Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) with Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine

Winter is rolling in, Edmonton. The days are getting shorter, the temperatures are slowly dropping. The first snowfall has come. To some, this is a wonderful, magical time of year! However, for others, Winter can be a dark time – both literally and figuratively. The “Winter Blues” are all too common for many cultures, and it seems to be worse for those of us far from the equator. The decreased daylight hours, and cold weather can leave many feeling depressed, and lethargic – but what is the cause of these “Winter Blues?” and what can we do to get rid of them? These are the things I hope to tackle in today’s post.

Treating S.A.D.
Winter time depression can affect anyone.

The official name for Wintertime depression is “Seasonal Affective Disorder” or SAD for short. It often comes, and goes, at the same times every year. Generally beginning in the fall, and getting worse through the winter. Some people may even feel anxiety in the Spring/Summer months due to the anticipation of seasonal affective disorder. SAD is generally more mild than major depressive disorder. Symptoms can include:

  • Lethargy / Fatigue
  • Increased appetite / Cravings for carbs
  • Hypersomnia
  • Weight Gain
  • Sadness
  • Social Withdrawal

The cause of SAD may be due to decreased daylight disrupting a person’s circadian rhythm (or biological clock) causing imbalances of serotonin and melatonin. These chemical imbalances can lead to the symptoms outlined above.

Conventional treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder includes:

  • Medication
  • Light Therapy (using SAD lamps)
  • Vitamin D Supplementation
  • Talk therapy

What can Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Do?

Chinese Medicine is a holistic system of healing which addresses the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of a person. Seasonal depression manifests in many ways, sometimes physically, sometimes mentally. It makes sense that a holistic approach would be taken in treating this disorder. In terms of what we can offer: studies have shown that Acupuncture can help regulate the body’s release of melatonin – benefiting insomnia, and hypersomnia. There are also points on the forehead and scalp which can directly influence the pineal gland, helping to decrease depression and fatigue.

Seasonal depression manifests in many ways, sometimes physically, sometimes mentally.

Herbal medicine, and the use of moxibustion (the burning of mugwort to warm the meridians of the body) can help to tonify the Yang aspect of a person’s being. Yang is the hot, active, energizing force of life that can often become deficient in people with SAD. Tonifying Yang can help to warm the body, and boost the immune system, especially if they have an aversion to the cold weather.

Chinese Medicine also places a high value on living seasonally. Making sure we’re eating warming foods to benefit and warm the digestive system can also have a huge benefit in the treatment of SAD. A big part of seasonal living is also remembering that the energy of the body draws inward during the Winter, it makes sense that our activities should also slow down a bit – and that people should take time for quiet contemplation. It is a season of introspection, and reception. Rest is important in the winter, as well as meditation. It’s important to try and recognize normal “slowing down” at this time of year, versus a depressed mental state. If you find you’re unable to function productively during the wintertime – it may be worth looking into Seasonal Affective Disorder in more depth.

For more information on how Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine can help you beat the Winter Blues, contact us at or call 780-428-8897!

Jon McDonell R.Ac

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by Jon McDonell, R.Ac

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