How to manage Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.)?

Wintertime is often regarded as a happy time, but for many of us, these winter months bring on a depressed mood and low energy. So many Canadians deal with this, and often time don’t realize they’re dealing with something we can address and treat clinically.

What Is SAD?

SAD stands for Seasonal affective disorder. It is a recurrent major depressive disorder, with seasonal pattern. For most people mood drops in the fall and continues through the winter into early spring. A small subset of people experiences depressed mood in the spring and summer.

SAD presents as low energy and sad or depressed mood. The people at highest risk are female, younger in age, live far from the equator and have a family history of depression, bipolar disorder or SAD [1].

What Are Some Causes of SAD?

In order to understand how we treat SAD, it’s important to understand the various causes of SAD. Keep in mind, not everyone who deals with SAD necessarily has all of these going on. It’s important to talk to your healthcare provider to determine any likely contributors. The intention of this article is to show you there is hope and highlight the rationale in treating Seasonal Affective Disorder.

These are some possible causes of SAD [1]:

1.       Lack of Sunlight: sunlight delivers vitamin D and absorbable energy which is associated with keeping mood and brain function. During winter months, shorter days and heavier clothing interfere with proper light exposure. A lack of sunlight may contribute to SAD.

2.       Lack of Vitamin D: see above with for vitamin D’s relation to sunlight. Vitamin D can also be considered in those with seemingly adequate amounts of sunlight.

3.       Serotonin: some people with SAD have been shown to have difficulty regulating the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is responsible for balancing mood.

4.       Melatonin: some people with SAD have been shown to have overproduction of melatonin, which is another neurotransmitter, specifically involved in sleepiness

Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder

Certain practices can be helpful for anyone dealing with any form of depression. Things like improving diet, optimizing sleep, exercise, meditation, deep breathing and yoga are all proven to be helpful.

There are also some more specific treatments which can be useful, but need to be used with caution, as doses and drug interactions can exist. Your entire medical history would be considered before using any of the following treatment options.

1.       Light Therapy: this accommodates for those with less light exposure during winter months. Light boxes can be purchased which emit full-spectrum light like that found in sunlight [1].

2.       Vitamin D supplementation: a safe supplement to take, but dosing needs to be given appropriately to do the trick [1].

3.       Counselling: various forms of psychotherapy can be helpful, simply talking to a trained professional may be helpful to help and support your through your SAD [1]

4.       Herbs, vitamins, minerals: as mentioned above, melatonin and serotonin may be out of balance, so we can naturally alter these neurotransmitters by taking certain nutrients and herbs [2].

5.       Acupuncture: acupuncture involves the use of thin needles, placed in specific body parts. Research and historical use have proven acupuncture has a beneficial effect in treating depression, including SAD [3].

6.       Conventionally, anti-depressant medications may be prescribed. It’s recommended to use these as a last resort, but for some people they are effective. Discuss this with your family doctor [2].

Don’t Suffer With SAD

If you or someone you know experiences depressed mood during the winter months, it’s worth considering the available treatment options. Simple lifestyle changes can make an impact, and specific things can be done to treat SAD effectively and safely.

Please book in for a naturopathic consult for more information.

Dr. Johann de Chickera

Dr. Johann completed his 4-year degree at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, in Toronto. His clinical focus lies in chronic disease, such as those related to the Gastrointestinal, Endocrine, and Immune Systems. 

Johann joined Body Co. in 2019, with enthusiasm and desire to joint a forward thinking, integrity driven and results-based multi-disciplinary clinic. Having worked alongside physiotherapists, massage therapists, osteopaths and other health care providers, he is confident he will complement the current providers and help maximize new and existing patients’ overall care.

His approach to medicine relies on working with the patient to come up with a feasible, multi-factorial approach that addresses all complaints at once. He employs a strong background in diagnostic medicine and human physiology and pathology to diagnose and treat. His treatment involve a combination of nutritional counselling, botanical medicine, eastern medicine (acupuncture), nutraceutical supplementation and hands on physical medicine. 


[1]S. Melrose, “Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches,” Depress Res Treat., p. doi: 10.1155/2015/178564, 2015. [].
[2]N. Praschak-Reider, “Treatment of seasonal affective disorders,” Dialogues Clin Neurosci, vol. 5, no. 4, pp. 389-398, 2003. [].
[3]J. Wu, A. Yeung, R. Schnyer, Y. Wang and D. Mischoulon, “Acupuncture for depression: a review of clinical applications.,” Can J Psychiatry, vol. 57, no. 7, pp. 397-405, 2012. [].

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