The Best Essential Oils For Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), commonly referred to as seasonal depression, is a form of major depressive disorder, known as a major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern. SAD is typically treated with a variety of interventions ranging from light therapy to medications to therapies. 

However, recent research has shed light on the potential for essential oils to help manage some symptoms of this disorder.

Have you considered clinical trials for Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

What is seasonal affective disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder is a major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern. Episodes usually occur during winter and recur each year. 

SAD is more common in colder climates. For example, in the United States,¹ it affects about 1% of people in Florida and 9% of those in Alaska.

Causes

While the root cause of SAD remains unknown, it is thought to be influenced by a few key factors. 

Serotonin deficiency

The first potential cause of SAD is serotonin deficiency. Serotonin is known as the “feel-good” hormone. 

Vitamin D promotes serotonin production. Vitamin D deficiency is more common during winter when sunlight exposure decreases. 

Disturbed circadian rhythm

Another potential cause of SAD is a disturbed circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is your biological clock, which is impacted by daylight hours. Shorter daylight hours can make it difficult for your body to adjust to a regular sleep schedule, leading to alterations in your sleep-wake cycle.

Irregular melatonin levels

Irregular melatonin levels may also be a factor, as melatonin levels are impacted by shorter, darker days. 

Your body naturally produces melatonin when it gets darker, which encourages your body to go to sleep. Increased melatonin levels can make you feel more tired during the darker, colder months of the year. 

As there is no one specific known cause of SAD, more research is needed in this area to better understand the range of possible underlying causes and risk factors. 

Treatment

Due to the complex factors involved, treatment options for SAD are diverse. Both individual and combination treatments have been found to be effective. Common treatments include pharmacotherapy, light therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Many people with SAD choose alternative therapies that can be used in conjunction with clinical interventions to reduce symptoms of depression. Aromatherapy is one such therapy, using essential oils that may have the potential to elevate mood and promote relaxation. 

Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is the practice of using aromatic substances, including essential oils, to promote psychological and physical well-being. This practice can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians, where aromatics were used in rituals and ceremonies but typically reserved for priests and rulers. 

In the ensuing millennia, aromatherapy has become increasingly popular, and today it is commonly practiced worldwide. Aromatherapy has been proposed as an alternative or adjunct treatment to help alleviate depressive symptoms. 

Essential oils can be applied directly to the skin, ingested, or inhaled. Other benefits of using essential oils for SAD treatment include cost-effectiveness, accessibility, and ease of use. 

It is important to note that essential oils do not cure depression, but they can be used alongside conventional treatments to promote feelings of well-being and reduce stress. 

It is thought that essential oils work either by being absorbed into the bloodstream via the skin or by stimulating regions of the brain following inhalation. 

Bergamot oil

Bergamot oil is a popular option to promote well-being. It has a few side effects and can mildly reduce blood pressure and anxiety and improve mood. 

In healthy females, bergamot oil has been found to increase mood, decrease fatigue, and increase the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).² The PNS is responsible for your “rest and digest” response, allowing the body to conserve energy and relax. 

Bergamot oil is best inhaled and can help induce relaxation if you are feeling stressed. 

Lavender oil

Clinical trials³ have already demonstrated that lavender oil has anti-anxiety and anti-depressive effects, as well as being able to improve sleep cycles. 

In animal models,⁴ lavender oil has been found to promote a brief period of neurogenesis (the formation of new neurons in the brain) in stressed rats. However, additional research is needed to test whether lavender may provide this form of neuroprotection in humans. 

Lavender oil can be enjoyed by adding drops to a bath, and it is best combined with a carrier oil such as jojoba or coconut oil. 

Patchouli oil

Oil from the leaves of the patchouli plant is commonly used for its antidepressant and anti-inflammatory effects. Inflammation has been found to play a role in depression, as increased immune activation is correlated with increased levels of depression. 

Studies⁵ show that patchouli oil may help reduce inflammation levels through various pathways in the brain, making it potentially helpful in reducing stress and improving mood. 

Patchouli oil is best inhaled directly or added in a diluted form to a room diffuser. 

Rose oil

Rose oil is obtained from the petals of various types of roses. This essential oil contains compounds that may influence serotonin receptors to improve mood and enhance well-being. 

Rose oil is unable to be ingested. Instead, it is best used when added to a fragrance-free moisturizer and applied directly to the skin. 

Citrus oils

Citrus oils have been found to alleviate fatigue and reduce anxiety and depression. 

A potential side effect of citrus oils is that they can make the skin more susceptible to irritation from the sun by increasing photosensitivity. Consequently, when using citrus oils, it is best to avoid direct sunlight and to cover up or wear sunscreen if you are going outdoors during sunlight hours. 

Citrus oils can be inhaled directly or added to a diffuser. 

Yuzu oil

Yuzu, a type of Japanese citrus fruit, has been found to improve self-reported emotional distress and alleviate fatigue. However, as yuzu oil can cause skin irritation, it is best used when diluted to reduce its concentration or added to a diffuser. 

Basil oil

Basil oil, produced from sweet basil leaves, can act as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI), increasing serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain. 

Early clinical trials have demonstrated the positive effects of basil oil to alleviate stress and improve mood. However, more research is needed as this oil is less widely researched and therefore, its potential side effects are not as well understood. 

Sweet basil can be inhaled or added to a diffuser.

The lowdown

If you are suffering from a seasonal affective disorder or seasonal depression, you may benefit from aromatherapy. Current research and clinical trials on essential oils suggest that many have mild therapeutic effects that can temporarily relieve symptoms of depression. Various essential oils have been found to offer these therapeutic benefits, including bergamot, citrus, and rose oils, among others.

While essential oils have been found to produce beneficial effects to help treat SAD, seek advice from your doctor or psychologist before starting any treatment program.

Have you considered clinical trials for Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64


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