.12 Just be sure to speak with your doctor before taking high amounts of vitamin D.

Taking care of your feet starts with taking care of your heart. Pairing AGE with timely exercise and circulation-enhancing foods can help improve circulation. And that can set the stage for improved wound healing.

Check out this blog post to learn if you are a risk for developing diabetes.

A Guy’s Guide to Probiotics

Prostate Health

Your prostate is a problem waiting to happen. The most prevalent prostate problem for men under 50—and the third most common for men over 50—is prostatitis. Marked by inflammation that causes painful or difficult urination, frequent night urination, and pain in the groin, pelvic area, or genitals, prostatitis is responsible for about 2 million doctor’s visits every year.1  The cause? Oftentimes it’s a bacterial infection.

Fortunately, emerging evidence suggests that probiotics can significantly reduce the painful symptoms associated with bacterial prostatitis. In preliminary research, investigators found that probiotics can  reduce the prostate cell inflammation caused by a bacterial infection.2 What’s more, a study of chronic bacterial prostatitis in humans showed that supplementing with probiotics could prevent symptomatic recurrence, improve quality of life, and reduce antibiotic use.3

Probiotics may do even more to support prostate health. Since 1 in 8 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime,  prevention is key. A recent report shows that taking a probiotic—in addition to making lifestyle changes—may delay or even prevent prostate cancer.4 It does this by improving the balance of bacteria in the gut microbiome and reversing dysbiosis, which can promote the growth of cancer cells.

Sexual Fitness

It’s a fact of life: aging affects male sex drive and function. But age isn’t the only thing that can put a damper on your love life. Research shows that there’s a strong link between the gut microbiome and men’s sexual health.5 And while you may not be able to defy Father Time, you can do something about your microbiome. And that, in turn, can improve your reproductive health. For example, one clinical trial appearing in Human Fertility showed that taking a daily probiotic significantly increased sperm concentration and motility as well as ejaculate volume. The study’s participants also experienced less oxidative stress and inflammation.6

Testosterone production also drops as a man ages. And that can present some unwanted changes, including reduced sex drive, decreased energy levels, and fatigue.7 Novel findings out of MIT and Harvard suggest that regularly consuming probiotics can boost serum testosterone levels and delay reproductive aging.8

Of course, nothing kills the mood the way digestive issues do. Gas and bloating don’t really fall into the sexy category. Thankfully, probiotics can help regulate your gastrointestinal woes and alleviate these common digestive issues, as well as abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and stomach rumbling.9

Physical Performance

Whether you’re a weekend warrior or an avid adventurer, probiotics can give your physical conditioning a boost. A 2023 systematic review of 13 studies suggests that regularly consuming probiotics can influence performance-related factors such as fatigue, muscle pain, body composition, and cardiorespiratory fitness. That means you can recover faster, build more stamina, and improve your physique. And best of all, probiotics’ benefits were witnessed across a wide range of activities, from rugby to badminton to endurance training.10

Probiotics can help you stay in game shape too. An earlier review of nine studies involving endurance athletes showed that probiotics protect against post training and competition illness by strengthening the immune system, shielding the upper respiratory tract from infection, and decreasing oxidative stress.11

Mental Well-Being

Statistically, women experience depression at twice the rate that men do. But reports suggest that men are less likely to seek treatment—and they often underreport symptoms when they do speak up.12 That’s not surprising since talking about feelings isn’t really considered the most masculine trait. One way to deal with or possibly prevent depression is with probiotics. A 2016 meta-analysis showed that probiotics significantly improve mood and decrease the symptoms of depression.13 A more recent review of 16 trials backs up those findings by also showing a wealth of evidence that probiotics can improve clinical depression and anxiety symptoms.14

Probiotics’ brain benefits don’t stop there. They also help to improve cognition and memory. In a randomized, controlled 12-week trial, men taking a probiotic experience noticeably better memory when compared to a placebo.15

Probiotics are an invaluable asset to men’s health. By providing relief to a number of common male issues, a probiotic supplement is a smart addition to every guy’s health routine.

Ready to learn more about probiotics? Start here.

Easy Ways to Improve Your Immunity

Your Immune System

You probably don’t give your immune system much thought—and that’s a good thing. When things are running smoothly, the immune system is able to fight off disease-causing germs like bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi and remove them from the body without a hitch. It’s also responsible for recognizing and neutralizing harmful environmental substances, as well as combating chronic disease-causing changes in the body.

Your immune system has two components that accomplish these tasks: the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system. The innate immune system is your body’s general defense mechanism against harmful germs and substances. It sends out immune cells to ward off unwelcome intruders that enter the body. The adaptive immune system—also called the acquired immune system—produces antibodies to fight certain germs that you’ve encountered before. Both of these systems are closely linked and work together any time a germ or bad actor provokes an immune response.1

How to Boost Immunity

But just because your immune system may be working without complications now doesn’t meant that it couldn’t use some extra support. Here are some safe and effective ways to ensure your body is protected this cold and flu season.

Exercise and the Immune System

Physical activity, even small amounts, can work wonders for your immune system. Studies consistently show that regular exercise dramatically diminishes the dangers of inflammation, excess body mass, disease, and even mortality.2 It can also:

Reduce illness severity. Unfortunately, regular physical activity can’t totally prevent you from coming down with something every now and then, but it can help you get through it more quickly with less severe symptoms. For instance, research suggests that regular exercise can reduce the incidence, duration, or severity of  upper respiratory tract infections. But there’s a catch: although exercise of any intensity is good for your health, these benefits come from moderate- to high-intensity physical activities.3

Relieve stress. Chronic stress can weaken your immune system and increase your risk for disease. But exercise eases stress and anxiety while improving innate immunity and protecting against viral infection.4 How much is enough? The current guidelines recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity with two days of strength training per week. So go for a bike ride, swim, or hike most days of the week—and include some resistance exercises with weights or bands every couple of days. But don’t overdo it. Overtraining or strenuous exercise, like running a marathon, can actually undermine your immune system and leave you more prone to illness.5

Foods That Keep the Immune System Strong

A strong immune system starts with the foods you eat. A healthy and balanced diet gives your body the nutrients is needs to fight against infections and viruses. Here are a few food groups worth focusing on:

Protein. Not just for building strong muscles, protein is critical for a strong immune system. Evidence shows that being deficient in dietary protein can hinder immune function and increase your risk of infection.6 That’s because protein contains essential amino acids that play vital roles in the immune system, such as regulating adaptive and innate immune cells, increasing lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell that helps your body fight off bacterial and viral intruders), and producing antibodies, cytokines, and other important immunity components.7

The Food and Drug Administration recommends that adults consume at least 50 grams of protein per day. But instead of trying to keep track of each gram, include a palm-size protein portion with every meal. For example, start with a couple of eggs for breakfast, turkey chili for lunch, and salmon for dinner. If you get hungry between meals, snack on almonds or pumpkin seeds for a satiating protein boost.

Antioxidants. Critical for healthy aging, antioxidants protect your body against harmful free radicals that cause oxidative stress—a problem that has been linked to a number of diseases.8 The best way to get plenty of these immune-supporting compounds is to fill your plate with colorful produce. A 2020 study found that the foods with the most antioxidants are magenta, blue, and red fruits and vegetables.9 That was backed up by another report showing antioxidant-rich berries, like blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries, enhance the immune system and help to guard against significant diseases.10

Probiotics. Your gut is home to more than 70 percent of the immune cells in your body.11 That’s why keeping your gastrointestinal tract in top form is essential during cold and flu season. Eating foods that contain live probiotics such as yogurt, kimchi, kefir, and sauerkraut can promote a healthy gut and therefore a healthy immune response. A recent report in the journal Nutrients shows that dietary probiotic consumption is tied to a lower incidence and duration of infections in both children and adults.12

Supplements for Optimal Immune Function

 The reality is, no one’s diet is perfect all of time. That’s where supplements come in. Supplements can fill in any nutritional gaps you may experience so you can keep your immune system in top shape even when life gets in the way. Try one or preferably more of the following supplements to reinforce your diet and stop any would-be illness in its tracks.

Vitamin C. Perhaps the best-known immunity supporter, vitamin C is critical to proper immune function. Research shows that not having enough of this key nutrient impairs immunity and increases the chances that you’ll get sick. Fortunately, taking a vitamin C supplement can effectively stabilize your levels to help fortify your immune system and prevent infection. And when you do get ill, ample stores of vitamin C can shorten the duration of your symptoms.13

Aged Garlic Extract. Garlic has a long history of immune system protection. And research published in the Journal of Health shows why: In a controlled trial during cold and flu season, healthy participants, aged 21 to 50, took either 2.56 grams of aged garlic extract or a placebo every day for 90 days. Participants in the garlic group that did get sick showed reduced cold and flu severity, including a reduction in the number of symptoms, the number of days they functioned sub-optimally, and the number of work or school days missed. The placebo group showed no such benefit.14

Olive leaf. Though olive oil gets a lot of attention for its powerful health benefits, olive leaves are also  bursting with a wealth of nutritious compounds. In fact, olive leaf extracts contain higher amounts of beneficial polyphenols than those found in extra-virgin olive oil.15 Polyphenols act as antioxidants, which defend your body from cell damage. And a recent study showed that the polyphenols from olive leaf can not only help bolster immune function but also help increase energy levels, lower blood pressure, and support the cardiovascular system.16

Astragalus. An ancient herbal medicine, astragalus is another immune booster worth including in your supplement routine. Evidence suggests that astragalus increases lymphocytes.17 It’s been shown to possess antioxidant activity that works to prevent tissue injury as well.18

You’re bound to come in contact with a bug sooner or later. But trying out these immunity-building tips can help safeguard you against whatever comes your way. Here’s to staying healthy and cold- and flu-free this fall and winter!

Mental Health Spotlight: Seasonal Affective Disorder

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that occurs only during a particular time of year.1 For most people, SAD typically begins in the late fall or early winter and ends in the spring or early summer, with January and February being the most difficult period. The American Psychiatric Society estimates that symptoms can usually last up to 40 percent of the year.

What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder

Though SAD can be caused by a number of factors, there seems to be one common denominator: a lack of sunlight. Winter’s shorter, gloomier days just don’t provide enough sunlight to keep your mood in good spirits, and that can take a toll on your mental health. Other contributors that can increase your risk for SAD include:2, 3

Where you live. Your latitude may have something to do with your mood. The farther north you live, the more susceptible you are to bouts of winter depression.4 That’s because northern latitudes get much less sunlight this time of year than the southern ones do. For example, on the Winter Solstice (aka the shortest day of the year), Seattle sees only about 8.5 hours of daylight, whereas Miami gets 10.5.

Gender. Women are more likely to experience seasonal affective disorder than men are. In fact, one study suggests that females are more than three and a half times more likely than males to have SAD.5

Family history. Like so many illnesses, seasonal depression tends to run in families. If your family has a history of SAD or another form of depression, then you’re more likely to have it as well.

Age. Your age may also put you a risk of SAD. Young adults aged 18 to 30 are more likely to experience this type of depression than their older counterparts.

The Symptoms of SAD

Some of the most common seasonal affective disorder symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Low energy
  • Sluggishness
  • Oversleeping
  • Loss of interest in once-enjoyable activities
  • Irritability or anxiety
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness

How to Treat Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal depression can make it hard to stay motivated, especially when it comes to healthy choices. Fortunately, you don’t have to go out of your way to improve your disposition. There are plenty of simple steps you can take each day to feel better.

Get as much natural sunlight as possible. If the sun is shining, get outside and soak up as many rays as possible. And do it without your shades on. Wearing sunglasses can significantly reduce the amount of sunlight that reaches your brain, lowering its antidepressant effects and increasing the risk of winter depression.6 This is because sunlight, even in small doses, can help boost serotonin levels and improve your mood.

Try light therapy. There’s a good chance you’re going to experience gloomy weather for a prolonged period this winter. So if the sun just won’t shine, give light therapy a shot. Bright light therapy, which can be done at home with a special light therapy lamp, has been used to effectively treat seasonal affective disorder for decades.7

Exercise regularly. Physical activity is a powerful way to fight SAD.8 Indeed, regular exercise can be as effective as prescription antidepressants for battling depression of any kind. Exercise boosts serotonin, norepinephrine, and other feel-good brain chemicals while reducing inflammation. For the most SAD-busting workout, moderate- and high-intensity resistance training appears to provide the most mental benefit.9 And if you’re able to be active outdoors in the sun, even better.

Eat healthy. Good dietary habits don’t just help prevent issues like high cholesterol, diabetes, and digestive disorders; they can also keep you in a better mood. Eating a healthy diet, like a Mediterranean-style eating plan, has been shown to protect against depression.10 More specifically, a 2018 study showed exactly which foods provide the biggest bang for your buck. Seafood, such as oysters, mussels, and salmon, and plant foods, including leafy greens, lettuces, peppers, and cruciferous vegetables, were determined to have the most antidepressant effects.11

Supplement with synbiotics. Give your mood a boost by adding a synbiotic supplement to your daily regimen. Synbiotics combine probiotics with prebiotics, which act as food for the beneficial bacteria in your gut and help them grow. While probiotics—and synbiotics—are typically used to support healthy digestion and gut health, they are also effective at improving symptoms of seasonal depression. That’s because the gut is connected to the brain via the gut-brain axis. A recent preliminary study suggests that synbiotics can help relieve the negative feelings that accompany stress.12 What’s more, another study shows that synbiotics can improve not only stress but also anxiety and depression in overweight or obese people.13

All in all, it’s completely normal to have some days when you feel a bit “off” or a little sad. But if you feel down for days or weeks at a time this winter and can’t get motivated to do things you normally enjoy, try a few of these easy-to-incorporate tips to improve your mood and overall mental well-being.