Don't Get SAD: Keep Your Holiday Season Jolly and Bright

(December 2009)

Longer nights and colder days can lead to symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which affects nearly 25% of people living in northern latitudes. More than 11 million people in the United States suffer from SAD, of which women outnumber men by a ratio of 4:1.
These "winter blues" occur for several reasons. Besides significant changes in our diet and lifestyle, SAD is often caused by melatonin, a hormone made by a small gland in the brain. This hormone is released in response to darkness and has many functions, including regulating the sleep/wake cycle. Daylight naturally suppresses melatonin production and helps us feel more awake.  As winter nights are longer, we lack exposure to natural sunlight, which increases melatonin levels. This is accompanied by a decrease in serotonin, as its production is partially dependent on exposure to sunlight. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that enhances the sending of nerve impulses in the brain and improves mood. 

The increase in melatonin and decrease in serotonin levels contributes to symptoms of SAD, which may include afternoon fatigue, difficulty concentrating, decreased interest in work or hobbies, increased weight gain, increased sleep, and tiredness.  These symptoms differ from other types of depression due to the fact that most people with SAD have no symptoms during the summer.
There are multiple treatment options for SAD.  Some physicians prescribe antidepressants.  At the Raby Institute for Integrative Medicine, we employ a variety of natural options to support proper hormone balance. Light therapy, vitamin D supplements, amino acid supplements, exercise and UBQH, a chemical in our body used to make energy, are among the recommended treatments.

Using these treatments, in conjunction with a healthy diet and adequate rest, can conquer the symptoms of SAD and help keep you awake, engaged and enjoying the winter months!

Treatment Options for SAD

**It is very important to schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss your options prior to beginning any treatments for SAD.

Light therapy
Light therapy is the approved and recommended treatment by the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association. Light therapy is delivered using a box which provides full-spectrum light that mimics daylight.  Daily use of light therapy, for 20-30 minutes, will help reset the body's clock and reduce melatonin levels. People report that this regular exposure bright light increases energy and decreases sluggishness and fatigue.
Vitamin D
Vitamin D (cholecalciferol) is formed in the skin following exposure to sunlight.  In the absence of sunlight, vitamin D is best obtained through supplementation, as few foods provide an adequate source. Some studies have shown a single dose of 100,000 IU per week was found superior to light therapy in the treatment of SAD after one month.  In another study involving 44 subjects, supplementation with 400 or 800 IU per day was found to significantly improve mood within five days.
Amino acids supplements
5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP): This chemical compound is the 'precursor' or 'food' from which serotonin is made and is the transitional compound between tryptophan and serotonin.  Supplements of 5-HTP may help regulate moods, help treat anxiety and improve symptoms of depression by increasing the amount of serotonin available in the brain.

Tryptophan: This amino acid is another essential metabolic precursor of serotonin.  In the body, trytophan is converted in 5-HTP and then into serotonin.  Supplements of tryptophan may reduce symptoms of SAD by contributing to increased serotonin levels in the brain.  Trypyophan can be found naturally in high-protein foods such as turkey, chicken, beef, pork, wild game, dairy products, nuts, seeds, bananas, and pumpkin. Vegetarians are at greater risk of developing tryptophan malnutrition.

Antidepressant medications, such as Prozac, are successful in treating SAD because of the way in which they interact with serotonin in the brain.  These medications seem to work by preventing the reabsorption of serotonin by certain nerve cells in the brain, increasing the length of 'swimming time' of serotonin molecules. Antidepressants do not, however, increase the number of 'swimmers' (serotonin molecules) present in the brain.

CoQ10 is converted to UBQH, which is then used by every cell in the body to make energy.  Besides its strong antioxidant properties, this 'energy stimulating' nutrient can be helpful in combating fatigue if taken each morning.  Consider adding 50mg or 100mg of UBQH each morning to help wipe the cobwebs out of your eyes and get a fresh start on your day.  UBQH can be found naturally in oily fish, such as salmon or tuna, organ meats, and whole grains.

Multiple studies have demonstrated that exercise alleviates symptoms of many types of depression.  A 2006 review by Ernst showed that exercise actually stimulates growth of new cells (called 'neurons') in the brain.  Four workouts per week, with two of high intensity and two of moderate intensity, for at least 45 minutes has been shown to treat symptoms of depression as effectively as some antidepressants.  Weights should be incorporated at least twice per week.

The supplements mentioned in this article can be purchased at the Raby Institute or through our online store.  Schedule an appointment with one of our staff to find out more about Seasonal Affective Disorder and how to treat it.  Call us at 312-276-1212 or email
"Take care of your body with steadfast fidelity. The soul must see through these eyes alone, and if they are dim, the whole world is clouded."
- Goethe