The Winter Blues

  • “I’m feeling tired, it’s just that time of year.

This is an all too common phrase practitioners hear from patients during the long winter months. Most people are familiar with the concept of “the winter blues” and now more than ever they may be familiar with its medical term, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

SAD is a complex disorder classified as a type of depression. It is distinct in that its symptoms cycle with the seasons from year to year. It is thought that the decrease in the amount of sunlight during the winter months, especially in northern climates, effect neurotransmitters in the brain leading to symptoms of depression. Studies have shown neurotransmitter dysfunction, with a decrease in serotonin and serotonin receptors, along with abnormalities in norepinephrine, dopamine, and melatonin during the winter months (PMID: 17969868). A combination of this neurotransmitter dysfunction can lead to the depressed and tired symptoms associated with SAD.

The symptoms of SAD are similar to other forms of depression. These may include feelings of fatigue, lethargy and weight gain, often times with sleep problems. You may be overly down and/or irritable at people or things that typically don’t bring out these emotions. Or perhaps there may be difficulty concentrating and a loss of interest in everyday things. The key component to distinguish SAD from the other forms of depression is the cyclic nature of the symptoms coming on mid to late winter and spontaneously alleviating in the spring months.

In Canada it is typically thought that 2-3% of the population could be afflicted and diagnosed with SAD, though many people still go undiagnosed. If you are a woman, have other forms of depression and/or a family history of SAD you could be at a higher risk to suffer from the symptoms of SAD.

However, there are many options that may improve symptoms of SAD. Typically conventional treatments can include psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy (SSRIs) and even light therapy. There is research showing some efficacy of these options for patients, though each patient is an individual with a varying response to each treatment or some combination of treatments.

Furthermore, there has also been some research done showing the efficacy of alternative treatment options for SAD including but not limited to:

  • Botanical remedies such as St. John’s Wort, Lemon Balm, Rhodiola, etc.

  • Fish oils

  • Vitamin D and certain B vitamins

  • L-Tryptophan

  • Melatonin

  • Acupuncture

  • Healthy diet and exercise

The goal in the treatment in SAD is to decrease symptoms as effectively and safely as possible. This could include many unique combinations of therapies depending on the individual’s needs. For example, in a study where researchers combined Vitamin D with light therapy to patients the results were much more positive than light therapy alone (PMID:10888476).

As a Naturopathic doctor I will take the time to create an individualized protocol based on your history and needs. Together we will work towards finding a solution and treatment plan that helps you feel your best once again. If you think you may suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder please consult a medical professional before treating yourself.

Dr. Martin Myers, ND

Ajax Chiropractic & Wellness