Q. Dear Terry, “I have seasonal affective disorder and tend to feel the worst in late fall and winter. Last year, I started taking extra vitamin D and that seemed to help a little bit. I still feel like I need more mood support, but I don’t want to take a prescription drug. What natural options are there for seasonal affective disorder?” – Nathan N., Portland, ME
A. Dear Nathan, I highly encourage you to keep your healthcare practitioner in the loop with any supplementation you may be considering, as they may have additional insight. With that being said, I have some recommendations that may be helpful for mood support.
Many people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) tend to feel their symptoms more in fall and winter. Because SAD is a type of depression, I think herbs like saffron, curcumin, and St. John’s wort can be very beneficial.
Saffron comes from the plant Crocus sativus and has been used for thousands of years as a spice and also as a medicine. Saffron has been shown to boost serotonin levels, lower cortisol, and help preserve levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is the body’s primary inhibitory enzyme and is often deficient in people with mood issues, like depression. Clinical studies have found that saffron reduces symptoms of milder forms of depression and also more serious depression with anxiety.
Saffron also works synergistically with another well-known botanical, curcumin. Curcumin is a compound from turmeric that helps with numerous diseases, including depression. One study showed that curcumin was as effective as a prescription drug for people with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). In other clinical trials, people suffering from depression felt much better and some individuals improved significantly at just four weeks. After eight weeks, their relief was even more pronounced. I prefer curcumin enhanced with turmeric essential oil for greater absorption.
These two botanicals have also been studied together and shown to significantly relieve the symptoms of MDD. What was interesting about this study was that even at lower doses, people responded very well to curcumin or a combination of saffron and curcumin.
I would take 250 mg of curcumin enhanced with turmeric essential oil and 15 mg of saffron stigma extract twice per day. You could also consider taking these botanicals once per day before the seasonal changes to help you naturally adjust.
Another option to consider is St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum), which has a long history of use for mood issues and modern research has validated its use for depression. I prefer St. John’s wort that is standardized to 0.3% hypericin and stays in your bloodstream for up to 24 hours. I would take 900 mg of St. John’s wort daily.
Terry . . . Naturally
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