With shorter days and fewer hours of sunlight available in autumn and winter, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) rears its unpleasant head in up to 20 percent of the American population. Characterized by moodiness, depression, cravings for simple carbohydrates, weight gain, fatigue and melancholy, the condition can range from simple "wintertime blues" to full blown incapacitation. The affliction tends to be more prominent in young people and women.

Defeating seasonal malaise

Several natural remedies are helpful in alleviating SAD. Short of traveling south every winter for a hearty dose of sunshine, the following methods offer practical solutions for curbing this distressing syndrome.

Exercise and fresh air - Even when the weather is overcast and uninspiring, it's important to spend at least a small amount of time outdoors during the day. Research has found that those with seasonal affective disorder derive the same benefits from spending 30 minutes daily in the open air (regardless of direct sunlight) as individuals who use a light box for several hours per day.

Comment: Listen to the Health and Wellness Show: A conversation with Dr. Jack Kruse to learn more about the benefits of spending time outside and the benefits of morning sunlight.

Cognitive behavioral therapy - A study held at the University of Vermont found cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) a superior remedy for seasonal affective disorder compared to daily full-spectrum light sessions. Approximately one year after acute treatment, only 7 percent of the CBT group suffered a relapse of seasonal depression while participants who continued light therapy experienced a 36.7 percent reoccurrence.

According to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, cognitive behavioral therapy involves the following steps:
  • Identify disturbing situations or conditions in your life.
  • Become aware of your thoughts, beliefs and emotions regarding these situations or conditions.
  • Recognize negative, inaccurate or flawed thinking.
  • Challenge the faulty thoughts.
The theory as to why CBT is more successful long term than other therapies in healing seasonal depression is that it substantially modifies thinking patterns associated with the disorder, thereby positively influencing brain chemistry.

Supplements which encourage the production of serotonin are also beneficial. Dr. Ray Sahelian recommends 5-HTP, SAM-e and/or St. John's wort. Small doses of melatonin (under 0.5 mg) in the afternoon are helpful as well to regulate sleep/wake cycles, which tend to be disrupted in those suffering from SAD.

Furthermore, avoiding caffeine, stimulants, refined sugar and alcohol is helpful in balancing depressive mental states. Instead, focus on fatty fish (including fish oil supplements), turkey, chicken, eggs, a variety of vegetables and adequate B vitamins—all of which encourage a bright and positive mind.

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