Archive for Wednesday, October 17, 2007

To beat winter blues, try nondrug therapies

October 17, 2007


Bupropion (Wellbutrin XL) is the first drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the prevention of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or winter depression.

Every year, about 5 percent of Americans, three-quarters of them women, experience SAD, according to Consumer Reports. But do you really need medication to prevent or treat it?

Some of the symptoms of winter depression are similar to those associated with other types of depression: sadness, fatigue, excessive sleepiness, social withdrawal and trouble concentrating. But people with SAD also tend to move slowly, crave carbohydrates and gain weight. They're also less likely than people with conventional depression to have feelings of worthlessness or thoughts of suicide. The nonprofit Center for Environmental Therapeutics has an online questionnaire at that can help you determine whether you have the disorder.

While people who live in a warm and sunny climate can get SAD, it occurs most often in people who live in northern latitudes, where winter days are shorter and darker. For example, about 10 percent of the people living in Alaska experience symptoms of SAD, compared with only 1 percent of people in Florida, where the sun shines for more hours in the winter.

Treating SAD

GlaxoSmithKline, the manufacturer of Wellbutrin, and the first to conduct research on preventing SAD, found that 16 percent of people who took bupropion every day through the winter developed the disorder, compared with 28 percent who took a placebo. Although Wellbutrin wasn't any better at treating SAD than other common antidepressants, it might carry less risk of sexual side effects than another type of antidepressants, SSRIs, which includes Zoloft and its generic version.

However, Consumer Reports recommends trying available nondrug treatments before trying medication or other treatments. For mild cases, doing 60 minutes of outdoor aerobic exercise in the morning might bring some relief.

For more persistent cases, there's strong evidence that spending 30 minutes every morning in front of a lamp or a light box that simulates bright white daylight, ideally within 10 minutes of waking, can help. The light box should provide at least 10,000 lux (a measure of light intensity) and give off white, not blue, light. Most light boxes are sold online and cost about $200.

Canadian researchers recently found that light therapy was as effective as the antidepressant fluroxetine (Prozac and its generic version) in reducing symptoms of winter depression. Light therapy was also found to work faster, usually within four to seven days, compared with the four to six weeks it takes for antidepressants to become effective.

Other treatment options include cognitive-behavioral therapy, in which you learn to ward off negative thoughts about the season and engage in enjoyable activities. That kind of therapy might also help prevent a recurrence.

Early-warning signs

Interestingly, people who have the disorder once do not necessarily get it every year. Those who have experienced winter depression might have a year where the symptoms are less severe or don't show up at all. The best strategy is to watch for early-warning signs, including fatigue, oversleeping, carbohydrate cravings and weight gain. These signs tend to creep up weeks before your mood actually plummets, which gives you time to start medication if you need it.


Ragingbear 10 years, 5 months ago

~~The light box should provide at least 10,000 lux (a measure of light intensity) and give off white, not blue, light. Most light boxes are sold online and cost about $200.~~

Yeah.... add another zero to that figure. A $200 box will only have about 2500 lux.

Also. This article really really sucks. Light therapy is only one of a multitude of possible treatments for SAD. I should know. It lays me out something fierce in the winter. I do all sorts of things, and although they help, you still get messed up.

Diet- Eat more greens, preferably fresh. Or get wheat grass juice (ewww) 3 times a week at Juice Stop.

Exercise- Even 10 minutes a day will make a difference. And I am talking about real exercise. Not "my job is rough, so that is exercise. Right?". Get your heart rate up.

Sunlight- Nothing can beat it. Make sure you spend at least 20 minutes a day (preferably all at once) with a much sunlight as possible hitting your actual skin. Even winter has sunny days.

Keep lights on- Never sit in a room with just the TV on, or some night light. The room should be well lit. My living room ceiling lamp has 4- 60w bulbs in it, and it is always on when I am in here.

Vitamins- B12, Vitamin D, C, and others are all instrumental in regulating mood. Find a good multivitamin that passes the melt test. Drop it in a glass of water, and it should be completely mush in 20 minutes. If not, return it. Otherwise the entire pill might pass through without being dissolved.

Melatonin- This one is up for debate. I respond well to this at night. Others don't. It's believed that an increase in melatonin makes it worse. Talk to your doctor and try it for yourself.

Tanning- This is another up and coming issue. Some people with SAD swear by getting a tanning session a few times a month. You don't want to look like a valley girl. But a 10-15 minute session 4 or 5 times a week is all that is needed. I plan on trying this one myself this winter.

Micro 10 years, 5 months ago

Light Therapy DOES work - provided (as the article said) the light is 10,000 LUX, has a Color Rendering Index of at least 90, and a Kelvin rating of between 5,000 and 6,000. These lights are available on the web - again, as the article said - for around $200.00. Actually, several sites sell them for as little as $160 (for example;, I live in Michigan, where it gets dark all winter, and I have been using a SAD light for three years and I can really tell the difference.

liteness 10 years, 1 month ago

Light therapy has worked for me, I use a great lamp ( from right here in Vermont, where there's definitely a problem with lack of sunlight!

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