Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Metro Phoenix & Northern Arizona

Winter Time Blues: Be aware of Seasonal Affective Disorder which is quite common during winter months, guides Dr. Marianne Marchese

Dec 01, 2014 10:54AM ● By Dr. Marianne Marchese

Fall and winter are wonderful times of the year. The leaves change color, the football season is underway, and the days are often warm and evenings cool. However, not everyone looks forward to the change of seasons, because it means less sunshine. It gets dark earlier and some experience mild changes in mood. Some experience less energy, fatigue and a change in eating or sleeping patterns. These people may suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that follows the seasons.

The most common type of SAD is called winter depression. It usually begins in late fall or early winter and goes away by spring and may be related to changes in the amount of daylight during different times of the year. As many as six of every 100 people in the U.S. may have winter depression and another 10 percent to 20 percent may experience mild SAD, which is also more common in women than in men.

Being aware of SAD and recognizing the changes is the first step. Common symptoms of winter depression include a change in appetite–a craving for sugar and carbs, weight gain, a drop in energy level, fatigue, a tendency to oversleep, difficulty concentrating, irritability, increased sensitivity to social rejection, avoidance of social situations, isolation and melancholy.

Also, it is important to see a licensed health care provider to differentiate SAD from the more prolonged and serious symptoms of depression. There are many natural treatment options, including light therapy, diet and nutrition, and herbs and supplements.

Light therapy involves using a light box in the morning to normalize melatonin secretion patterns and increase blood flow to certain regions of the brain. It only takes 30 minutes of exposure to the light to get beneficial effects. There are many companies that sell light boxes, which can be researched on the Internet.

Nutrition and exercise are crucial components. Eating an organic, whole foods diet ensures adequate intake of nutrients that affect brain chemistry. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fish throughout the day will ensure getting the nutrients we need. Avoiding foods that cause mood fluctuations such as refined carbohydrates, sugar, caffeine and alcohol is also important.

Exercise is particularly helpful in improving moods. It increases endorphins in the body, which bind to receptors in the brain that are known to improve mood. Brisk walking for 30 minutes a day, four to five times a week, is all that is required to gain the positive benefits of exercise.

Herbal treatments that are reliable for improving the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include the nervine herbs, mood enhancer herbs and hormone-balancing herbs. Another group of herbs worth considering are the adrenal tonics.

Natural supplements are effective for treating SAD and include vitamin D and B vitamins if a person is low in these nutrients. 5-HTP is an interesting nutrient because it can be extremely effective in restoring normal behavior, feeling and mental processes by increasing serotonin levels. A simple blood test can determine our levels of vitamins, minerals and neurotransmitters. We may only need these nutrients if we have an actual deficiency. Another test to consider is for genetic changes in methylation pathways, which can also cause seasonal affective disorder. These changes can be addressed with nutrients known as methyl donors.

It is always important to check with a healthcare provider before taking any herb or supplement to make sure which is right for us and won’t interfere with anything else we are taking.

Dr. Marianne Marchese is a naturopathic physician and author of 8 Weeks to Women’s Wellness. She was named in Phoenix magazine’s Top Doctor issue as one of the top naturopathic physicians. For more information, visit

Upcoming Events Near You