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Does the Weather Make you SAD?
writes, "Although no one likes gray skies and rainy weather, many people experience the "winter blues," formally known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a mood disorder consisting of symptoms like depression, fatigue, sleeping excessively, loss of libido, and weight gain, which only occur in the fall and winter months each year as the days grow shorter and we get less daylight."
This is a common condition, particularly in the more Northern states because as we get further from the equator, we experience shorter hours of daylight in the fall and winter. When there is less daylight, our bodies are triggered to increase the production of melatonin, a hormone that is an integral part of our sleep-wake cycles. By producing more melatonin, we actually have less serotonin available (one of our "feel good" hormones), which may contribute to feelings of depression. This is why some conventional physicians prescribe SSRIs or anti-depressants for patients with Seasonal Affective Disorder.

There are several natural therapies that can be used for cases of SAD:

1. Light Therapy
Light therapy is the least invasive and best researched natural tool available. One study showed that light therapy was as effective as fluoxetine (an SSRI anti-depressant) for the treatment of SAD, and participants using the light box saw improvement in their symptoms faster than their counterparts taking the prescription medication. Light therapy consists of sitting next to a "light box" providing either full spectrum or cool white light for at least 30 minutes per day.

2. Vitamin D
Another theory about the cause of SAD symptoms has to do with decreased production of Vitamin D as we are exposed to less sunlight. Studies looking at a connection between mood and Vitamin D levels have been mixed, with some studies showing good results from Vitamin D supplementation and others showing little improvement in mood. However, Vitamin D is vital to many different body functions, and should be evaluated in the work up of your health concerns anyway. It is not recommended to supplement high doses of Vitamin D without lab work and direction of your healthcare provider, as high dose supplementation can cause adverse effects.

3. Tryptophan
Serotonin is derived from Tryptophan, an amino acid. Among individuals who do not see an improvement in mood after using a light box, the addition of Tryptophan has been shown to provide some benefits. It is also important to eat a nutrient rich diet to ensure you are taking in the necessary vitamin cofactors needed for the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin. Please note that Tryptophan or it's derivative (5-hydroxy-tryphtophan) should not be taken by patients using an SSRI anti-depressant medication without the supervision of a doctor knowledgeable in drug-nutrient interactions, as there can be a very dangerous interaction.

4. Lifestyle and Behavioral Changes
Daily physical activity is very helpful in relieving symptoms of mild to moderate depression, and physical activity that can be done outside during the daylight will be even more beneficial. Working on staying in a relaxed and calm state of mind through meditation or movement exercises like Tai Chi, Qi Gong, and Yoga can also be very helpful.

Remember that natural therapies can be helpful in getting you through the winter months full of short days, and there are effective alternatives to prescription drugs.

Laura Glenn, ND
Treasure Valley Natural Medicine


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