Seasonal affective disorder — dealing with the ‘winter blues’
We’ve all heard the term “winter blues.” Most people have experienced a feeling of gloom when there’s no visible sunshine and snow on the ground. Even old diesel engines have trouble starting when it’s cold outside. While it’s perfectly natural to feel this way sometimes, persistent feelings of depression could be symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
SAD is a type of depression that occurs at a certain time of the year, usually in the winter. Symptoms may typically start in the fall and may continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, seasonal affective disorder causes depression in the spring or early summer. Experts aren’t sure what causes SAD, but they think it may be caused by a lack of sunlight, and can also link it to vitamin D deficiency.
Your body is able to produce its own vitamin D3 when your skin is exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, specifically ultraviolet (UVB) radiation. When UVB rays hit your skin, a chemical reaction happens, and through a complicated process involving the blood, liver and kidneys, these rays are converted into dihydroxyvitamin D or 25(OH)2D — the hormone form of vitamin D your body can use.
While sunlight through the windshield all day long may feel good, it’s not going to help you with your vitamin D production — according to the National Institutes of Health, UVB rays don’t penetrate glass.
It’s estimated that we get — or should get — more than 90 percent of our vitamin D from casual, daily sun exposure. Some studies have found that between five and 30 minutes of sun exposure to your unprotected face, arms, legs or back between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. two to three times every week is enough for your body to produce all the D3 it needs.
Many people believe that maintaining healthy eating habits is enough, but very few foods naturally contain significant levels of vitamin D. According to some studies, in order to get adequate levels of vitamin D through diet alone, two servings of fatty fish like salmon or mackerel would have to be consumed every day. Based on these findings, it would be necessary for most individuals to increase vitamin D levels in the body through sufficient sun exposure and supplementation in order to use the sunshine vitamin’s full potential for maintaining proper body functioning. It’s also important to note that vitamin D is not a stand-alone vitamin. It uses other vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium, to complete many necessary actions.
Anyone can get SAD, but it’s more common in people who live in areas where winter days are very short or there are big changes in the amount of daylight in different seasons. Women, people who have a close relative who has been diagnosed with the condition, and people between the ages of 15 and 55 also have a higher instance of being diagnosed. The risk of getting SAD for the first time goes down as you age.
Symptoms such as feeling moody, grumpy or anxious; a loss of interest in normal activities; weight gain; and feelings of daytime drowsiness are all indicators you may have SAD. It’s important to remember that everyone feels “down” once in a while. These symptoms should be explored further if they are persistent and sustained.
Treatment for SAD ranges from light box therapy to prescribed anti-depressants. Each case is unique in severity and causative factors, and should be diagnosed by a medical professional. Prevention is always the best medicine. Getting out in the sun a couple of times a week and maintaining a healthy diet are two of the easiest and best preventions for this disorder.