Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or seasonal depression, causes symptoms such as sadness, sleep disturbances, fatigue, and food cravings at the same time each year. Although this condition can occur during the spring and summer, it is most common during the fall and winter months. A decrease in sunlight causes a drop in melatonin levels, which can trigger symptoms of depression. According to AlternativeMentalHealth.com, 20 percent of the population will develop winter SAD.
Conventional treatment for SAD includes antidepressant drugs, such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Natural remedies for seasonal affective disorder, such as light boxes or medicinal herbs, can relieve mild to moderate symptoms. However, severe depression or suicidal thoughts require prompt medical attention from a doctor.
St. John’s Wort
St. John’s wort is a traditional herbal remedy for mild to moderate depression. Clinical studies have shown this herb to be effective in treating depression and sleep disturbances caused by SAD. Significant improvement may not occur until you have taken this remedy for two months. In capsule form, St. John’s wort may cause increased sensitivity to sunlight; the tincture does not appear to cause this reaction.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Essential fatty acids—particularly omega 3 fatty acids-have received praise for their heart health benefits. Research also suggests that these fatty acids may play a role in maintaining mental health. In a study published in June, 2010 in the online Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, University of Montreal researchers found that omega 3 fatty acids can relieve symptoms of depression. Omega 3 fatty acids are available in capsule form, and from flax seed, walnuts, and fatty fish such as salmon and herring.
The healing properties of some essential oils can be absorbed through aromatherapy. Some oils, particularly citrus, can boost energy and relieve fatigue and mild depression. Lavender oil can promote relaxation and healthy sleep patterns. Add a few drops of pure botanical essential oils to your bath water or shampoo, or even place a few drops on your pillow at bedtime. Do not ingest essential oils, which can be highly toxic; ask your doctor about their use if you have chronic health issues or are pregnant or nursing.
Some homeopathic remedies can relieve symptoms of SAD. Homeopathic remedies are highly diluted natural substances that produce the symptom to be treated when administered at full strength. Remedies for SAD symptoms include Kali phosphoricum for depression or sleeplessness and Natrum muriaticum for salt cravings and depression. Consult a homeopathic practitioner to find the right remedy for your symptoms.
According to the Mayo Clinic, studies have shown the effectiveness of light box therapy in the treatment of SAD symptoms. The artificial sunlight “tricks” the body into producing chemicals which improve mood and sleep patterns, often within 3 to 5 days. Light box therapy typically involves a 30 minute session each morning, with or without additional types of treatment. Although you can purchase a light box at a drug store without a prescription, some insurance companies will pay for a light box prescribed by a doctor.
Outdoor exercise, such as walking, provides sun exposure and stimulates production of mood-enhancing endorphins. To lift spirits, enjoy a walk at lunchtime, when the sun is at its highest level.
Consult your doctor before using a remedy, particularly if you are taking prescription medication, have chronic health issues, or are pregnant or nursing. Natural remedies for seasonal affective disorder are available at health food stores, drug stores, or online.
Gayle Eversole, CRNP, PhD, AHG, DHo, Natural Treatment for Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder, AlternativeMentalHealth.com
Francois Lesperance, MD, et al: The Efficacy of Omega-3 Supplementation for Major Depression: A Randomized Controlled Trial, Psychiatrist.com
Dr. Denice Moffat, Schuessler Cell Salts, NaturalHealthTechniques.com
Mayo Clinic, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Treatment: Choosing a Light Box, MayoClinic.com
Mayo Clinic, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Alternative Medicine, MayoClinic.com
Brenda Stanfield, Seasonal Affective Disorder, HerbCompanion.com