Connection Between Seasonal Affective Disorder and Vitamin D

Quit guessing about what seasonal affective disorder is and what it isn’t and discover how vitamin D can help address it.
Woman meditating with winter forest background

In this supposed age of enlightenment, it’s remarkable how so many misconceptions persist about mental disorders. One is that seemingly put-together personalities will never need therapy. Another is that attacks have to be visible, that if one isn’t tearing their hair out or crying a river, then the disorder isn’t “legit” enough to require medical attention. These are just a few of the fallacies that create a wrong understanding of the gravity of mental illnesses, causing many to be left underdiagnosed and untreated.

Seasonal affective disorder or SAD is one such illness that is likewise surrounded by misconceptions. It’s common for seasonal affective disorder to be conveniently filed away under “winter blues,” for a SAD sufferer to be told to simply wait it out until the season is over, after which they’ll be “as good as new.” This scoffing, dismissal, and denial of SAD can be pretty dangerous. More information has to be put out there if these wrong beliefs are to be corrected. If you’re still reading up to this point, then perhaps, this article may prove helpful to you or a loved one suffering from SAD.

Sad woman holding her coat close to her chest

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder is a depression that occurs with the changing of the seasons. Although there are less common cases where SAD occurs in certain people during sunnier seasons, the disorder typically happens during late fall or early winter, which is how it came to be known as the winter blues or winter depression. However, the correct term with the proper diagnosis is Major Depressive Disorder or MDD with seasonal pattern. This classifies SAD as a serious depressive condition. 

Seasonal affective disorder also happens more often in women than in men, is more common in people who live farther north with shorter daylight hours in the winter, and tends to appear in those with existing major depressive conditions or other such illnesses such as attention-deficit and eating disorders.

Causes and Symptoms of SAD

The specific cause of seasonal affective disorder has yet to be pinpointed. However, research shows that people suffering from SAD have less serotonin activity. Serotonin is a key hormone in the brain that regulates our mood and helps us become emotionally stable, happier, and calmer. It also affects how we sleep, eat, and digest.

A woman who seems to be in a sullen mood while in deep thought

SAD patients were also found to have overabundant levels of melatonin. Melatonin is the chemical our brains produce to usher in “darkness” and help us sleep at night. Further studies reveal that when daylight availability is shortened, our brain adjusts by increasing melatonin production, disrupting sleep patterns and mood. The resulting oversleeping can lead to melancholy, and worse, to depression.

Another possible cause for seasonal affective disorder is the upsetting of our biological clocks. When there’s less sunlight and our internal clocks detect changes in day length, this can throw it off, causing mood swings and extreme sadness. 

Symptoms may include appetite changes, lack of focus, low energy, lack of interest in things you used to enjoy doing, oversleeping, feelings of worthlessness, and even frequent thoughts about death or suicide. Because SAD is a severe mental condition, its diagnosis should not be taken lightly. See your health service provider if you suspect that you or a loved one are suffering from seasonal affective disorder.

A woman in tears while on her back with a notebook on her chest

Vitamin D and Depression

Our bodies primarily absorb vitamin D through sun exposure. During the winter, the lack of sunlight can lead to vitamin D deficiency.  So how is this connected to depression? 

We’re all familiar with vitamin D as the essential nutrient that helps build strong bones, one of the beauty vitamins that boost skin, hair, and nail health. But did you know that vitamin D also plays a vital role in treating depression? 

Among the lesser-known but equally important functions of vitamin D is regulating serotonin levels. Too little serotonin can lead to depression, whereas too much can cause hyperactivity of the nerve cells, producing anxiety and agitation. The latter may explain how some individuals can still be diagnosed with SAD even during less overcast seasons.

Vitamin D regulates the nervous system by impacting the production and release of specific proteins that signal particular cells to survive. It also influences chemicals that transmit messages from the nervous system to the rest of the body and prevents oxidative damage (the imbalance between unstable molecules and the antioxidants in your system). 

Studies show that vitamin D deficiency can lead to various sleep disorders, from insomnia to poor sleep quality and oversleeping. A possible reason for this is that the potent vitamin is directly involved in the production of melatonin, which regulates our circadian rhythm and sleep. Once these go off sync, they can cause emotional imbalance and trigger depression.

Salmon sashimi platter with wasabi

Dosing Up on Vitamin D

Since our primary source of vitamin D is what our skin produces when sunlight strikes it, you may think that lack of vitamin D is rare. However, vitamin D deficiency is prevalent in at least a billion people worldwide. Whether you live in an area with limited sunlight or you stay indoors most of the time, you’ll need to secure additional vitamin D from alternative sources. Of course, it’s still a must to see a mental health professional to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment of your condition. But getting sufficient amounts of vitamin D can definitely go a long way in lifting up your spirits and improving the way you feel—regardless of the season.

Dining on Vitamin D

Boost your body’s supply of vitamin D and eat your way to improved emotional stability. Indulge in vitamin-D rich foods such as tuna, mackerel, salmon, and other fatty fish, beef liver, cheese, and egg yolk. Many edibles are also fortified with vitamin D to further amp your supply, such as orange juice, dairy and plant milk, fat spreads, and cereals produced by certain brands. Assuming you have minimal sun exposure, the average daily recommended dietary allowance should be 600 IU if you’re 19 years of age or older and 800 IU if you’re above 70 years old. Your nutritionist can assist you in crafting an eating plan that will meet your vitamin D requirements.

Vitamin D Supplements

Although eating your vitamin D is a hearty idea, there isn’t a lot of food that contains or is enriched with vitamin D. Here is where taking supplements can be a critical factor. To ensure that you get proper amounts of the sunshine vitamin, see to it that you take 10 micrograms a day, which is the recommended dose for most people.

Note that because vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, it is possible to overdose on it. See your physician to have your level checked so you can get the best vitamin D supplement plan for you.

A woman with eyes closed and relaxing in an infrared sauna blanket

Let There Be Light (Therapy)! 

If there’s one exciting treatment for addressing vitamin D deficiency, it’s the use of light. Light therapy is sought-after, even by sports medicine groups, which promote the use of infrared saunas to boost vitamin D levels naturally. Evidence points to the benefits of infrared and near-infrared light that are present in sunlight and therefore strengthen the link between sunlight exposure (with its powers to stimulate vitamin-D production) and better health. According to the American Psychiatric Association, most people can already feel the mood-boosting effects of light therapy within one or two weeks from the start of treatment.

Unlike our climate, which we can’t control, the good news is that light therapy is within easy reach. Cutting-edge infrared technology is available through many office and home devices, some of which you can bring home with you, such as HigherDOSE’s Infrared Sauna and Infrared Sauna Blanket.

A woman relaxing in an infrared sauna

HigherDOSE features an extensive product line of top-notch infrared products. Its Full Spectrum Infrared Sauna is powered with LED chromotherapy lights that can effectively increase your vitamin D DOSE. Need something more portable? You can go for HigherDOSE’s Infrared Sauna Blanket, which can stoke a healthy DOSE of your brain’s happy hormones, so you can boost your mood anywhere and anytime you choose. Check the rest of the collection at the HigherDOSE shop today!

shop the article