by Amy Medling, founder of PCOS Diva
Updated February 2020
Numerous studies have concluded that women with PCOS are at a higher risk for depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
- “Women with PCOS have higher depression scores and a higher risk of depression independent of BMI.” (1)
- “Depressive symptoms are a significant psychological concern in PCOS.” (2)
- “Women with PCOS on average tend to experience mildly elevated anxiety and depression, significantly more than women without PCOS.” (3)
- “Women with PCOS have increased anxiety, depression and negative body image compared with women without PCOS.” (4)
Although there haven’t been any studies done specifically looking at PCOS and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), I do wonder if there is a connection. I know for as long as I can remember, I have felt more balanced, bright, happy, and elated during the spring and summer months, when life is spent outside in the sunshine. I used to dread the winter blues that would inevitably come to visit in January. Being a New Englander, after the holidays I tend to cozy up by the warm fire and stay in my “cave” until the spring thaw. This lack out outdoor time and sunshine may lead to SAD.
Symptoms of SAD may vary depending on the person, but the common symptoms are:
- lack of energy
- loss of libido
- difficulty concentrating
- increased desire to sleep
- increased appetite (especially for carbohydrates)
- and an increase in PMS symptoms
It is estimated that 35 million Americans (more women than men) have SAD, a form of depression during the fall and winter months. When the days grow longer in the spring the symptoms disappear and remain dormant until next fall. It is important to differentiate Seasonal Affective Disorder from depression. SAD goes away in the spring, whereas other types of depression do not. (5)
Interestingly, longer nights in the fall and winter encourage our brains to produce more melatonin (the darkness hormone) at the expense of serotonin (the feel-good hormone).Our bodies want to stay in sync with the natural cycles of the seasons, but our busy lifestyles don’t allow for us to wait until the sun rises to get up in the morning and go to bed shortly after it sets, so when the days are shorter we experience a sort of non-stop jet lag.
If you feel like you have the “winter blues” or jet-lag from October to March, you may be suffering from SAD. Here are some ways that you can lessen the symptoms.
7 Ways to Beat the Winter Blues
Getting adequate vitamin D during these months has proven to be a very effective natural remedy for SAD. Vitamin D levels are inversely related to those of melatonin. Sunlight shuts melatonin production off while triggering the release of vitamin D. That’s why doctors recommend getting outdoors as a remedy for jet lag.
I take PCOS Diva Super D. It is a carefully researched and sourced supplement that provides the level of vitamin D that I need for my PCOS diet supplement, together with vitamin K1 and K2 to optimize absorption. Best of all, I can count on its safety and effectiveness because it is sourced from a reliable nutraceutical company that is GMP certified.
A large number of people with depression and SAD have low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Supplements such as L-typotophan and 5-hudroxytruptophan (5-HTP) that can be converted into serotonin may provide some benefit to those with SAD.
B vitamin deficiencies are often linked to depression especially, B12. For more info on B-12 read The Vitamin You Don’t Want to B Without. Vitamin B3, or niacin, plays a role along with the amino acid tryptophan in producing serotonin.
Magnesium is essential to nervous system function and may alleviate symptoms of depression. I take Super Magnesium, a very absorbable, chelated form of magnesium every night before bed.
Studies suggest that omega 3 fatty acids may help prevent and ease depression. Talk to your doctor, and consider adding PCOS Diva Ultra DHA Omega 3 Fish Oil supplement to your diet
2. Light Therapy
Spending time using a lightbox. Place it at a 45-degree angle to you and start with getting a dose in the morning around 6 AM for about 30 minutes (you can go up to 2 hours). It helps to reset our circadian clock. You need to keep up with it once a day through at least March. For more information visit the Center for Environmental Therapeutics.
Getting a good night’s sleep will greatly help with SAD. I tell my clients to be in bed by 10 or so and up by 6. Sleep 8-9 hours, but not more. I find myself needing more sleep in the winter.
4. Eating the Blues Away
Focus on eating foods to increase and stabilize your levels of serotonin as well as Omega 3 rich food. Resist the urge to cave into cravings for refined carbs like white bread, sugar, and white rice. It may offer an initial feel-good boost of serotonin, but it comes with a crash in blood sugar and may end up depleting your serotonin levels soon after. Seeds, nuts, legumes, root vegetables, and leafy green veggies are all great choices. Even a little dark chocolate is helpful. For more info on the benefits of dark chocolate read 5 Benefits of Chocolate for PCOS.
Exercise helps to boost serotonin in the brain. A brisk late morning or early afternoon walk when the sun is at its strongest will work wonders. Also, try practicing yoga. Vinyasa styles like Bikram Yoga will give you both an aerobic lift and relaxation.
6. Sunlight and Nature
For me, spending time in nature is most therapeutic. I love taking a hike in the woods or even just getting out and shoveling snow. Try to get time outside every day in the sun when it is out. 15-20 minutes of unprotected exposure daily throughout the year will help build up your vitamin D levels.
Citrus essential oils lift the spirit. I like to sip on warm water with lemon, lime, or orange during the day. You can also use drops of oils in massage oil or even a diffuser.
Ayurvedic herbs such as ashwagandha, holy basil, and Gotu kola help with depression. I drink holy basil (Tulsi) tea and many sites such as banyanbotanicals.com sell these herbs.
IMPORTANT NOTE: With any form of depression it is important to seek help if you experience dark thoughts or other serious symptoms. As a result of studies mentioned earlier, more doctors are screening their PCOS patients for mood disorders.
Amy Medling, best-selling author of Healing PCOS and certified health coach, specializes in working with women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), who are frustrated and have lost all hope when the only solution their doctors offer is to lose weight, take a pill, and live with their symptoms. In response, Amy founded PCOS Diva and developed a proven protocol of supplements, diet, and lifestyle programs that offer women tools to help gain control of their PCOS and regain their fertility, femininity, health, and happiness.
(1) Steroids. 2012 Mar 10;77(4):338-41. Epub 2011 Dec 9. Mood and anxiety disorders in women with PCOS. Dokras A.
(2) J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2012 Feb;21(2):179-87. Epub 2011 Oct 17. Associations between psychologic symptoms and life satisfaction in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Cipkala-Gaffin J, Talbott EO, Song MK, Bromberger J, Wilson J.
(3) Hum Reprod. 2011 Sep;26(9):2442-51. Epub 2011 Jul 1. Anxiety and depression in polycystic ovary syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Barry JA, Kuczmierczyk AR, Hardiman PJ.
(4) Hum Reprod. 2011 Jun;26(6):1399-407. Epub 2011 Mar 23. Is having polycystic ovary syndrome a predictor of poor psychological function including anxiety and depression? Deeks AA, Gibson-Helm ME, Paul E, Teede HJ.
(5) Psychiatr Hung. 2010;25(5):407-16. Diagnostic features, epidemiology, and pathophysiology of seasonal affective disorder. Molnár E1, Gonda X, Rihmer Z, Bagdy G.