As we move into the longer and darker days of winter ahead, many North Americans find themselves feeling a decline in mood, energy, motivation and overall vitality. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is not a rare disorder. In fact, SAD affects 1 in 3 North Americans, while many more likely feel some symptoms of SAD without recognizing it. The medical definition of SAD is: symptoms of depression coinciding with seasons of shorter days and less sunlight. This is blamed on the so-called biological internal clocks, or circadian rhythm, and it is said that SAD sufferers are more likely to be women and younger persons. Other symptoms include a craving for sugary foods, such as sweets, candies, and refined carbohydrates. While one of the best overall therapies is to get into a climate that offers more sunshine exposure, moving to California for the winters is obviously not viable to the entire population. Below are additional options that provide ‘Safe and Effective Natural Treatments to Prevent & Treat SAD’:
1. Vitamin D
If you haven’t had your vitamin D levels tested, now has never been a better time to do so. One of the big areas of research into SAD is looking into levels of exposure to sunshine resulting in vitamin D production within the body. Since we rely on sun for a large part of our vitamin D, moving into the darker months of late autumn and winter affects these levels. In fact, recent research has shown that 2/3rds of Canadians are vitamin D deficient. Not only is this powerful nutrient involved in supporting mood and metabolism, it has been touted by many studies to be a key nutrient in reducing risk of many varieties of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. However, due to recent popularity in the media, Vitamin D enthusiasts often make a key mistake – that is self-prescribing either too high or too low a dose. While many are not getting enough Vitamin D, it is possible to get too much of a good thing. Have your levels tested before, during, and after a course of treatment to monitor progress and get your levels in the optimum range.
2. 5-HTPSerotonin is a critical neurotransmitter to keep our mood, memory, & many other biochemical functions performing at a high level. All you have to do is look at the spikes in Effexor and Prozac sales in the last decade to see how many people are affected by mood disorders. As always, I will stand on my soap box for a moment to remind ourselves that it is important to always understand what is at the root cause of one’s symptoms rather than merely suppressing the symptoms until we feel better. Would you take the ‘check engine’ light bulb out of the car if it went off? Not likely – however we do this to our ‘engines’ everyday. 5-HTP acts as a powerful precursor to serotonin production. Dosing for SAD is between 300-600 mg’s per day. As always, check with your primary health care provider before starting any treatment protocol.
3. Get active outdoors!There is no medication or supplement that can replace this. Move it or lose it!! Regular moderate activity has been demonstrated repeatedly to improve mood and well being in all populations. You don’t need to rush out and buy a gym membership – even walking briskly or playing any sport can benefit. Yes, yes, I know its getting colder outside. A fresh blast of air will enhance your sense of invigoration and well-being! Find an activity that works for you, and even find some friends/family that enjoy it as well. Skiing, skating, tobogganing, snow-shoeing – there are many awesome choices to have fun outside. Get active and enjoy feeling better!
4. St. John’s WortOver the past 22 years, more than 30 clinical studies have been conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of St. John’s Wort for the treatment of depression and anxiety. Several studies have found SJW to be effective in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. St John’s Wort acts on a similar level as common anti-depressant medications without the risks of some of the more serious side effects. As always with botanical medicine, be sure to select a high quality supplement line as your source.
5. Light TherapyAs the main trigger for SAD is diminished exposure to the sun, direct sunshine is the most preferred form of natural light therapy. However, there are many who gain significant symptomatic relief from various light therapy treatments during the darker months. During light therapy, patients are exposed to bright light early in the morning in an attempt to reduce the secretion of melatonin and stimulate a more natural waking cycle. There are many fantastic light therapy devices available today, many of which are inexpensive and well made. Studies of patients with SAD indicate that bright light therapy in the morning produces greater therapeutic effect than evening light. Aim to get 30 to 45 minutes of direct exposure to the light source.
To your health,
Dr. John Dempster, ND, FAARFM, ABAAHP