Archive for December 17th, 2018

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Author: Dr. Larita
December 17, 2018

The winter months often make us feel sad. Classic (winter based) seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder, affecting people with otherwise normal mental health. Symptoms include difficulty waking up in the morning, nausea, tendency to oversleep and overeat, cravings for carbohydrates, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating or completing tasks, withdrawal from friends, family and social activities and decreased sex drive. While sharing many symptoms with clinical depression, the main distinguishing factor of SAD is its seasonal character.

Studies on depression and the sense of smell show that clinical depression is associated with reduced olfactory sensitivity (Negoias et al 2010, Schablitzky and Pause 2014). However, this may not apply to SAD, where researchers find the opposite – an increased olfactory sensitivity, especially in the right nostril, which corresponds to the right side of the brain (Postolache et al 1999). This increased sensitivity suggests that people with SAD may be especially responsive to aromatherapy.

It has long been claimed by aromatherapists that essential oils can positively affect mood, and scientific studies are now providing significant evidence for such effects, as well as explanations of how they work. Inhalation is a very efficient mode of administration for affecting neurological function, as the smell receptor sites in our nasal cavity have a direct link to the brain, via the olfactory bulbs.

Many studies have found that vaporized citrus oils are particularly effective for mood enhancement. In one, a mixture of bergamot, orange and lemon (with lemon predominating) was slowly vaporized throughout the day over a two-week period, and depressed patients exposed to this fragrance were able to reduce their dose of antidepressants (Komori et al 1995).

Bergamot and lemon oils are among the most widely-researched for positive effects on mood. Rodent studies show that lemon oil is antidepressant (Komori et al 1995) and invigorating (Komori et al 2006). It also reduces anxiety and boosts both serotonin and dopamine (Komiya et al 2006), two neurochemicals that are often reduced in SAD. In addition to lemon oil, other essential oils that positively impact dopamine and/or serotonin, and are also antidepressant, include clary sage, Atlas cedarwood, eucalyptus globulus and orange (Costa et al 2013, Kako et al 2008, Martins et al 2015, Seol et al 2010).

The citrus oil that has been most widely researched for mood effects in humans is bergamot. Bergamot oil inhalation, from diffusion or water-based sprays, has shown significant effects in the following conditions:

*Reduction of work-related stress in a total of 83 elementary school teachers (Chang & Shen 2011, Liu et al 2013).

* Reduction of anxiety in 53 patients awaiting surgery, compared to 49 control patients (Ni et al 2013)

* Reduction of stress hormone cortisol, along with reduction in self-reported fatigue and anxiety in 41 healthy women, within 15 minutes (Watanabe et al 2015).

* Changes in heart rate variability that indicate relaxation in 25 healthy females compared to 22 controls, within 15 minutes (Peng et al 2009).

Many other essential oils are said to be uplifting – some of these are more stimulating, and some are more calming (see below). However, note that a “relaxed alertness” is also described for some essential oils, as is as an antidepressant effect.


Thanks to:

 Essential Oils and Seasonal Affective Disorder – by Robert Tisserand

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