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Seasonal Affective Disorder: Beating the Winter Blues

Fall and winter are wonderful times of the year. The leaves change color, the football season is underway, and the days are often warm with the evenings cool. However, not everyone looks forward to the change of seasons because it means less sunshine. It gets dark earlier and some experience mild changes in mood. Some experience less energy, fatigue, a change in eating or sleeping patterns. If you are one of these people you may suffer from season affective disorder.

Seasonal affective disorder (also called SAD) is a type of depression that follows the seasons. The most common type of SAD is called winter depression. It usually begins in late fall or early winter and goes away by spring. SAD may be related to changes in the amount of daylight during different times of the year. It may be more common than you think, as many as 6 of every 100 people in the United States may have winter depression. Another 10% to 20% may experience mild SAD. SAD is more common in women than in men.

Common symptoms of winter depression include:

  • A change in appetite- a craving for sugar and carbs

  • Weight gain

  • A drop in energy level

  • Fatigue

  • A tendency to oversleep

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Irritability

  • Increased sensitivity to social rejection

  • Avoidance of social situations

  • Isolation

  • Melancholy

Seasonal affective disorder is common and being aware and recognizing the change is the first step. Also, it is important to see a licensed health care provider to differentiate SAD from the more prolonged and serious symptoms of depression. There are many natural treatment options including light therapy, diet and nutrition, herbs, and supplements.

Light therapy involves using a light box in the morning to normalize melatonin secretion patterns and increase blood flow to certain regions of the brain. It only takes 30 minutes of exposure to the light to get beneficial effects. There are many companies that sell light boxes, which can be researched on the internet.

Nutrition and exercise are crucial components. Eating an organic whole foods diet ensures adequate intake of nutrients that affect brain chemistry. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables throughout the day, whole grains, and fish will ensure you get the nutrients you need. Avoiding foods that cause mood fluctuations such as refined carbohydrates, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol is also important.

Exercise is particularly helpful in improving moods. Exercise increases endorphins in the body, which bind to receptors in the brain that are known to improve mood. Brisk walking 30 minutes a day four to five times a week is all that is required for the positive benefits of exercise.

Herbal treatments that are reliable for improving the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include the nervine herbs, mood enhancer herbs, and hormone balancing herbs. Another group of herbs worth considering are the adrenal tonics. Adrenal herbs help regulate cortisol levels which is important to your health and wellbeing.

Natural supplements are effective for treating SAD and include Vitamin-D and B vitamins if a person is low in these nutrients. 5-HTP is an interesting nutrient because it can be extremely effective in restoring normal behavior, feeling, and thought processes by increasing serotonin levels. A simple blood test can determine your levels of vitamins, minerals, and neurotransmitters. You may only need these nutrients if you have an actual deficiency. Often times IV therapy is the best approach for replacing nutrient deficiencies quickly. Ask your naturopathic physician if IV therapy is right for you.

Another test to consider is for genetic changes in Methylation pathways which can also cause seasonal affective disorder. This test is referred to as MTHFR DNA mutation and can provide great information to help explain why you may feel the way you feel. These changes can be addressed with nutrients known as methyl donors.

It is always important to remember to check with your health care provider before taking any herb or supplement to make sure which is right for you and that it won’t interfere with anything else you are taking.

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