Vitamin D, your sunshine on a cloudy day

If the short winter days have left you long in the face, you are not alone. Up to 25 million Americans also experience a serious mood change during the winter months. This condition is a type of depression called seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD. SAD occurs most often in adolescents and women, but it is not limited to those groups. Symptoms are generally worse in January and February but begin to disappear in the spring as the daylight hours increase.

Although the cause of SAD is not completely understood, it is likely related to the body’s response to sunlight. One theory is that reduced sunlight during fall and winter leads to reduced production of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a chemical that produces a soothing, calming effect when released. The result of there not being enough serotonin is feelings of depression along with symptoms of fatigue, carbohydrate craving, and weight gain. Since increased exposure to light is the conventional treatment for SAD, getting outside during the brightest part of the day often helps alleviate symptoms.

Researchers are now discovering that Vitamin D, nicknamed the “Sunshine Vitamin”, may play an important role in mental health and depression. Studies show a link between low levels of vitamin D and symptoms of depression. However, it has yet to be determined whether low vitamin D levels cause depression, or if low levels develop because someone is depressed. Either way, a 2010 study published in Nutrition Journal reported that 42% of U.S. adults were deficient in Vitamin D, with the highest rates among African Americans and Hispanics. With a percentage this high, it may be beneficial to discuss getting tested for Vitamin D deficiency with your doctor and ask for his or her recommendation on a daily multivitamin or Vitamin D supplement.

During these darker winter months, you may try boosting your mood by consuming good food sources of Vitamin D: salmon, canned tuna, eggs, and fortified products such as low-fat milk, yogurt, soy milk, orange juice, and breakfast cereals. If you don’t mind the taste, 1 tablespoon of cod liver oil contains 340% of the Daily Value of Vitamin D; the highest amount of any food source! If that doesn’t sound appealing, try mixing up a “Gloomy Day Smoothie” with yogurt and fortified OJ for a treat. As a good source of vitamins C & D and ready in only 10 minutes, this glass of sunshine will have your cup feeling half full!

Photo credit: Catherine Bulinski

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