Fall is here, so is a major change in mood.
If you’re like me, you enjoy the crisp, cold air and the crunchy orange leaves that litter the streets. However, it can be hard to shake that sinking feeling that comes with the changes and all the activities that are brought indoors due to the change in weather and decreasing daylight hours.
Usually this can mean less motivation and more lethargy. It’s almost as if your body wants to hibernate, even though there’s still things to do and people to see.
Using supplements, how do you beat the seasonal change that takes place in your mind?
- 1 Serotonin and Dopamine – The Mood Seesaw
- 2 Main supplements that help with dopamine and serotonin
- 3 Vitamin D3 – What they DON’T tell you
- 4 Omega-3 For Better Mood and Sense of Well-Being
- 5 Mucuna Pruriens (Velvet bean) for low dopamine and low motivation
- 6 5-HTP – Serotonin Precursor for Sense of Well-Being
- 7 St. John’s Wort – Effective Herb for Low Serotonin, Dopamine and Depression
- 8 Caffeine – Perks you up with noradrenaline and dopamine
- 9 In summary:
Serotonin and Dopamine – The Mood Seesaw
We should start by looking at brain chemistry.
Serotonin and dopamine act like opposing ends of a seesaw – when one goes up, the other tends to go down.
In the fall and winter months when daylight hours start decreasing, this change in seasons has a marked effect on the neurotransmitters, namely serotonin. Sunlight tends to boost serotonin, hence why decreased sunlight leads to lower serotonin.1
- If you raise serotonin with no consideration of dopamine levels, you may feel content with life but also unmotivated to do anything.
- If you raise dopamine with no consideration of serotonin, you may feel manic and “happy” but not very content and more prone to acting on impulse.
If both are balanced, you will feel both content and motivated to do things with less regard to impulses.
Main supplements that help with dopamine and serotonin
- Vitamin D3
- Omega-3 (from flaxseed or fish)
- Velvet Bean (Mucuna pruriens)
- St. John’s Wort
- Caffeine and other stimulants
I will explain how and why to use each one, one by one.
Vitamin D3 – What they DON’T tell you
Basically everyone knows about vitamin D3 for mood. Your body makes it from sun exposure, but since sunlight is never constant, supplemental D3 is supposed to help your mind and body in the bleak wintertime.
What people usually do not know is that you need to take vitamin K2 with Vitamin D3.
Vitamin K2 ensures that D3 does its job in terms of sequestering calcium into your bones rather than your arteries. And you need vitamin K2 as it does not occur in this form in food and must be converted from K1 by bacteria in the gut2 which is not guaranteed.
- Twinlab Vitamin D3 + K2 dots (A lot of people have enjoyed taking these in my experience.)
- Thorne Research D3+ K2 drops (600 servings in a single bottle)
Omega-3 For Better Mood and Sense of Well-Being
The other big natural antidepressant are Omega-3 fatty acids, and they are found in abundance in fish oil and flaxseed oil.
It used to be that we could get this stuff in an ordinary diet, but modern agriculture and constant grain-feeding to animals has left us high and dry without Omega-3.
However, we aren’t totally screwed. We have two very common sources of Omega-3 to rely on: fish oil and flaxseed oil. There are some minor differences between the two that aren’t very significant in my opinion.
One may be “less efficient” than the other but this is one of those things where the body converts the ALA from flax and uses it all the same as fish oil as long as you eat the right amount and eat more of it than you do Omega-6 which has a competing conversion pathway.7
You can purchase basic fish oil, or try cod liver or krill oils, in capsules or in liquid form:
As for flaxseed, you can eat flaxseed meal or take the actual oil (in capsules if you like):
I personally take fish and/or flax, basically whenever they are available to me.
Mucuna Pruriens (Velvet bean) for low dopamine and low motivation
I have had no issues taking it with caffeine sources like tea. It works as a complement to a caffeinated pick-me-up.
5-HTP – Serotonin Precursor for Sense of Well-Being
If you are a frequenter of mens’ blogs, you may know that both D&P and Matt Forney swear by 5-HTP for sleep and promoting a good mood.
In a nutshell, 5-HTP is extracted from the seeds of griffonia, a family of woody shrubs native to West Africa. 5-HTP is a natural precursor to the hormone serotonin.
As I mentioned already, serotonin is responsible for your sense of overall well-being. If serotonin is low you’re going to feel dissatisfied with everything, even when there’s no reason to be dissatisfied.
As for dosage of 5-HTP, you don’t need much. I take anywhere from 20 mg to 100 mg on a day, and sometimes I will break that total up into two doses if I feel the need.
If you’re also in the market for nootropics, check out Powder City’s bulk 5-HTP:
Or if you’re mostly ordering from iHerb or want capsules, check out their 5-HTP supplements:
Important: Do not combine 5-HTP with another serotonergic, prescription SSRI or other antidepressant.
Do not combine with St. John’s Wort either, which we will cover next.
St. John’s Wort – Effective Herb for Low Serotonin, Dopamine and Depression
St. John’s Wort has been studied for decades and is known and proven as an effective treatment for major depression,9 blowing a huge hole in the misconception that it must be a patented pharmaceutical to be effective.
St. John’s Wort works by inhibiting uptake of serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline, meaning these substances stay in the brain longer to work their positive effects.10
In my experience, St. John’s Wort is powerful stuff. I would not personally use unless it were really necessary. Taking it while feeling normal made me feel screwy.
Important: Do not combine St John’s Wort with other serotonergics, dopaminergics, prescription SSRIs or other antidepressants. The risk of adverse interaction is real.11 Consult with a doctor if you are taking any prescriptions.
Caffeine – Perks you up with noradrenaline and dopamine
Caffeine is effective at picking up your dopamine levels and to an extent your serotonin levels.12
The only drawback is that caffeine must be dosed properly to prevent tolerance buildup. People with anxiety should not mess with caffeine either, at least not without taking it with theanine. In my experience I do not use more than 100 mg in an hour, and I keep it spaced out evenly, then I don’t use it daily.
- Bulk caffeine anhydrous (Powder City)
Here are some alternatives to coffee if you’re in the market for trying out a new pick-me-up:
- UpliftX capsules – (Caffeine + Theanine)
- Instant Tea
- “Bulletproof” Cocoa
- Other natural stimulants
Everyone should already be getting vitamin D3 and K2 and Omega-3 in the form of fish or flax, and this in my opinion should take care of most SAD issues.
As for your personal needs, if you are feeling undermotivated, take velvet bean and have some caffeine. If you just feel down, try 5-HTP or St. John’s Wort (one or the other, not both!)
PubMed – Effect of sunlight and season on serotonin turnover in the brain. ↩
PubMed – The production of menaquinones (vitamin K2) by intestinal bacteria and their role in maintaining coagulation homeostasis. ↩
Gwern – Vitamin D at night hurts? ↩
PubMed – The influence of vitamin D supplementation on melatonin status in patients with multiple sclerosis. ↩
PubMed – Dietary fish oil affects monoaminergic neurotransmission and behavior in rats. ↩
PubMed – Effects of omega-3 fatty acid on platelet serotonin responsivity in patients with schizophrenia. ↩
Harvard Medical School – Why not flaxseed oil? ↩
PubMed – Mucuna pruriens improves male fertility by its action on the hypothalamus-pituitary-gonadal axis. ↩
PubMed – A Double-blind, randomized trial of St John’s wort, fluoxetine, and placebo in major depressive disorder. ↩
PubMed – Mechanism of action of St John’s wort in depression : what is known? ↩
Examine – Hypericum perforatum (St. John’s Wort) ↩
PubMed – Caffeine and the central nervous system: mechanisms of action, biochemical, metabolic and psychostimulant effects. ↩