As winter is in full swing, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) has returned for many, negatively impacting their mental well-being. SAD is more than a case of the winter blues; rather, it is a recurring battle against intense low moods that affects people with a rhythmic regularity. Understanding SAD, its accompanying symptoms and the available conventional treatments is important. Herbal medicine is also a potential option to consider for those seeking help with their seasonal depression.
What is seasonal affective disorder?
Seasonal affective disorder is a recurring pattern of intense low moods or high spirits at the same time each year. Winter depression, the most common form of SAD, hits during fall or winter, easing up when spring arrives. It's more than just a mood swing — it can disrupt your life.
10 herbs for seasonal affective disorder
Although research specifically on using herbs for seasonal affective disorder is limited, some studies indicate that certain herbs may offer relief from depression.
Herbs can interact with health conditions and medications, so consult your healthcare provider before incorporating new herbs into your routine. It's important to note that while herbal medicine and its applications are valuable, they should not be viewed as a complete substitute for traditional treatments.
1. St. Johns Wort
St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum), fortified with active ingredients hyperforin and hypericin, stands out as a well-researched herbal remedy for mild and moderate depression. A comprehensive literature review spanning from 2011 to 2021 affirms its effectiveness at a dose of 900-1800 mg per day, placing it on par with some antidepressants, such as SSRIs and tricyclic antidepressants.
Despite being classified as a dietary supplement in the U.S., SJW carries a rich historical tradition in Germany, where it has been relied upon for treating depression.
While SJW is generally well-tolerated, exercising caution is vital due to potential interactions, particularly the risk of serotonin syndrome when combined with specific medications. Adhering to a clear rule — never take SJW without consulting your doctor, especially if you are taking any medications — is imperative, as it can interact with many of them.
The Crocus sativus plant, commonly known as saffron, enriched with safranal and crocin, emerges as a promising natural antidepressant. Research suggests it may mirror the effects of common antidepressants while presenting fewer side effects.
In a comprehensive systematic review, saffron demonstrated notable antidepressant effects at a dose of 30 mg per day in high-quality studies. Notably, a study focusing on postpartum depression showcased significant symptom improvement with saffron compared to a placebo.
These compelling findings underscore saffron's potential in effectively managing depression. It's essential to emphasize consulting with your healthcare provider before contemplating any adjustments to your treatment plan.
Curcumin, a key component of turmeric (Curcuma longa), holds potential as a natural remedy for depression. In various studies, 500-1,000 mg per day of curcumin demonstrated effectiveness in reducing depressive symptoms, sometimes even outperforming placebos and standard medications.
Clinical trials highlighted curcumin's positive impact on scales, like the Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology and the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale. Formulations containing both curcumin and piperine revealed significant reductions in depression and anxiety symptoms, surpassing the effectiveness of standard antidepressants.
Despite challenges related to its low bioavailability, curcumin's potential in modulating pathways, like antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, suggests it could be a valuable addition to depression management. Further research is needed to confirm its role, but it holds promise as an adjunct therapy alongside standard medications.
Always consult with your healthcare provider before considering changes to your treatment plan.
Ginkgo biloba, an ancient tree, is being explored for its potential in managing depression. The extract from its leaves influences circulatory systems and may help with smooth muscle relaxation.
In studies, 200-300 mg of ginkgo has shown promise in alleviating depressive symptoms and addressing antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction, particularly in women. Combining ginkgo with sex therapy demonstrated improvements in sexual desire and contentment. Additionally, it exhibited positive effects on sleep patterns in depressed individuals.
While promising, more research is needed to establish its effectiveness. Consult with your healthcare provider before considering ginkgo as part of your treatment plan.
5. Golden root
Golden root (Sedum roseum), or roseroot, holds potential as a natural antidepressant. Studies on a standardized extract show it effectively reduces depressive symptoms.
In a robust clinical trial, patients with mild to moderate depression received 340 mg/day or 680 mg/day of the extract. Both doses demonstrated antidepressant effects without notable side effects. Other studies support these findings, indicating positive effects on mild to moderate depression over 12 weeks.
In summary, golden root, with its promising antidepressant properties, offers a natural option for managing depressive symptoms. It's advisable to consult healthcare professionals for personalized advice.
In a 4-week study, researchers compared the effectiveness of a lavender (Lavandula officinalis) tincture with an antidepressant medication called imipramine for treating mild to moderate depression. The results indicated that 1.5 grams of lavender combined with imipramine had a more significant effect than imipramine alone. However, another study found no notable difference in depression scores between lavender and a placebo.
7. Lemon balm
While there is limited research on lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and depression, a study on 80 patients with chronic stable angina demonstrated significant reductions in depression, anxiety, and stress after 3 grams of lemon balm supplementation for eight weeks.
A study on Korean red ginseng (3 g/d for eight weeks) on 35 females with major depression and residual symptoms showed a significant decrease in depressive symptoms, suggesting potential adjuvant treatment. However, further placebo-controlled trials are needed for confirmation.
A standardized extract from Bacopa monnieri (brahmi) has demonstrated potential in enhancing cognitive function, encompassing visual information processing speed, learning rate, memory consolidation, and reduction of anxiety. Research indicates that a daily dosage of 150-300 mg is effective for depressive symptoms after 12 weeks of use. These cognitive enhancements, particularly in working memory, are significant as cognitive deficits often accompany depression symptoms. Improved cognitive function can contribute to better overall mental well-being and potentially alleviate certain aspects of depression.
10. Green tea
Regular consumption of green tea (Camellia sinensis) is associated with lower depressive symptoms in older Japanese individuals. It acts as an antidepressant by reducing inflammation, boosting mood-related neurotransmitters, and managing stress. Although more research is needed to understand these mechanisms fully, these findings suggest green tea could be beneficial for depression.
Signs and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder
SAD seasonal patterns are divided as following:
- Fall-winter onset (winter depression) — feeling down with increased sleep, food cravings, and weight gain.
- Spring-summer onset (summer depression) — feeling low with trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, and weight loss.
- Feeling sad
- Loosing interest in things you enjoy
- Changes in eating and sleeping
- Low energy
- Trouble thinking clearly
- Feeling restless or slow
- Negative thoughs about yourself
- Thoughts of hurting yourself
SAD can affect social situations and happiness levels and may come with issues, like drinking problems, attention troubles, eating difficulties, anxiety, and personality challenges. Symptoms might improve on sunny days but often return the following year.
Tips for easing SAD symptoms naturally
Establish a good sleep routine and habits, like no screen time before bed
- Take walk outdoors, even on gloomy days
- Brighten your indoor space
- Try simulating dawn with timed lights in the morning
How do I take herbs for seasonal affective disorder?
Taking herbs for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can be done through various forms, including supplements, dried herbs, or tinctures, commonly available at natural health shops. Supplements are typically in pill or capsule form, dried herbs can be brewed into teas or incorporated into food, and tinctures are concentrated liquid extracts.
While clinical data suggests therapeutic doses for depression symptoms, it's crucial to consult with your healthcare provider or herbalist due to safety concerns and potential interactions with medications. Seeking professional guidance allows for a personalized and safe plan. If opting for independent use, adhere to the recommended doses specified on the packaging and ensure there are no interactions with any medications you may be taking.
It is essential for individuals who are children, pregnant or breastfeeding, taking medications, or have underlying health conditions or diseases to consult with a healthcare provider before using herbal remedies. Certain herbs, such as St. John's Wort, have the potential to interact with various medications. Always seek personalized advice from a healthcare professional to safely manage seasonal depression.
Dealing with SAD requires a comprehensive approach that goes beyond conventional treatments. While antidepressants and light therapy are great tools for SAD, exploring herbal remedies can be an additional solution. Ten herbs are promising in treating depressive symptoms, which include St. John's Wort, saffron, turmeric, ginkgo, golden root, lavender, lemon balm, ginseng, brahmi, and green tea. It's crucial to approach herbal remedies with caution, especially if taking other medications. Seeking personalized advice from healthcare professionals can ensure the safe and effective management of seasonal depression.
What causes seasonal affective disorder?
The exact cause of SAD isn't clear — it's believed to involve disruptions in our body's internal clock (circadian rhythms), reduced light sensitivity in the eyes during winter, genetic factors, changes in brain chemicals (like serotonin), and how our eyes respond to light levels.
What is a standard treatment of SAD?
Collaborating with a doctor is crucial when addressing seasonal affective disorder, as a systematic approach is essential. Typical treatments involve antidepressants, light therapy, and therapeutic discussions. It's not merely about conquering the darkness — treatment should persist for at least two weeks into the brighter days of spring or summer.
SAD is a seasonally persistent low mood that goes beyond winter blues. Recognizing symptoms, such as changes in sleep, appetite, and energy levels, is crucial for timely intervention.
Holistic management of SAD involves working with healthcare providers for antidepressants, light therapy, and lifestyle adjustments, with an emphasis on good sleep habits and outdoor activities.
Ten herbs, such as St. John's Wort, saffron, turmeric, ginkgo, golden root, lavender, lemon balm, ginseng, brahmi, and green tea, show promise in alleviating depressive symptoms.
People, especially children, pregnant or breastfeeding individuals, those on medications, or those with underlying health conditions, should consult healthcare providers before incorporating herbal remedies.
- UpToDate. Seasonal affective disorder: epidemiology, clinical features, assessment, and diagnosis.
- UpToDate. Seasonal affective disorder: treatment.
- Cureus. Advantages and disadvantages of using St. John’s Wort as a treatment for depression.
- Planta Medica. Medicinal plants in the treatment of depression: II. evidence from clinical trials.