Supplements supplement a good diet, but you cannot rely just on supplements, you need a good diet too.
Taking a daily supplement is often seen as an insurance policy of sorts to ensure adequate levels of nutrients however, like all chemicals, nutrients can interact with one another. Iron inhibits zinc absorption, zinc inhibits copper absorption, vitamin E can interfere with the action of vitamin K, and so on and so forth. Supplementing a diet therefore requires a bit more thought you might realise.
However, they can be helpful if chosen mindfully, especially to help seasonal-related depression for the tail-end of winter or to boost immunity. If you are under medical care or have a pre-existing condition, checking with your doctor is important before starting any supplement regime.
SAD stands for seasonal affective disorder which is often written and talked about as our daylight hours shorten. Symptoms include depression, sleep problems, lethargy, over eating and anxiety. It is caused by a biochemical imbalance in the hypothalamus due to the shortening of daylight hours and the lack of sunlight in winter.
For health professionals of all types, vitamin D deficiency is firmly on the winter agenda. The body makes vitamin D when the skin is directly exposed to the sun. That is why it is often called the "sunshine" vitamin. Most people meet at least some of their vitamin D needs this way but as the days are short, it can be a challenge. There are other complications to, such as:
- Skin that is exposed to sunshine indoors through a window will not produce vitamin D.
● Cloudy days, shade, and having dark-colored skin also cut down on the amount of vitamin D the skin makes.
● Dietary sources are uncommon. Natural levels are found in oily fish and some fortified foods such as some dairy products.
Adequate levels of vitamin D are thought to be a mood-booster for those prone to SAD and it is thought to be a compliment to light therapy.
Other nutrients are worth a look too if you feel depressed at this time of year. Low levels of folate, a B vitamin, has been linked to depression. Although researchers don't yet fully understand the connection, folate deficiency appears to impair the metabolism of serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline, neurotransmitters important for mood.
A cup of cooked lentils provides 90% of the recommended daily allowance of folic acid. Other sources of folate include: fortified breakfast cereals, green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli, liver, and beans. If your diet isn’t up to scratch or you are not much of a whizz in the kitchen, it can be helpful to supplement.
Other good seasonal boosts can come from garlic’s antibacterial and natural anti-biotic properties and zinc, which plays an important role in wound healing and building our immunity. It is often taken at the onset of a cold or flu and is often said to shorten the duration of the condition. Consuming garlic is self-explanatory whereas a handful of nuts and seeds scattered on a salad, stir-fry or used as a snack brings can boost zinc levels. Both are readily available in supplement form too.
When it comes to helpful foods, one of my favourite sights in the supermarket has been the baskets of fresh nuts in wintertime - the kind that need a sturdy nutcracker to open, ideally by a roaring fire.
Walnuts in particular have long been thought of as a "brain food" because of their wrinkled, brain-like appearance. As it turns out, walnuts are a good source of omega-3 essential fatty acids, a type of fat that's needed for brain cells and mood-lifting neurotransmitters to function properly. It’s even possible that it could help with seasonal depression. Other foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, sardines, flax seeds, and omega-3 fortified eggs.
In the chiller cabinet you’ll find naturally occurring probiotics - another hugely popular supplement. Probiotics balance something called microflora in the gut. In plain English, that means eat yoghurt with the words 'bio-live' on it or something similar. Why? Because this helps to promote a healthy immune response to infection. Please note I recommend simple natural yoghurt rather than probiotic drinks which are more of a marketing ploy than a dietary necessity. Even better, make your own yoghurt.
Last but not least, in my mind, making your own juice is much like manufacturing your own supplement. It concentrates nutrients in one easy-to-consume tonic which just so happens to taste pretty good too! Try to add in some warming spices such as ginger or cayenne to juices consumed in these colder months, or gently warm it before drinking. The thermogenic qualities of spices are thought to nudge the metabolism up a notch too, which is helpful during the season of over-indulgence.