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Seasonal Affective Disorder

Depression | April 10, 2017 | Author: Naturopath


Seasonal Affective Disorder

If you experience more than just the winter blues each year you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder or SAD. Also referred to as winter or seasonal depression this form of unhappiness occurs during the same season each year, most commonly during the winter months. Although not as common, a second type of SAD can occur during the summer months in warmer climates. Summer SAD is more related to heat and humidity rather than a lack of sunlight in winter SAD.

What puts you at risk of SAD?

Anyone can get it, but it is more common in:

  • Women. However, men tend to have more severe symptoms.
  • Young people have a higher risk of winter SAD.
  • People with a family history of SAD or another form of depression.
  • People who live far away from the equator, where winter daylight hours are very short.
  • People with depression or bipolar disorder. Symptoms of these conditions may worsen seasonally.

What causes SAD?

Experts aren’t exactly sure but they believe it may be triggered by a lack of sunlight in Autumn. This lack of light can disrupt your body’s “internal clock” which controls your sleep-wake pattern and other circadian rhythms.

SAD may also cause problems with levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that can cause depressive symptoms if levels are low.

Melatonin levels can elevate which is the chemical needed to regulate sleep and mood. An overproduction can cause sleepiness and lethargy, delaying the body's circadian rhythm.

People with SAD may also produce less vitamin D which is believed to play a role in serotonin activity. A vitamin D deficiency may be associated with symptoms of depression.

What are the most common symptoms of SAD?

SAD symptoms are the same criteria for diagnosis of major depression. These can include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Sad, anxious or “empty” feelings
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • A lack of energy
  • Weight gain
  • Change in appetite
  • Carbohydrate cravings
  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Frequent oversleeping but still feeling fatigued
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

These symptoms in SAD are then worsened during a season, with improvements occurring during a change in season. This usually needs to occur two years in a row for diagnosis.

Natural treatment options

Light therapy is considered one of the main treatments for SAD. Counselling, Herbal Medicine and Natural Therapies may also be very helpful for people wanting a natural alternative to prescribed medications.

Light therapy

an effective and easy solution for people suffering from SAD. It helps to reset your internal clock and seems to benefit most SAD sufferers. 

Bright light therapy involves a light box that you sit next to during the day. It’s a fluorescent light that is brighter than indoor lights but not as bright as sunlight.

Dawn simulation, an alternative option involves a dim light that goes on in the morning while you sleep, getting brighter over time like a sunrise. Light therapy is usually prescribed for 30 minutes to 2 hours a day.

Most people report feeling better after a week or two but treatment needs to be continued daily until the season changes, otherwise your symptoms could return.
If neither of these options are available to you - sitting next to a sunny window can work too.

Trying to get outdoors in natural sunlight as often as you can. Do outdoor chores, have your breaks outside, hang out the washing and catch those natural rays.

Even better…regular exercise outdoors, especially in the morning, can help boost energy levels and feel good hormones. Moderate exercise that increases your heart rate such as swimming, walking or cycling are great ways to get started. If there is anxiety, meditation, Tai chi, yoga or stretching exercises can be beneficial.

Talk about it

Cognitive Behaviour therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that have been adapted from traditional techniques specifically for SAD. CBT-SAD relies on identifying negative thoughts and replacing them with positive ones. It helps to improve coping during winter by helping the person to identify activities that are engaging and pleasurable.

St John’s Wort

This happy herb has been proven in numerous studies to be effective in the treatment of mild to moderate and major depression. In one study an extract of (900mg/day) was combined with light therapy in 20 SAD patients. There was found to be a significant improvement in fatigue, depression, anxiety, lethargy, appetite, libido and sleep. St John’s wort may affect the way some medications work and may not be suitable for some people – speak to your Naturopath or GP for further guidance.


This supplement has been shown to be a great alternative for people who are non-responders to light therapy. However, many foods are rich in this essential amino acid including turkey, chicken, red meat, nuts, seeds, tofu, cheese, lentils, eggs, oats and beans.

Vitamin D

A systemic review and meta-analysis concluded that low levels of vitamin D are associated with depression. Low levels usually occur due to insufficient dietary intake or little outdoor exposure to sunlight. Many people with SAD have insufficient or deficient levels of vitamin D. Assess your vitamin D levels through your Dr to get the correct dosage and to determine whether this supplement is necessary for you.

B vitamins

Vitamin B complex are a group of B vitamins essential for energy production and the functioning of neurons. They have been shown to provide protection against certain types of mental disorders, particularly depression. Folic acid and vitamin B12 can help enhance cognitive function, if this has become affected in people with SAD.


Found in high concentrations in our brain for a reason—omega-3 from fish oil can help in the prevention and treatment of SAD. Omega-3 can also be obtained from other food sources such as walnuts, chia seeds, linseeds, seafood and grass-fed meat.

Don’t let this winter get you down. Try these alternatives to boost your mood and avoid getting SAD this season.  Australia’s best online discount chemist


Miller AL. Epidemiology, aetiology, and natural treatment of seasonal affective disorder. Altern Med Rev. 2005 Mar;10(1):5-13

Melrose S. Seasonal affective disorder: An overview of assessment and treatment options. Depress Res Treat. Nov 2015; 2015:178564

Qureshi NA, Al-Bedah. Mood disorders and complementary and alternative medicine: a literature review. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2013;9:639-658

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