Is the term “seasonal affective disorder” (SAD) new to you? It wouldn’t be if you lived in the Pacific Northwest!! Winters are super gray and rainy, and the days are extra short too! When I first moved here, in July, 1995, I could not believe how awesome the long and glorious days of summer were! Well, long summer days translate to short winter days when you are this far north. Somehow, in my mind, I saw Seattle as pretty much the west coast equivalent of Boston. Wrong! Seattle is further north than all of Nova Scotia, most of New Brunswick, Montreal and Quebec. Heck, those are all in Canada so we’d expect the short days of winter there! But here?!? Well …. yes.
After 2 decades of living in (and practicing medicine in) Seattle, it is pretty clear that we are a hotbed for the winter blues! SAD is a form of depression associated with the change of season, starting in the fall and continuing through the winter months. Could a vitamin D deficiency be associated with SAD? Since SAD is so common here, I check Vit D levels on all my patients, and low Vit D is very common. I love Vit D. It is one awesome hormone! I did a 5 part series on Vit D for many of its great effects, and part 5 was specifically on our brain health.
A new study looked at over 100 published studies on SAD and verified a link with low levels of Vit D. Without the sun exposure, our ability to make Vit D goes away and our blood levels decline. Vit D is needed for the production of serotonin and dopamine, brain chemicals related to mood and depression. I am glad that someone finally did the research and published the data! It doesn’t change my recommendations. It does verify my long standing theory.
You don’t have to live north to suffer from SAD. It occurs all over the U.S. What should you do if you think you have SAD? Here are my recommendations:
● see your doctor first to make sure it isn’t something else
● ask your doctor to check your Vit D level (it’s a simple blood test)
● if it is less than 50, it is too low. The lab studies say 30 to 100 in the normal range. I have seen it as low as 7 (yikes!).
● if your level is low, improve your sun exposure to make your own, or eat more foods containing Vit D, or take a Vit D3 supplement.
The nice thing about Seasonal Affective Disorder is the fact that …. it IS seasonal! It will go away as spring comes back around. I think the biggest take home point goes right back to keeping your Vit D levels healthy … whether you have SAD or not!! A depressed mood, whether it is seasonal or not, tends to zap our energy and motivation, and that only makes matters worse! Here’s to happy winter days and healthy Vitamin D!!