Seasonal Affective Disorder
In late fall, when the days get shorter, some people develop a special form of depression called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. This condition should not be confused with mild winter blues. It is a real illness, as severely debilitating as any other form of clinical
Symptoms are generally worst in January and February, and begin to disappear as the days lengthen in the spring. SAD occurs most often in adolescents and women, but it is not limited to those groups. Up to 25% of the population may suffer from a mild version of SAD, and perhaps 5% experience the full disorder.
The cause of SAD is not known, but is believed to relate to the daily biological clock and the way it responds to sunlight. The hormones melatonin and serotonin are thought to be involved, although exactly in what manner remains unclear.
Conventional treatment for SAD focuses on increasing exposure to light. Making sure to get outside during the brightest part of the day may help significantly. Bright artificial light sources (phototherapy) are also helpful. Antidepressant drugs may be used if these treatments prove ineffective.
Proposed Natural Treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder
The body creates
when it is exposed to the sun, and during the winter vitamin D levels drop. For this reason, it seems logical that vitamin D supplements might help people with SAD. One
St. John's Wort
Note: Combining St. John’s wort with bright light therapy might not be safe. A substance called hypericin, found in most St. John’s wort products, may cause the body to become hypersensitive to light, increasing risk of damage to the skin and eyes. See the full article on
For reasons that are not at all clear, use of a device that produces negative ions may help SAD symptoms, according to two preliminary controlled studies.
2. Partonen T, Vakkuri O, Lamberg-Allardt C, Lonnqvist J. Effects of bright light on sleepiness, melatonin, and 25-hydroxyvitamin D(3) in winter seasonal affective disorder. Biol Psychiatry . 1996;39:865–872.
Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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