With daylight savings time officially upon us and the days becoming increasingly shorter, many people are susceptible to mild symptoms of depression. Along with a depressed mood, one can experience irritability, headaches, extreme fatigue and lethargy, increased appetite, carbohydrate cravings, an inability to concentrate, and decreased libido. These set of symptoms form a condition commonly referred to as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD affects over ten million people in the United States each year, two-thirds of which are female. While the true cause is not known according to western medicine, it is thought that decreased melatonin levels arising from the limited exposure to sunlight in the winter are involved. Other factors that may contribute to SAD include genetics, hormones and stress. For those who do experience the symptoms of depression once fall and winter kick in to full force and would prefer to treat it naturally, there are a number of good options to consider (other than acupuncture, of course).
1) Light Therapy - Light therapy is based on the theory that increasing exposure to bright lights will increase the levels of melatonin.
2) Physical Activity – Increased cardiovascular output can elevate the body’s serotonin levels.
3) St. John's Wort – This herb has traditionally been used to treat a variety of problems, including depression. St. John's wort can interact with medications for other conditions, especially antidepressants – please talk with your doctor before beginning a course treatment with this herb.
4) Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Omega-3 fatty acid supplements can help relieve depression symptoms in addition to having many other health benefits. Sources of omega-3s include heavy fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring. Omega-3s are also found in certain nuts and grains and in other vegetarian sources.
5) Vitamins – Especially B-complex vitamins, which are generally associated with energy production, and vitamin C which helps boost your immune system.
6) Minerals – Magnesium, calcium, zinc, and iron supplementation can aid in reversing the effects of seasonal depression.
Michael A. Sassack is a licensed and board certified acupuncturist serving the northwest suburbs of Chicago.