Top Supplements for SAD

Top Supplements for SAD

The end of summer is disappointing for many of us, with shorter and colder days on the horizon. There’s a percentage of the population that dread the change in seasons, having more than just the ‘winter blues’. Season Affective Disorder – or, fittingly, SAD – is a very real mental health issue, and can be difficult to control. One question that’s often asked is whether there’s any supplements that can provide any respite from depressive feelings.

We’ll be examining the supplements that are most often named as helping with SAD. There’s a lot of information when it comes to supplements handling depressive symptoms, so we’ll be sieving through it to separate the scientific facts from the fiction. But first, we need to properly define…

What is SAD?

As mentioned, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a diagnosable mental health disorder that’s more than simply feeling down or more lethargic during the winter. The symptoms read like those of typical depression: a constant low mood, feelings of worthlessness, not enjoying favourite activities, sleeping for longer and having no energy. The difference is that SAD is triggered by the changes in weather and daylight levels that happen in winter (in rare cases, SAD can be triggered by summer weather too).

At current, there are a few treatments that can help beat SAD, such as lifestyle changes and more exercise. Exposure to daylight helps, as well as more typical depression treatments like medication and therapy. The link between SAD and natural light is a strong one when it comes to peoples’ perception of the condition, one that many take into account when trying to tackle SAD. We’ll talk more on this later.

For many, SAD can be debilitating, losing themselves in a mire of depression for months at a time. Looking for anything that can bring some sort of comfort is only natural, and there may be a few supplements with the potential to do so. Naturally, mental illnesses are complex conditions with a range of factors, from traumatic experiences to chemical imbalances. It’s difficult to account for fine individual differences during testing, so take that into account: supplements that work for others may not work for you, and vice-versa. Don’t let this dampen your spirits, as we can still present a range of supplements that have had some success in supporting broadly-diagnosed SAD and depression.

Vitamin D

This may seem like an obvious go-to supplement: vitamin D is created by the skin when it’s hit by sunlight. With shorter and colder days during winter, this means people are aren’t exposing their skin to the sun’s rays as much; the thinking is that individuals with SAD have their symptoms heightened due to a lack of vitamin D. Luckily, supplementing with vitamin D is easy and even recommended by the government (for immunity support). What does the science say about its effects on Season Affective Disorder, though?

The link between has vitamin D and SAD has been examined, with some mixed results. There’s been observations of low levels of the vitamin in those with SAD and depression, but it’s difficult to pin down if these levels are a cause or symptom of the condition. However, there is evidence that vitamin D has an influence over the levels of serotonin – the hormone responsible for ‘happiness’ – in the brain.

There are a few studies that show improvements in mood in participants that supplement with vitamin D, although more consistent results need to be present for it to be widely recommended. One clue that may indicate that vitamin D could be helpful is to simply have it measured via a blood test. Even without a test, a daily dose during winter can help in other proven ways, so perhaps supplementing is a solid first step in trying to cushion the impact of SAD.

St John’s Wort

Also known as Hypericum perforatum, St John’s Wort is a popular supplement for more typical kinds of depression and anxiety. The research in this area is numerous, with many supporting the hypothesis that it can assist with mild to moderate depression, sometimes as strongly as antidepressant medication. Most attractively of all, it doesn’t come with some of the more challenging side effects that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can induce.

It’s a little trickier to find research that specifically targets SAD, but some studies indicate that St. John’s Wort can be a boon. One interesting study from 1998 combined the supplement with light therapy, as well as testing it by itself. Both methods proved very effective on average, but the combination provided a slightly stronger benefit. This means it perfectly fits the light therapy regime that doctors are often quick to prescribe.

Light Therapy

This might’ve thrown you off, but think about it: artificially shining additional light on yourself is no different to artificially receiving more vitamins via a tablet. With the relevance of sunlight and talk of vitamin D, it makes sense that this is often the first port of call for many SAD sufferers.

It’s not just sitting in a room with the light on, however; special light boxes have been developed to create bright light that more accurately simulates the sun’s rays. This then leads to greater creation of vitamin D in the skin, which is thought to help tackle SAD.

The research for light therapy points generally in a positive direction, with it easing the symptoms of SAD. Once again, what differs from piece to piece is just how much it can help. One study went so far to say that there were “[no] significant differences in outcome between light therapy and antidepressant medication”, while others refrain from making these kinds of claims. A review mentions it’s only as effective as a “good placebo” (of course, one could argue that as long as it helps the body, it doesn’t matter if it’s a placebo or not).

Once again, while light therapy does appear to be generally effective, just how effective it can be can differ between individuals. For those lucky enough to receive a great benefit from their SAD lamps, they can get relieve without some of the nastier side effects of antidepressants. Saying this, these powerful lights can cause some side effects themselves, including eye tiredness, dizziness and nausea.

Other Supplements?

A cursory search for supplements that may help with SAD may also dig up results relating to more typical depression. Supplements like ginkgo biloba, B vitamins and fish oils have received attention recently, although progress is still in its early days. Experts are still far from recommending these for SAD although there is some hope to be had, as the few pieces observing these supplements’ effects have some positive conclusions with them.

Conclusion

Seasonal Affective Disorder can be a struggle for many to deal with. This can be for a myriad of factors: the length of time it can take to get an official diagnosis; the severity of the symptoms when they arrive; and how they can almost disappear when the season’s over, to name a few. They can make finding any sort of relief a desperate action at times – hopefully this selection of supplements can help ease your mind.

As we’ve said multiple times, it’s important to remember that one supplement’s effect may differ between individuals, so being observant of their impact while taking them is key. If one has little effect, don’t lose heart – try another supplement and keep going.

One crucial thing to remember is that SAD is a legitimate mental illness and professional help must be pursued if symptoms get serious. If you have been diagnosed and have prescribed medication, please do not replace them with these supplements. Also inquire with your doctor whether it’s advisable to take these supplements alongside your medication, as they can often interfere with one another (especially St. John’s Wort).


Sources:

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/treatment/

https://nccih.nih.gov/health/seasonal-affective-disorder

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0269881108092120

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/03/060303205050.htm

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1185/03007999909115171

https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1993-06823-001

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16648320