Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects more than 3 million people annually in the United States. This article will discuss SAD, its common symptoms, and natural ways to treat it.
This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a mood disorder that occurs with seasonal changes. Changes in the brain trigger it, the body’s chemicals, and the internal clock. SAD is more common in northern regions and affects women more than men. SAD usually starts around age 20 but decreases as people age.
Most SAD symptoms start in the late fall or early winter and subside during the spring or summer months. Typical symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder include the following:
- Decreased energy
- Weight gain/weight loss
- Lack of concentration
- Suicidal thoughts
- Feelings of depression
- Difficulty sleeping
Note: While most cases of SAD happen in the fall or winter, a few cases have been reported during the spring and summer as well. Symptoms for both winter and summer SAD are the same.
Causes of SAD
While the exact cause of SAD is unknown, many experts believe a lack of vitamin D is a key component in the disorder: Many people diagnosed with SAD suffer from depression, and low vitamin D levels are typical in those dealing with depression. 
SAD could also be linked to the following:
- Reduced levels of serotonin
- Distance living from the equator
- Family history of SAD
- Reduced levels of melatonin or serotonin
Diagnosis of SAD can be difficult because many symptoms mimic depression or mental health issues. Consulting with a physician is the best way to receive an accurate diagnosis. Typical tests for SAD include a physical exam, lab tests, or a psychological evaluation.
Medical treatment for SAD is available, but patients must experience two winters of depression before receiving an official diagnosis by a physician. Instead of waiting two years for treatment, there are several things a person can do immediately to treat SAD naturally:
Also known as the “sunshine vitamin,” you can obtain Vit D from sunlight. Vitamin D in the body can fluctuate seasonally, partly because people are indoors more in the winter than in the summer. In addition, vitamin D helps synthesize serotonin and dopamine, known as “feel-good chemicals.”
Many experts believe the average person needs 600 IU of vitamin D per day. Top food sources of vitamin D include salmon, tuna, fortified cereals, eggs, beef liver, and ricotta cheese. In addition, you can obtain Vit D from supplements. To see the Vitamin D supplements from Revelation Health, click HERE.
Many individuals with SAD suffer from “clinical sleep disturbance,” which disrupts their “body clock,” also known as the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is the 24-hour cycle that regulates many of the body’s physiological processes, including eating, sleeping, and waking up.
When the circadian rhythm is disrupted, this could trigger insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive daytime sleepiness). Popular ways to reset the circadian rhythm naturally include having consistent bedtimes, consistent waking times, and dimming nighttime lights.
Aromatherapy helps treat anxiety, depression, and other disorders related to sleep and stress. Lavender essential oil, in particular, may increase sleep quality while simultaneously reducing anxiety levels of test subjects with coronary artery disease. 
An assortment of lavender essential oils can be ordered from Revelation Health HERE.
In addition to sunlight, artificial light may alleviate symptoms of SAD. Bright light stimulates the retina cells that control the body’s internal clock. This light stimulation can help regulate circadian rhythms, which could help improve sleep quality.
When treating SAD with artificial light, a lightbox is considered the best option. A lightbox mimics outdoor light and may cause a chemical change in the brain, boosting a person’s mood and decreasing other symptoms of SAD.
Lightboxes should provide exposure to 10,000 lux of light but only emit tiny amounts of UV light. For best results, the lightbox should be used within the first hour of waking up for 20-30 minutes. (Note: do not look directly at the light.)>
In addition to fish as described previously, other nutrient-dense foods may boost mood and help ease feelings of Seasonal Affective Disorder:
- Seafood. Low levels of vitamin B12 may be associated depression. Mollusks, shellfish, oysters, crabs, and clams are rich sources of vitamin B12.
- Nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds contain omega-3 fatty acids, which may help lift feelings of depression.
- Berries. Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, and other berries may reduce the production of cortisol, the hormone that is an indicator of stress and the body’s “fight or flight” response.
- Dark chocolate. Dark chocolate is rich in cocoa, which stimulates the production of phenylalanine in the body. Phenylalanine increases dopamine production, which may help decrease the effects of SAD.
Studies indicate exercise is an effective treatment for SAD. One study found that exercise and light therapy had “similar and significant reductions” in depression severity and an increased rate of oxygen consumption when compared to an untreated control group.
In addition, aerobic exercise performed under bright light appeared more beneficial than exercise under typical indoor lighting. Researchers also note exercise at night could delay the release of melatonin, which could increase SAD symptoms. 
Nootropics are compounds believed to facilitate learning and memory. They are also used to overcome cognitive impairments. Studies indicate that nootropics may be an effective alternative in strengthening and enhancing mental performance in patients with various brain pathologies. 
The following foods are rich in nootropics:
- Leafy greens
- Green tea
Nootropics are available in supplement form as well. To see the nootropics available from Revelation Health, click HERE.
In addition to SAD, the mandatory lockdowns and working from home for the past two years may have increased people’s feelings of isolation and depression. During these unprecedented times, staying connected to friends and loved ones is more important than ever. In addition, talking to a professional may help alleviate feelings of depression and loneliness.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a mood disorder that occurs during seasonal changes, particularly in the fall and winter months. While the cause of SAD is unknown, a lack of vitamin D, depression, and other issues play a role in its origins. In addition to seeking professional help for SAD, consider trying the natural treatments above for relief.
Medical Disclaimer: This article is based upon the opinions of Revelation Health. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Revelation Health and associates. This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD for accuracy of the information provided, but Revelation Health encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.
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