For anyone suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), soaking up the sun and increasing your intake of Vitamin D are known assisters when daylight hours are shortened.
SAD refers to episodes of depression which occur annually during fall or winter. The disorder is known to begin in adolescence or early adulthood and usually occurs more often in women compared to men.
It should be noted that “cabin fever” or just the plain “winter blues” are not to be confused with SAD. People who reside in locations with long winter nights are not necessarily more likely to have SAD, according to the National Institute of Health.
Although the cause of SAD is not known, there are some contributing factors, including ambient light, body temperature, and hormone regulation.
However, Dr. Christian Holle, associate professor in Psychology at William Paterson University, says SAD is related to the amount of sunlight and cloud cover and not necessarily colder temperatures. There is also a correlation to lower melatonin levels, but it’s not the main cause.
Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain which helps to regulate other hormones and maintains the body’s circadian rhythm, an interval 24-hour “clock” that plays an integral role in falling asleep and waking up. When it’s dark outside, the body produces more melatonin and when it’s light, the production of melatonin drops. Exposure to bright lights in the evening or too little light in daytime can disrupt your body’s normal melatonin cycles.
Seeking the company of others during this time is highly suggested according to Holle.
“People suffering from SAD should not isolate themselves but rather seek out social contacts,” noted Holle.
Regular exercise is also important and sometimes difficult to do outside during winter months, so Holle offers the idea of walking around an indoor mall making about four to five trips or even joining an inexpensive gym.
Mental outlook, says Holle, is also an integral part in dealing with SAD.
“You must keep thinking that winter is almost over and that spring and summer will be here very soon,” added Holle.
If symptoms persist, Holle recommends possibly speaking with a professional, especially if it interferes with your job. For those who know people suffering from SAD, it’s important to monitor that individual, particularly when their mood is diminishing.
“Thoughts of suicide should especially be paid close attention to, although warning signs can be subtle,” Holle added.
Registered Dietitian Karen Goldberg of the YM-YWHA of North Jersey in Wayne, says loading up on Vitamin D is highly recommended and even more so for SAD sufferers.
“Most people don’t get an ample amount of Vitamin D on a daily basis to begin with,” Goldbery admitted.
A proper intake of Vitamin D can be found in certain types of fish, including salmon which has 794 international units, Mackerel (388 international units, but is high in mercury), and tuna fish, which has 302 international units. At least three ounces should be digested to acquire the necessary amount of Vitamin D.
“Fatty fish and fish oils are very important to your daily diet,” she adds.
Goldberg also suggests a tablespoon daily of Cod Liver oil, although it’s usually not the first choice of taste. A multi vitamin or Vitamin D on its own is also helpful as is dairy-based products such as milk or yogurt fortified with Vitamin D.
“Usually 400 international units are recommended, however nowadays some doctors are saying between 1,000 to 2,000 international units a day are even better,” Goldberg stated.
Symptoms of SAD include afternoon slumps with decreased energy and concentration, increased appetite with weight gain, increased sleep and excessive daytime fatigue, lack of energy and loss of interest in work and other activities, slow, sluggish, lethargic movement, social withdrawal, and unhappiness and irritability.
Differences between regular depression and SAD as far as symptoms are concerned include weight loss as opposed to weight gain and problems sleeping instead of increased sleep.