Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): A Better Approach

Recently, a friend of mine approached me about this topic and had some questions regarding a more natural regimen. I was going to respond in a joking manner and say that snowshoeing would cure it because I keep trying to make her my partner. However, it needs to be dealt with in the most serious of ways because this is a real condition that many people suffer from. This is a disorder under what I like to call, “the depression umbrella”. Depression is a symptom for misfires in your body (KEY POINT). In this post, I will explain to you why it is important to know yourself and how treatment will always start with yourself. Without further ado, I began an upward spiral of research into the treatment and maintenance of SAD.

Going into this, I had preexisting knowledge of the disorder and wanted to know more beyond supplementation and medication. After all, this information was originally going to my best friends. One thing I must note that I found rather obvious for the Eastern medicine world was, their lack of treatment and sympathy toward the subject. “Take this Rx with this Rx and see how many side effects you can achieve. We’ve got a pool going in the office for the winner with the most.” I joke, I kid. But there are no greater options. There should always be options because each case must be taken individually.One should never slap on the same protocol for each person. As I investigated further, I found a new perspective for knowing how to understand SAD. 

Seasonal Affective disorder: “winter blues” (mild form), a mood related response due to the changing of the seasons, correlated to reduction in sunlight, severity depends on geographical location. Higher prevalence in women and people aged 18-30. (1)

Standard treatment for depression or like disorders is the use of SSRIs, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. SSRIs come with a lot of side effects and doctors usually prescribe based on how well they think you will respond to the side effects. I can not be completely biased because for some, it works. However, may I add, there is still such a disconnect on how antidepressants affect the brain. Synthetic can only get you so far. Think of this in terms of people. You can only surround yourself with a toxic/phony person for a short amount of time before the facade takes a toll. The human body synergistically works and responds better with a more pure natural substance. And not to mention, has the great innate ability to heal itself.


Light Therapy: Get moving, get outside. 20 minutes a day is all you need (snowshoeing). If that isn’t an option, you can supplement with a light box. UV-B emission is ideal because it produces fewer headaches and eye strain. Full spectrum light is not necessary, while balanced spectrum light is. The benefits of light therapy are an increase in neurotransmitter serotonin, which is simply the chemical that gives off the sense of well-being. And regulates the hormone melatonin, which controls sleep and wake cycles. (2) Light therapy is also a good way to regulate your body’s circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is controlled by your body clock and your body clock is controlled by both the light and the dark. Therefore, practicing light therapy in the morning, is most beneficial because it will stimulate the pineal gland. It influences the sleep pattern, the release of hormones, body temperature… etc. Chronically disrupted CR is associated with insomnia, obesity, diabetes, depression, bipolar, and lastly SAD. (3)

Supplementation: There’s usually some sort of depletion occurring. It is better to get lab work done to know for certain but for the benefit of knowledge, here’s a list.

Vitamin D is top choice supplementation for SAD. Most people are often depleted and this is where some functions in the body start to go whompyjawed. Vitamin D is a vitamin, however it functions much like a hormone does, sending necessary tid bits of information to other parts of the body. There is a precursor in your skin that synthesizes vitamin D, best source is natural sunlight. Foods like egg yolks (eat your yolks folks) and mushrooms (just the tip lol) are excellent choices to incorporate into your diet. As for the bottled source, vitamin D3 at about 2,000 IU/ day. If severely depleted, 5-10,000 IU/day broken up into two parts for better absorption (temporary dosage).

Omega-3 fatty acids. The friendly fats. There are many chains to the omega world, but lets hone in on the ‘three’ guy. Once again, the American diet is often deficient and it is important to consume omega 3s through our diets because it is needed for proper cell and hormonal function. Also, really wonderful anti-inflammatory properties. Rather than consuming foods fortified in omega-3, it is better to get them from WHOLE food sources. Some worthy foods containing omega-3 are as follows: mackerel, salmon, white fish (all fish should be WILD CAUGHT), tuna, walnuts, flaxseed, hemp seeds, anchovies, egg yolks (there they are again). The wild caught and grass-fed concept is to ensure the integrity of the best possible source of nutrient dense proteins. The bottle source is also as important; choose quality brands that can be traced back to the source. A lot of the time it will give you dates and even times of when they began bottling, to guarantee freshness and prevent premature spoiling. Keep in mind, the smaller the fish in the food chain, the less toxic (mercury level wise). However, salmon fish oil is still one of my favorites.

B vitamins are necessary for many cellular reactions to occur in the body and also affect mood and brain functions. Although, all the B’s are important, B12 has a major role in depression. A deficiency can create the symptoms of depression. B12 can not be made in the body, therefore, balanced diet and the right supplementation is crucial to carry out necessary functions. Bs can be found in foods like: lean meats, poultry, fish, egg (hey), and milk. To supplement, a complete B would be a well-rounded choice. When seeking the right one for you, be aware, many people can not absorb certain sups. Reaching out for the methylated version, will ensure absorption.

Melatonin is a hormone that is dictated by your circadian rhythm. Melatonin must be in balance. This is one prong to the fork of SAD and that is why melatonin supplementation may or may not work. People with SAD might not be deficient. This is sort of a half recommendation because it is better to focus on regulating your CR before supplementing.

St. John’s Wart. It is important to note that SJW can interfere with the use of antidepressants, HIV/AIDs medications, organ rejection medications, birth control, blood thinners, and chemotherapy drugs. With that said, SJW is effective. The mechanism of action works in more than one way and no way takes precedent over the other.

The contributing mechanisms include inhibition of the reuptake of serotonin (5-HT), dopamine (DA), norepinephrine (NE) in the synaptic cleft, binding to the GABA-A and GABA-B receptors thereby inhibiting the binding of GABA ligands, increasing the density of 5-HT2 receptors in the frontal cortex of the brain, and inhibition of both monamine oxidase (MAO) and catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) enzymes in the brain thereby allowing more DA to be converted to NE. (4)

5- HTP is a very interesting feature to the human body. It is the chemical made from tryptophan (AA). Once tryptophan is converted to 5-HTP, it then converts to serotonin. As stated above, serotonin is important for the sense of well-being, but not only that, serotonin is found in the gut. The gut is your second brain (that’s for a whole different post). With that said, 5-HTP supplementation would have a positive effect on sleep pattern, mood, anxiety, appetite, and sensation of pain. In food, 5-HTP is not found, tryptophan, yes. However, it is harder to achieve noticeable levels after conversion. 5-HTP supplementation can treat depression, fibromyalgia, insomnia, migraines, chronic head aches, and even obesity. To supplement, 50 mg 1-3 x/day to maintain. Anxiety/depression, 150-300 mg daily. Supplement derives from seeds of a African plant called, Griffonia Simplicifolia. When taken in high doses, it can cause liver and brain toxicity (people with liver disease should not take). Interactions: antidepressants. (5)

L-tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is found in plant and animal sources, that our body does not create by itself. Tryptophan –> 5-HTP –> serotonin. Thus, creating a stable mood, better sleep, and alleviate symptoms of depression. Foods: turkey, chicken, eggs (hi) milk, potatoes, pumpkin (for the super seasonally aware gals/basics), sunflower seeds, turnip, collard greens, seaweed, soybeans, oats, and nutritional yeast (inactive yeast that tastes like cheese)((those vegans, I tell ya. Except they’ll tell you)). Dosage varies among each person. Supplement can interact with antidepressants and sedatives.

Music: music has and will always be one of the greatest stress relievers. It is said that Gustav Holst’s composition “Mars and Jupiter” from The Planets, is music to help alleviate symptoms of depression. Why? I am not sure. Just go listen.

Essential Oils/ Crystal Therapy

Essential oils stimulate beta brain waves. I am no complete expert on essential oils, pairings and what not, however I can conclude to the fact that they work in conjunction with the brain. There are five types of frequencies: gamma, beta, alpha, theta, and delta (highest to lowest). Beta is responsible for conscious thought and logical thinking. Having just the right amount allows for focus. If you notice uncontrollable/unnecessary anxiety for questionable reasons, it could be because there is an increase or imbalance in the beta brain waves.Essential oils work to bring balance. (8)

Crystal therapy, get ready for some hippie dippie information. With all seriousness, if you can wrap your head around it, crystal therapy, also known as “vibrational medicine”, would be a great addition to treatment. The basis of it all is simple, matter is composed of energy. Crystals have energy that naturally resonate with the natural vibrations in the human body. If you don’t think that’s cool, well, sorry buddy cause that’s cool. (7)

“These same biocrystalline elements amplify certain aspects of the life force in special energy circuits that run throughout the body. Biocrystalline systems are intimately involves with meditating the input of higher vibrational energy into the body.” (6)

Crystal therapy works to cleanse, open, activate, and align. It is effective for emotional healing. It helps find balance and the key to healing, is balance.

Negative Air Ionizer: high density negative ions is as effective as light therapy. Extra electrons from negative ions tend to have a positive effect on the environment around you. They work by increasing the flow of oxygen to the brain, in turn, increasing the production of serotonin. It helps not only decrease mood swings involved with depression symptoms but also seasonal allergies. It eliminates odors and helps to keep the air clean. (9)

It all starts with you. No one else can help yourself, but yourself. Once you realize nutrition is the main concept in maintaining a healthy mind AND a healthy gut, mental illness can be dealt with more accurately. It is important to know yourself and know when something isn’t right. The same can be said for knowing when something is right because it is more important to focus on the positives. It can make for a more effective recovery when you know you need to step up and recreate some much-needed balance in your life. Sometimes you need a push, but ultimately, it all starts with you. Get outside, smell nature, let the wind blow, and the rain fall. Take time to laugh and enjoy the simplicity of life and eat eggs. Lastly, treat yo self.



Written by:
Megan Krage