The weather is getting colder. The days are getting shorter. Winter is here.
You notice you are feeling more fatigued and unmotivated. Your appetite has increased and you’re gaining weight. You’re starting to become uninterested in your favorite hobbies, and find yourself isolating more often than usual. You just feel sad.
If you can relate to the above feelings, you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes on in the winter and typically lasts until spring time. SAD is a type of major depression and includes the same symptoms, they are just expressed in a seasonal pattern. These symptoms include: depressed mood for most of the day and experienced on most days, feeling hopeless, feelings of worthlessness, suicidal ideation, lack of enjoyment in interests and activities, fatigue, sleep changes, changes in weight or appetite, and difficulty concentrating. Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder can be severe, and if you are struggling with any of the above symptoms you should be evaluated and treated by a doctor.
There a lot of different treatment options for SAD
Let’s take a look at some of these and compare what option(s) might be best for you.
Conventional medical treatments for SAD include antidepressant medications, therapy, and light box therapy.
While antidepressant medication might seem like the obvious and easy choice, there are a few things you should know about these meds that your conventional doctor probably won’t tell you. There are many different causes of depression, and a chemical imbalance is actually not as common as people think. Once you go on these medications though, they do make chemical changes in your brain. So you might not start off with a chemical balance, but once you go on these medications you will have one as they are forcing direct biochemical changes in the brain!
Also, most antidepressant medications take 8 weeks to have their full therapeutic effect. So if you only experience depression for a few months out of the year, and it takes 2 months for your medication to have an effect……….does that sound like the best treatment option? Then what usually happens is people stay on these medications, as those chemical changes that have been made in your brain make it SO difficult to get off these medications! It’s a vicious, and often ineffective cycle.
But don’t worry, there’s better and safer options!
Naturopathic treatments include diet and lifestyle modifications, nutritional supplementation, and homeopathic treatment.
Inflammation is a major cause and contributing factor to depression and other mental health conditions. This is why treatments aimed at decreasing inflammation are effective at improving symptoms of depression.
An anti-inflammatory diet consists of a diet full of whole foods. Whole foods include: vegetables, fruits, animal proteins, fish, nuts, and healthy fats. Diet should be focused on eating organic, wild, and free range as much as possible. Avoid processed food, fast foods, fried foods, GMO foods, high pesticide fruits and vegetables, sugar and alcohol are these are all very inflammatory. Many people have food sensitivities which also create inflammation in the gut when eaten. To determine what food sensitivities you might have, consult your doctor about testing for this.
Omega-3 fatty acids are the go to supplement for treating any type of depression. Omega-3 fatty acids contain strong anti-inflammatory properties and work to boost mood and support brain health. The recommended therapeutic dose is 3 grams a day, but this dosing may vary based on the individual. The quality of fish oil is also important to consider. A rancid, impure, and bad quality fish oil is going to have the opposite effect that you want, and will cause more inflammation in the body! If it smells bad and fishy, it is not good quality. It is best to speak with your doctor about specific brands and dosages that would be best for you.
The other go-to supplement for seasonal affective disorder is vitamin D. It has been hypothesized that seasonal affective disorder is caused by the lack of sunlight, which in turn causes lower vitamin D levels. Vitamin D plays an important role in hormone regulation and neurotransmitter synthesis. It is also well known that low vitamin D levels can cause symptoms of depression. But before you run out and go buy vitamin D at the store, it is important to remember that vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin and therefore can cause toxicity at high amounts. Ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels, so that you can find the safe and therapeutic dosage for you.
And then there’s homeopathy!
Homeopathic treatment is an effective treatment option for seasonal affective disorder as it treats the unique way that depression has manifested in you. Depression affects every person in a different way, and that is why your treatment should be individualized to you. Homeopathy is not only effective at treating SAD, it is 100% safe. And the best part, homeopathy actually works to decrease a person’s susceptibility to having seasonal affective disorder so that you don’t have to struggle with it every year!
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Dr. Rachel Rozelle
Associate Doctor at Resilience Naturopathic