The old song declares the holiday season to be the most wonderful time of the year, as well as the “hap- happiest season of all.” But is this true? For many people, the holidays are a difficult time, and depression is high in the winter months. Some of this is circumstantial, as people deal with the loss of loved ones or difficult personal situations. Others, however, suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, a very real illness in which the shorter days trigger depression.
SAD is not the same as a mild case of the winter blues. Most people get a little glum when the weather turns gloomy, but for the half million people in the United States who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, the winter can be debilitating. The condition occurs most often in women and adolescents, and symptoms tend to peak in January and February, improving as the spring arrives and days lengthen. While the cause is not known, this illness is thought to relate to the biological clock and its responses to sunlight. Fortunately, there are some natural solutions to the problem.
Conventional treatment for SAD uses increased exposure to light, often in combination with antidepressant medications. While getting outside during the brightest part of the day can be significantly helpful, some people suffer side effects like headaches, eye strain, irritability, fatigue, and insomnia when exposed to bright artificial light.
Natural treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder include:
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D levels drop during the winter, when people have less opportunity for exposure to the sun. Some studies have indicated that vitamin D supplements can help combat the effects of SAD.
- Melatonin: A hormone that plays a major role in our biological clocks, melatonin is manufactured at night, with the body ceasing to make it when the sun comes out. While it may seem counterintuitive, a small study found that taking melatonin in the afternoon could benefit some people with SAD.
- St John’s Wort: This herb has shown great promise in treating depression, though it’s too early in studies of St. John’s wort in conjunction with SAD to show any evidence that it could be beneficial for this particular problem. (It’s important to note, also, that St. John’s wort contains a substance that can cause the body to develop a hypersensitivity to light, which makes it incompatible with light therapy.)
If you suffer from SAD, your doctor can help you determine which of these supplements might benefit you. You can also take proactive steps to prevent SAD impacting your life, by improving your overall health. Try to spend as much time outside in the sun each day as possible, even if it’s cloudy. Eat a well-balanced diet, and exercise regularly to keep your body in good condition. Perhaps most importantly, nurture close relationships, participate in regular activities, and build a strong support system for yourself, with friends and family you can call when you’re feeling down.
At our clinic, we believe in treating people holistically, using natural, non-invasive therapies. Working with our patients to help them achieve better health, we’re able to treat them as whole people and set them on the path to optimal wellness. For more information and to set up your free consultation, call today.