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Natural ways to combat winter’s dark depression

Winter blues, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a type of depression that has negative effects on people as fall and winter seasons bring about increased darkness and cold temperatures. For people with SAD, finding natural ways to combat winter’s dark depression is an ongoing pursuit. Health science is shedding some light on this topic that may help these individuals find effective ways to cope with the fatigue, sleep disruption, depression and difficulties concentrating that are part of this disorder. Four natural therapies have shown some scientific promise of relief for patients with depression and SAD: light therapy, vitamin D supplementation, melatonin and turmeric (curcumin).

Symptoms increase as daylight hours decrease

Although SAD is often treated with prescription medications used for other types of depression, patients and researchers continue to assess the effectiveness of natural remedies. SAD may be related to changes in the amount of consistent daylight exposure the body receives and the impact on the daily biological rhythm of light and dark. One effective therapy using light boxes in the morning can prevent and even alleviates symptoms in SAD patient. It is based on the scientific theory that exposure to a bright light daily for specified time periods alter brain chemicals and improve mood.

Further studies on SAD patients compared the beneficial effects of light therapy compared to vitamin D (the “sunshine vitamin”) supplementation on changes in mood. What the research showed was that lower levels of vitamin D were linked with SAD and increasing levels of this vitamin using supplements significantly improved depression.

Studies of the brain chemical, melatonin, in SAD patients who suffer from sleep disruptions indicate those with SAD have less exposure to melatonin. Melatonin is a chemical that the brain secretes at night. Melatonin secretion needs to be regulated with sleep to an optimal interval of 6 hours. In SAD patients the interval was markedly shorter. By taking melatonin capsules in the afternoon, SAD patients were able to extend the exposure intervals back toward normal. As the interval approach the ideal 6 hours, patients indicated higher scores indicating better mood on depression rating scales.

Newer scientific studies comparing drugs vs. natural remedies for depression showed promise in patients treated with capsules containing the spice turmeric (curcumin). Curcumin was shown to be as effective as Prozac for improving mood in patients with chronic depression. Further research is needed to determine if similar benefits would occurr for those people with SAD.

Finding natural ways to SAD now has scientific support and acceptance by healthcare providers. For SAD patients, finding natural therapies that rebalance the brain’s day/night cycles and alleviating winter’s dark depression are the primary goals.

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