Acupuncture for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Ever wonder why you feel more depressed when summer ends and the short nights of winter creep in? Seasonal depression, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a condition that nearly 5% of the U.S. population experiences (2010,Darren Cotterell).  Also known as the “winter blues”, SAD typically occurs when the seasons change, and the onset of symptoms usually begins in the fall and continues into the winter months.

What are the symptoms of seasonal depression?

The clinical symptoms that appear regularly with seasonal change include: lethargy, difficulty concentrating, depression, negative thoughts, elevated cravings for carbohydrates (corresponding with weight gain and overeating), hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness), tiredness in the morning, diminished libido and decreased social interaction.  Patients will usually become more anxious by the end of the summer, as they start to anticipate the coming months, in which less sunlight is present and their symptoms return (2003, Acupuncture Today).

Why does this occur?

The reduced level of sunlight in the fall and winter months affect an individual’s serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects mood, and lower levels of serotonin have been linked to depression. This is probably why people who have seasonal depression have lower levels of serotonin and higher levels of a serotonin transporter protein (protein that removes the serotonin) (2017, Mental Health America). Lack of serotonin isn’t the only cause of seasonal depression — melatonin, a sleep-related hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain - has also been linked to seasonal depression.  Melatonin is responsible for affecting sleep patterns and mood, and when it’s dark outside, it’s produced at increased levels. Consequently, the production of this hormone increases during the fall and winter months.  The human circadian rhythm or “biological clock” gets disrupted as well during this increase of melatonin production, which contributes to feeling “out of sync” further resulting in symptoms associated with seasonal depression (2017, Mental Health America).

How can acupuncture help seasonal depression?

Although acupuncture is well known for pain management, preliminary studies have given promising results for its treatment of depression (2017, Many Lives Chinese Medicine). From a western medical perspective, these studies have shown that acupuncture releases serotonin and noradrenaline-norepinephrine in animals, common stimulants used in the treatment of depressive disorders. Recent studies also suggest that electro-acupuncture maybe a viable alternative to the use of tricyclic antidepressants with no additional side effects (2017, Many Lives Chinese Medicine).

If you’d like more information about how acupuncture or any of our other services can help with seasonal depression, please call our office at 541-505-7427 to book an appointment, or book online at