Monday, May 5, 2014

Seasonal affective disorder and nutrition

There are many people I know who really struggle emotionally in the spring, and many more who struggle through the fall and winter months. Many are suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.

What is Seasonal affective disorder and what are its symptoms? Here is a definition taken from the Mayo clinic's website. Seasonal affective disorder (also called SAD) is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year. If you're like most people with seasonal affective disorder, your symptoms 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.  Take a look at your life, think back upon the last year or two, do you notice a difference in your mood in the springtime as opposed to the fall? (Often those closest to you can help you identify if you suffer from moodiness during certain periods of the year).


From the Mayo clinic website here is a list of symptoms that one may experience with this disorder.

Fall and winter seasonal affective disorder (winter depression)

Winter-onset seasonal affective disorder symptoms include:
  • Depression
  • Hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of energy
  • Heavy, "leaden" feeling in the arms or legs
  • Social withdrawal
  • Oversleeping
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating

Spring and summer seasonal affective disorder (summer depression)

Summer-onset seasonal affective disorder symptoms include:
  • Anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Increased sex drive 
From the Mayo clinic's website ..... The specific cause of seasonal affective disorder remains unknown. It's likely, as with many mental health conditions, that genetics, age and, perhaps most importantly, your body's natural chemical makeup all play a role in developing the condition.  Women in particular seem to be more prone to experience this disorder as well as those who live further away from the equator, family history is also a large factor in determining if you will suffer from this disorder.

So if you are suffering what do you do? Medications are often prescribed to help deal with the symptoms. Psychotherapy can also be used effectively to help you deal with the changes in emotions. Light therapy also seems to help. Which is the best for you? There is no right answer as each person is different. Again from the Mayo clinic website  There is no known way to prevent the development of seasonal affective disorder. However, if you take steps early on to manage symptoms, you may be able to prevent them from getting worse over time. Some people find it helpful to begin treatment before symptoms would normally start in the fall or winter, and then continue treatment past the time symptoms would normally go away. If you can get control of your symptoms before they get worse, you may be able to head off serious changes in mood, appetite and energy levels.

For me, managing symptoms is a bad way to live. I do not agree with the traditional way of thinking in this country which is to manage symptoms. If you look at current treatments for most diseases and disorders the advice given is to manage the symptoms. Most of the symptom management  is done with drugs, many of which have terrible side effects. I know that many of my friends and family members suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. Many of them have turned to dangerous drugs and I see too many side effects from taking them. I feel that there has to be a root cause for this disorder. There has to be healing beyond the drugs and expensive therapies.

I too have suffered from this disorder. After giving birth to three babies right in a row I thought I was experiencing post partum depression. Then I noticed that it came back year after year. It seemed that two years after the last baby was born I should not be experiencing post partum depression anymore.  I was also having a lot of other health problems, in the midst of it all I found relief and healing for myself through research, and digging for a root cause of my ailments. You can read about my thoughts on how healing is more than symptom relief. It was during this time of my life that I discovered what (I believe) could be one of the root causes of  Seasonal  Affective Disorder.  My belief is that SAD may be a result of vitamin and mineral depletion; specifically vitamin D, but also the B vitamins.

Think for a moment, Vitamin D  also known as the sunshine vitamin. It is made in the body when we are exposed to sun. During the winter months there is a lot less sunlight and people tend to barricade themselves in their houses and then they become depressed and so on and begin to experience the so called "symptoms" of Seasonal affective disorder, could there be a connection?  One of the treatments for this disorder is light therapy. Light therapy is done by exposing patients to bright lights therefore increasing the vitamin D levels in the body. Are you beginning to see it yet?  There are some great articles examining Vitamin D and depression.  There are several other articles examining Vitamin D and anxiety levels.  Could it really be that simple? Could it really be that SAD is really a lack of vitamin D? The truth is; there is plenty of evidence to show that you can treat Seasonal Affective Disorder and its symptoms by increasing Vitamin D.

People are finding relief and healing through raising their vitamin D levels, yet you won't hear this as part of the mainstream treatments. If it is mentioned, you will quickly see or hear something like "There needs to be further studies" Or, "There is not sufficient evidence to support these findings"  Why is this so?  Sunshine is free, and Vitamin D cannot be patented. Therefore, there is no profit in treating SAD with vitamin D.  There will be plenty of people telling you that vitamin therapy is bogus and the best thing to do is to treat the symptoms with their drugs, their light therapy products.  If you increase your vitamin D levels naturally and begin to feel better you no longer need their products, then what? They no longer have a customer, it defeats their main goal which is to keep you buying their products.

What about Vitamin D; how do you know if I have a deficiency? Doctor Richard Becker often states that if you live in the upper portion of America (north of San Francisco) you are most likely deficient. (remember as stated above, one of the factors for developing SAD is your distance from the equator).  Current Vitamin D guidelines by the Institute of Medicine set a blood level of 20 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) as a goal for good bone health and overall health. However, some doctors say people should go higher, to about 30 ng/mL to get the full health benefits of vitamin D.  Forward thinking doctors such as Dr. Becker have said that this is way too low. 20 ng/mL may keep you from getting rickets (which is what a severe deficiency will do to you), but for superior health it should be between 60-80 ng/mL. The FDA has recently increased the RDA (recommended daily allowance) for Vitamin D from 200 to 600 iu (international units) daily. It is still way too low in my opinion.

Now here is where it gets a bit tricky....There are vitamins D1, D2, and D3 which all are lumped under the vitamin D umbrella. All are closely related but have different effects in the body. Vitamin D2 is what we talk about in preventing rickets, and is the one that is usually added to milk to help in bone formation. Vitamin D3 also acts in the same capacity for the building of bones. The interesting thing about vitamin D3 is that it acts as a hormone in the body and really affects the brain. (remember as stated above from the mayo clinic, your body's natural chemical makeup is one of the major factors) Hormones are a major part of our chemical make-up. As a hormone, vitamin D3 is vital for health, it is key for healthy brain function and it definitely affects mood.

How does one get more vitamin D3? Vitamin D3 It is found in some foods like egg yolks, liver, mushrooms, and fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines, but mostly we get it from sun exposure. Many of us are not getting the recommended 30 minutes of sun exposure 3 times a week (without sunscreen).  Sunscreen can effect the way our body absorbs sunshine and limits the amount of vitamin D we create. 10-15 minutes of midday sun without sunscreen can create well over 10,000 units of vitamin D3 in our body but with a spf 15 sunscreen applied, we would have to expose ourselves to 3-4 hours of sun to get that same effect, and people really worry about skin cancer and other things. For many people supplementation is the answer, especially if you are found to be very low in vitamin D3.

It is important to have your levels checked and find out the number. Many doctors will tell you that you are Ok when you are in the "normal" range of 20-30 ng/mL (Nano grams per Milliliter) , but research has shown that to be healthy, levels should be in the 60-80 range. So this leads to the question, how much should I supplement?  Dr. Becker and others recommend that you could supplement with 10,000 units or more of vitamin D3 on a daily basis for several months to get the blood levels up to a better place. At this point have your levels checked again. He then suggests 2,000-3,000 units a day for maintenance.

That seems like a lot, so you may ask; Can you overdose on vitamin D? Yes, there is always a risk, but the risk is very minimal. The Mayo clinic's web site says that you would have to take 50,000 units of vitamin D daily over the course of several months to reach a toxic level. At a toxic level you may experience nausea, weakness, and vomiting, and possibly kidney problems due to increased calcium in your blood. But this list is a lot shorter and not near as scary sounding as the list of side effects of taking a regular and properly prescribed dose of some of the  drugs for anxiety and depression, not to mention the drugs for insomnia.

There is another concern, the drugs commonly used to treat depression, anxiety, and insomnia often have a side effect of depleting the B vitamins. A body depleted of some of the B vitamins can look like depression, insomnia, anxiety and moodiness. In essence, the drugs used to help relieve the symptoms can lead to more problems and to a dependence upon them, (but they won't tell you that, they just increase the dose). It is a really bad cycle that people are stuck in. Start with depression, soon you have insomnia, anxiety and irritability which usually leads to more medications and or higher doses. If you have been on some of these drugs to control symptoms of SAD please have your vitamin B levels checked to see if they are low as well. Many people suffering from SAD have low levels of Vitamin D3 and the B vitamins.    

I have presented a lot of information here. Take it as you may. Do your own research and feel out what may be right for you.  For me, the benefits and risks of high level Vitamin D supplementation and a B vitamin complex are miniscule in comparison to the risk of being hooked by the large pharmaceutical companies. I want to be in control of my own health. I choose to be different, and think differently than most. I do not give into the demands of big business. I am the keeper of my own body and soul.

Helpful links
healing is more than symptom relief

Vitamin D and depression

Vitamin D and anxiety levels.

Mayo clinic web site

Dr Becker's Nutritional supplements

Vitamin D as a hormone


  1. Thank you for this post! I have known for a long time that I don't absorb vitamin D from foods and supplements well and get SAD in the winter because of this. However, reading your post explains what has been going on this spring. It has been very cold this spring, so even when I am outside I have to be very bundled up and I have spring SAD for the first time. Thankfully tomorrow is supposed to be the start of a heat wave!

  2. My chiropractor recommended vitamin D3, especially in winter months where there isn't so much sunshine. He mentioned how it helps improve moods. He said you would have to take A LOT to overdose, as you stated above. I have been taking 5000 IU/day, per his recommendation.

  3. I'm so aware of this when daylight hours are short - great post! I do appreciate you sharing with Home and Garden Thursday,