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Seasonal depression can be debilitating, but it’s more common than you might realize. Below is our guide for the seven best supplements for seasonal depression that might help you get past the winter blues.
Shop the Best Supplements for Seasonal Depression
As far as the best supplements for seasonal depression, 5-HTP is excellent. 5-HTP is converted to serotonin in the body, and it’s frequently used as a natural treatment for depression.
It’s thought that low serotonin levels play at least some role in depression.
Your body makes 5-HTP from tryptophan. When you take 5-HTP as a supplement since serotonin helps regulate your behavior and mood, it may help with not only seasonal depression but can also positively affect pain sensation, anxiety, sleep, and appetite.
In some studies, 5-HTP has been shown to work as well as antidepressant drugs in treating mild-to-moderate depression, with fewer side effects.
How to Take 5-HTP for Seasonal Depression:
- Consider taking a slow-release version which can be a more effective delivery method
- Consider a dose of around 200-300 mg per day, which tends to be well-tolerated by most
- Side effects are mild if they occur and usually include diarrhea, vomiting, or nausea
- Gastrointestinal side effects of 5-HTP tend to be very dose-dependent
Tryptophan is an essential acid your body doesn’t make, so you must consume it through the food you eat or with supplements. After you eat tryptophan, your body will convert some of it to 5-HTP and some to serotonin. Tryptophan is also converted into NAD.
L-tryptophan can have a lot of benefits, including relief from not only seasonal depression but also anxiety, better quality sleep, a higher sense of emotional well-being, and better pain tolerance.
If you’re going to supplement for seasonal depression, you might consider combining 5-HTP and L-tryptophan. When you take the two together, it can help them cross the blood-brain barrier more effectively.
If you’re considering supplementing with either 5-HTP or L-tryptophan, speak to your doctor first if you take a prescription medicine for anxiety or depression. Both can raise serotonin levels, and if they go too high, it can lead to serotonin syndrome.
How to Take L-Tryptophan for Season Depression:
- You can take oral doses of L-tryptophan as a tablet or capsule
- For depression, consider 8-12 grams a day, given in 3-4 equally divided doses
- Taking L-tryptophan with a carbohydrate-rich snack or meal to prevent digestive upset
3. Vitamin B6
Your body doesn’t naturally produce vitamin B6, so you have to get it from foods or supplements. Research shows high doses of vitamin B6 can help lower both anxiety and depression.
Some factors can deplete your vitamin B6 levels. For example, oral contraceptives can deplete your B vitamins and other nutrients. If you consume a lot of alcohol, don’t have a diet rich in vitamin B6 because you’re vegan or vegetarian, or have absorption problems from a condition like IBS or Crohn’s, you could have low B6 levels, and your seasonal depression might benefit from the use of a supplement.
Vitamin B6 helps your body create a chemical messenger that has a calming effect on the brain: GABA.
How to Take Vitamin B6 for Seasonal Depression:
- High-dose vitamin B6 supplement is recommended for depression symptoms
- The recommended daily intake of B6 is 1.3-1.7 mg, but supplemental doses are much higher
- Don’t take more than 100 mg per day of B6
S-adenosyl-L-methionine, or SAM-e, is a naturally occurring substance that’s present in all of our bodily cells. It plays an essential role in hundreds of metabolic pathways, and it’s a prescription depression medication in several European countries, including Italy, Spain, and Germany. SAM-e is available in the U.S. without a prescription and could significantly relieve seasonal depression.
SAM-e appears to be well-tolerated and can be combined with prescription antidepressants. People with bipolar disorder should probably avoid SAM-e because it can trigger hypomania or mania.
SAM-e is naturally distributed throughout the body, with the highest concentrations in the liver and the brain. The pathways that SAM-e plays a critical role in boost serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine levels, which is why it’s probably helpful for depression.
SAM-e is also essential for the production of glutathione, our master antioxidant.
The American diet doesn’t yield sufficient enough amounts of SAM-e in most cases, and when it’s found in food, it’s not stable, so our bodies can’t absorb it well. Our bodies only produce small amounts, making it best to supplement with SAM-e if you’re interested in raising your levels.
How to Take SAM-e for Seasonal Depression:
- Consider a dose of 800 to 1600 of SAM-e per day
- Take it in divided doses
- If you have any sensitivities, start out with a dose of 400 to 600 mg a day
DMAE is a compound that can affect mood positively, improve memory and enhance brain function. DMAE may also have anti-aging benefits for the skin. DMAE is naturally produced in the body and also in fatty fish like salmon, or you can supplement with it.
It’s thought that DMAE has positive effects because it increases the production of acetylcholine or Ach, which is a neurotransmitter that helps with nerve cell signaling.
Ach controls many brain-controlled functions, including REM sleep, pain responses, and muscle contractions.
DMAE might improve depression and mood as well as increase initiative and motivation.
How to Take DMAE for Seasonal Depression
- In some studies, doses of around 1800 mg taken for four weeks helped reduce depression symptoms
- You can take a dose of DMAE as low as 100 to 200 mg
- If you use DMAE powder, take around 1/8 of a tsp. to start with, once or twice a day
6. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is so essential for nearly all aspects of our health. Still, we’re also increasingly learning about the benefits of the fat-soluble vitamin for seasonal affective disorder and other mood disorders.
Vitamin D is thought to directly contribute to seasonal depression symptoms because levels are lower in the winter when you have less sunlight. Clinical studies show that vitamin D levels are lower in people with depression, and vitamin D can also affect the serotonin and dopamine levels that your central nervous system produces.
If you have lower vitamin D levels, it can mean that you produce fewer of these so-called happy hormones.
For people with seasonal depression, vitamin D supplements may help with mood, fatigue, and other related symptoms.
How to Take Vitamin D for Seasonal Depression:
- Researchers have found that supplementing with around 2000 IU of vitamin D may ease depression symptoms
- Some studies have used doses of up to 4000 IU a day
- Be careful not to take too much because it can cause problems, including hypercalcemia
L-tyrosine is a supplement that can improve attention, focus, and alertness and regulate mood.
L-tyrosine helps your body make dopamine, thyroid hormones, adrenaline, and noradrenaline.
In people with dopamine-deficient depression, tyrosine has been shown to have some clinically significant benefits, including increased energy levels and motivation.
How to Take L-Tyrosine for Seasonal Depression:
- Does of 68 mg per pound of body weight per day been supplemented safely in research
- Manufacturers often recommend a dose of 500 to 1500 mg a day
- Doses of more than 12 grams a day are not recommended
Understanding Seasonal Depression
Seasonal depression is also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This type of depression happens during certain times of the year, typically in the fall and winter. The understanding is that less daylight and shorter days can trigger a chemical change in the brain, leading to depression symptoms.
SAD is rare in people under the age of 20—the risk increases with age.
Melatonin, a sleep-related hormone, may also be part of seasonal depression. Your body makes more melatonin when it’s dark, and you produce more melatonin when the days are darker and shorter.
Symptoms of seasonal depression include:
- Sleeping more
- Daytime drowsiness
- Loss of interest in activities
- Higher sensitivity to rejection
- Social withdrawal
- Anxiety and irritability
- Low energy levels
- Decreased sex drive
- Feelings of hopelessness and guilt
- Inability to concentrate and focus
- Problems thinking clearly or brain fog
- Increased appetite, particularly for carbs and sweets
- Weight gain
- Physical complaints like headaches
Light Therapy for Seasonal Depression
Along with the supplements for seasonal depression highlighted above, light therapy can be effective.
With light therapy, you sit in front of a special light or light box every morning for at least 30 minutes. Researchers believe that light therapy might be helpful for people with other forms of depression.
Light affects many complex systems that control the circadian clock in our brains. The circadian clock regulates our sleep-wake cycles, hormonal activity, digestion, and many essential activities.
We have receptors in our retina that transmit information about light from our surrounding environment to our body’s master clock, the suprachiasmatic nucleus located deep in the brain. Many nerve pathways go from the retina’s light receptors to other parts of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex plays a role in the regulation of cognition and mood.
Light therapy and setting the circadian clock of our brain might also help other high-functioning brain areas, which is why it’s an effective natural treatment for seasonal depression.
If you’re going to try a light box for your seasonal depression, you should look for one that emits 10,000 lux. That’s a measure of the intensity of the light. You sit in front of the light for around 30 minutes each morning, trying to do so as soon after waking up as you can.
You shouldn’t look directly at the light but slightly off to the side.
If you have bipolar disorder, talk to a mental health professional before trying light therapy because it can trigger a manic episode.
If you have the chance to take a walk early in the morning, it can have benefits for seasonal depression that are similar to light therapy. Even on a cloudy day, you can get beneficial light exposure.
Seasonal depression isn’t easy to deal with, but there are ways that you can naturally reduce your symptoms. The supplements for seasonal depression named above are backed by research and can give you a mood lift, as can light therapy.