Don’t Be SAD Research sheds new light on treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder.
It is estimated that 10 million Americans su er from it. SAD (seasonal a ective disorder) is characterized by depression that occurs (and tends to recur yearly) during the fall and winter months as sunlight wanes. People with SAD may feel lethargic or irritable, sleep more than usual, or experience changes in appetite such as an increased craving for carbs. During the spring and summer months, the world looks brighter, literally and fi guratively, and they begin to feel more optimistic and energetic. e disorder can negatively a ect major aspects of everyday life, including work and relationships. A few natural treatment approaches o er a ray of hope.
A 2017 study published in Psychiatry Journal concluded that symptoms of this form of winter depression improved greatly with light room therapy, a treatment that has been practiced in Sweden for decades. Subjects sat in rooms lighted with fl uorescent bulbs and painted in white/light colors for two hours daily on weekdays, residing comfortably in armchairs in small groups reading, talking, or just relaxing. Light room therapy was found to result in improved sleep, energy, mood, activity, and cognitive functioning.
ere is evidence that light therapy has an e ect on the brain similar to antidepressants. In a study published in 2016, 11 patients with SAD treated with light therapy for two weeks experienced lower levels of “serotonin transporter binding,” which resulted in increased levels of serotonin. In fact, their serotonin levels became similar to those seen during the summer months.
You can do light therapy treatment at home with a light box. However, stay away from "full spectrum" lighting, says Emily Kane, ND, LAc, a naturopath based in Juneau, Alaska, as the UV light may be harmful to your skin and eyes. “Choose ‘broad-spectrum’ lights instead, which omit the UV, and feature the healing green wavelength,” says Kane. “e intensity of the light is what counts: go for 10,000 lux [a measure of light intensity] from a light box, or install four 2,500 lux bulbs in existing
xtures in the room where you’ll spend time in the early morning.”
e hormone melatonin normally rises in response to darkness and is suppressed with the light of morning. However, the shorter days of winter could cause our circadian rhythms to fall out of sync with the actual time of day. Melatonin works by helping to keep your biological clock in a 24-hour rhythm. “For SAD, you usually only need a small dose of melatonin—0.3 to 0.5 milligrams,” says Tieraona Low Dog, MD, a leading expert in integrative medicine and author of Fortify Your Life: Your Guide to Vitamins, Minerals and More. Low Dog recommends taking it when it starts to
Several studies have shown a link between low levels of vitamin D, often called “the sunshine vitamin,” and depression. A 2015 study published in Depression Research and Treatment concluded that taking high-dose vitamin D could be an e ective treatment for SAD. However, researchers warn that adverse reactions
or intoxication, although rare, could occur from doses of more than 50,000 IU per day. Recent
ndings lend support to preceding research associating vitamin D de ciency with depression. A 2017 study published in the journal PLoS One concluded that “vitamin D de ciency was a signi cant predictor of depression” in patients with chronic kidney disease. Use 5,000–10,000 IU daily.
Rhodiola rosea is an adaptogenic herb that helps the body better cope with biological and physical stressors. Rhodiola has been demonstrated to help those who su er with fatigue and depression. is herb may help support normal energy levels, improved physical and mental performance, and healthy mood balance. A 2015 study pitted rhodiola against the popular antidepressant Zoloft and a placebo. Depression scores of participants taking rhodiola were improved, although slightly lower than those taking Zoloft, and rhodiola beat out the placebo. e side e ects of rhodiola were far fewer than those of Zoloft, and researchers concluded that rhodiola may “have a superior risk-bene t pro le for those with mild or moderate depressive symptoms.”
ST. JOHN’S WORT
Studies have shown St. John’s wort extract (SJWE) to be very e ective in reducing depression scores in patients with SAD. In one study, patients were treated with 900 mg of SJWE daily, combined with either bright (3000 lux) or dim light (<300 lux) therapy. ere were signi cant reductions in depression scores in both groups (72% and 60%, respectively), indicating that SJWE may o er support to patients with SAD—either alone or in combination with light therapy.
Research shows taking high-dose vitamin D could be an effective treatment for SAD.