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Winter Blues & Vitamin D

Overview

The environment can affect a person’s mood. Many people have an elevated mood during the spring and summer but experience sadness or feel down during the fall and winter. For some, feelings of sadness affect daily functioning. Remedies to help curb winter depression include lifestyle changes and supplements. Consult a medical professional before taking any supplements.

Winter Depression

Winter depression, also called seasonal affective disorder, is more intense than holiday blues or simply feeling down. SAD has the same symptoms as depression. Depression is characterized by feelings of hopelessness or sadness that affect daily functioning at home, work or in social situations. Some people have thoughts of suicide, an increase or decrease in appetite, a decrease in energy and increase or decrease in sleep. Contact a mental health professional if you or someone you know has thoughts of suicide.

Causes

While there is no definitive cause of SAD, there are speculations about its origins. Changes in the amount of daily sunlight affects your body’s natural rhythms of sleep and waking, which can lead to depression. Decreased sunlight exposure also reduces the body’s melatonin and serotonin levels, which affect sleep and mood. This may contribute to depression.

Vitamin D

Harvard School of Public Health explains that vitamin D is both a vitamin and hormone manufactured by the body. Therefore, vitamin D can be obtained via diet or supplements, and is made by the body when you get enough sunlight. Vitamin D helps maintain strong bones and muscles, keeps the heart healthy, is linked to reduced risk of colon cancer and helps the immune system function properly. Because of its effects on hormone levels in the body, vitamin D is also thought to affect mood.

Administration

Vitamin D can be taken in capsule or tablet forms and by eating fortified foods such as cereals. While vitamin D has been shown to affect mood, there is not enough evidence to determine the amount of vitamin D needed to improve mood. However, in a study cited by University of Michigan Health System, people showed improved mood when taking vitamin D in dosages of 400 IU daily or a one-time dose of 100,000 IU. Those whose moods improved had preexisting SAD and low vitamin D levels; thus, vitamin D may be most helpful for those with decreased vitamin D. Consult a medical professional to determine the correct amount of vitamin D for your needs.

Other Remedies

Other supplements which may help elevate mood are St. John’s Wort and 5-HTP. Because the body requires sunlight to make vitamin D, spend time in the sun daily or use full spectrum light therapy to simulate the rays of the sun. Exercise regularly. University of Michigan suggests exercising at least one hour three times per week in bright light.

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