women walking together

Do you notice a change in your mood when the weather turns colder and you are exposed to fewer hours of daylight?

Once called the winter blues, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that begins in the fall or winter and disappears by the next spring or summer. According to the National Institutes of Health, the disorder affects up to 10 percent of certain northern populations, such as people who live in Alaska.

However, living in a far northern latitude alone does not explain this disorder. Research is inconclusive that northern latitude, with its decreased exposure to sunlight in winter, is the only cause of SAD.


Seasonal Change

One Scandinavian study demonstrated that major depression has a seasonal ebb and flow, and that depressive mood peaks in the winter months. This may suggest that people with a mild form of depression during the rest of the year are able to function in a reasonable way, except for during winter months.

Another study revealed that hospital visits for depression reach their highest level in December and January, which also supports the thinking that SAD is a variation of major depression.

Symptoms of most types of depression, including SAD, can range from fatigue to feelings of irritability, anxiety, guilt and hopelessness, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Clinical depression is a disease that should always be diagnosed and have treatment managed by a psychiatric physician or other qualified mental health professional, who may prescribe medication; however, possible non-pharmaceutical ways to ease some symptoms include improving vitamin D levels, treating methylation dysfunction and increasing physical activity.



Get More Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with depression, as in a 2013 British Journal of Psychiatry study, which points out that more research into this area is needed since the exact nature of the association is not known.

Therapeutic doses of vitamin D range from 800 IU to 10,000 IU daily. It is important to test blood serum levels before initiating any treatment. If this is not possible, 4,000 IU of vitamin D daily is a safe dose. However, higher short-term doses up to 10,000 IU, under the advisement of a health care provider, may be necessary to provide symptomatic relief, according to the website of the Linus Pauling Institute’s Micronutrient Information Center.


Correct Methyl Folate Dysfunction

Methyl folate, a type of folic acid supplement, has shown effectiveness in the treatment of depression, according to a study in Translational Psychiatry. One theory behind the outcome of this study is the MTHFR mutation: Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) C677T polymorphism was linked to an increased risk of depression, though it is worth noting that childhood trauma was also a factor; the study suggests those subjects who had the mutation were at greater risk of developing depression after exposure to trauma.

Therapeutic doses of methyl folate range from 5 to 15 milligrams, but I usually suggest starting at 5 milligrams for one month, increasing to 15 milligrams over a period of three to six months. The U.S. Institute of Medicine recommends seeking a health care provider’s advice before taking dose above 1 milligram daily.


exercise may help combat seasonal affective disorder

Increase Levels of Physical Activity

Increased physical activity has been a part of almost all depression symptom improvement initiatives. Walking 20 to 40 minutes two to three times per week, suggested a study in the European Journal of Public Health, can help alleviate depressive symptoms, including those associated with SAD.


A Comprehensive Approach to Seasonal Affective Disorder

Making positive changes to your wellness habits during the fall and winter months can help increase your overall well-being, and support any other treatment suggested by your physician or mental health care provider.


Timothy Schwaiger, N.D.About the Author

Timothy Schwaiger, N.D., graduated with his naturopathic medical degree from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, Arizona, and completed a two-year residency there in family medicine. He holds a certification in HeartMath® interventions and is clinical associate professor and lead clinical faculty at Bastyr University California. He wrote “More Sleep Doesn’t Always Mean Better Sleep” and “The MIND Diet May Decrease Your Alzheimer’s Risk” for massagemag.com.