The “SAD” Truth about the Winter Blues

Got the “winter blues”? As the weather begins to get colder and days get shorter, many people report having problems sleeping, experience changes in appetite, have low energy and feel depressed. While many people attribute these feelings to the weather, there can be an actual clinical issue causing these “SAD” feelings. Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, is a type of depression that comes and goes with seasons, typically around late fall and early winter. The causes of SAD are unknown but one hypothesis speculates the association of these symptoms with Vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is essential for calcium absorption, bone health, cell growth and immune function. Vitamin D is naturally found in only a few dietary sources like fatty fish (salmon, halibut and tuna) and egg yolks. As a result many food sources like milk and breakfast cereals have been fortified to provide more Vitamin D than is naturally occurring. Many individuals take supplemental forms of Vitamin D, as well. While you can get some Vitamin D exogenously from food or supplemental forms, Vitamin D can also be endogenously produced (in the body) via sun exposure. Since dietary sources of vitamin D are limited and sun exposure in late fall and early winter decreases, clinicians began to hypothesize the association between low vitamin D levels and Seasonal Affective Disorder. In a recent study by a researcher Tenna Frandsen and colleagues, they wanted to explore this hypothesis by testing the effectiveness of vitamin D supplementation for the treatment of SAD symptoms. Participants completed a questionnaire determining the severity level of SAD symptoms and then were separated into two groups; one receiving 70 milligrams of vitamin D and the other one a placebo. After 3-months of this intervention, participants retook the questionnaire and their scores were compared. While this study was unable to definitively demonstrate the scientific effectiveness of vitamin D as a treatment for SAD, many individuals did self report an improvement in the symptoms they were experiencing. If you are experiencing any symptoms related to Seasonal Affective Disorder you should consult your primary care physician to check your vitamin D levels. While you can’t get enough vitamin D via dietary sources, you can synthesize enough vitamin D by exposing your forearms to natural sunlight for 15 minutes each day. However for those living in states where the sun may not shine during these winter months, supplemental vitamin D may be a beneficial treatment for your winter blues. And if that doesn’t work, maybe try putting on some good music and dance!