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By: The Villages | Jan 11, 2023

Folic Acid and the Winter Blues

Living in the Florida has its benefits. While many in the country are dealing with winter storms, shoveling snow and having to hibernate indoors as seasonal temperatures drop below freezing, those of us fortunate enough to live here in the sunshine state have daily opportunities to bask in the warm, glorious glow of the sun. Yet, even in the toasty days of Florida winter, there are many around us who suffer from the dreaded “Winter Blues”.

The “Winter Blues” is a fairly common occurrence, often mild and of short duration, and is generally linked to something specific, such as the stress surrounding the hustle and bustle of the holidays or the reminders of absent loved ones. A report from the American Academy of Family Physicians highlights Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression associated with the changing of the seasons.

Similar to the Winter Blues, SAD is more severe, follows a pattern and is a clinical diagnosis. The report concluded that nearly 5% (approximately 3 million) Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. Some suggest that as the bright days of summer turn the corner and lend to the shorter darker days of winter, exposure to sunlight naturally decreases, resulting in dips in levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters involved in mood regulation.

This human version of hibernation, which typically causes us to retreat indoors to find warmth, cozy up with fat-laden comfort foods and live in our comfy pants, while inviting, only aids in deepening the layers of depression and the havoc it plays on our mental and physical health. Left unattended, low energy levels can take a toll on our immune system, decrease our mental clarity and sap our motivation.

One way to help combat these symptoms may be with folic acid. With a focus on folic acid in January (National Folic Acid Week 1/2 – 1/8), we can look to this amazing vitamin as an easy addition to our daily routine to help keep the blues at bay.

Folate and Folic Acid are often referred to interchangeable, however there is a difference. Folate is the natural form of vitamin B9, while Folic Acid is the synthetic version that is often added to foods such as enriched breads, cereals and other grains. This vitamin in either form is crucial for proper brain functioning and aids in the production of DNA and RNA, making it the focus of much conversation and research related to fetal development.

Due to its involvement in the synthesis of neurotransmitters that help to regulate mood, including serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, folate may also be beneficial for combating the Winter Blues and may be used as an adjuvant therapy for those taking anti-depressants for the treatment of SAD or other depressive mental health illnesses. Studies show that 15 – 38% of people with depression actually have low folate levels in their bodies and cited that those with the lowest folate levels tend to be the most depressed.

To increase your intake of folate naturally, include the following foods in your diet. (Many of these can be found at The Villages Grown at Sawgrass Market.):

  • Dark leafy green vegetables (Turnip greens, spinach, romaine lettuce, Brussel sprouts and broccoli)
  • Beans, Peas and Nuts
  • Fresh fruits and fruit juices
  • Whole grains, enriched breads and cereals

As the seasons change, our natural propensity is to slow down in winter and withdraw from the world. It’s our body’s rhythm of stagnation and hibernation to reserve and replenish ourselves in preparation for the upcoming spring and summer months.

During this time of year, it is important to be attentive to the signs of the Winter Blues and take steps to avoid its snowballing effects. When the urge hits to curl up around a mug of cocoa and block out the outside world, try calling a friend or loved one or make an extra effort to step outside and breath in the beauty.

If that doesn’t improve your mood, perhaps invest in a Light Box and enjoy some light therapy. Why not focus on eating healthier meals that will support your immune system, and if you still find yourself in a rut, seek support from a health professional and ask about adding more folic acid to your daily regimen? And don’t forget to check in with your neighbors and friends. Remember, the people around you may need your help in lifting them out of a slump and back in to our beautiful Florida sunshine.

Find The Villages Grown’s fresh, local produce in your neighborhood Publix and Winn Dixie, or visit us at The Villages Grown at Sawgrass Market.

Tracey Herrera, senior manager, retail and wholesale, The Villages Grown.