Vitamin D To Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder
Dr. Brenda Trudell

Winter is upon us again, along with a busy holiday season. Many people find this time of year overwhelming and possibly lonely. Stress, family, and money issues can lead one to feel depressed. But sometimes it is more than that, and may actually be a vitamin deficiency causing these feelings.

While our area offers many healthy recreational options for the powdery stuff such as sledding, skiing, and skating, it lacks in some other important aspects that also affect our health. Shortened hours of daylight, being confined indoors, limited sources of fresh local food, and the possibility of slips and falls can all affect our health. This winter, it is important to take all the necessary precautions to avoid the winter blues.

One major health problem we need to be aware of as we approach the winter solstice is Seasonal Affective Disorder. Better known as SAD, this is a type of winter depression that affects an estimated one million people (two-thirds are women) every winter between September and April, in particular during December, January and February. It is caused by a biochemical imbalance in the hypothalamus due to the shortening of daylight hours and the lack of sunlight in winter. In our region, wintertime daylight totals about 9 hours on the shortest day of the year, compared to nearly 16 hours on the longest day of the year.  Add to that the fact that most of those 9 hours are probably spent indoors, either due to occupation or cold temperatures, and it’s obvious that most people probably get little to no exposure to natural sunlight.

Even for those fortunate enough to be outside on a regular basis, our coats, hats and scarves block most of our skin getting any direct exposure to sunlight.  Direct skin exposure is important for the natural production of vitamin D.  Once thought of as only important for bones and teeth, Vitamin D is actually one of the most important nutrients for our entire body.  It has been shown to help prevent colds and flu, osteoporosis, cancer, depression, infertility, heart disease and much more, including SAD.  People who live in the northern latitudes are at an increased risk for SAD because of the extreme lack of Vitamin D.

The best form of Vitamin D comes from sunlight without sunscreen. For at least 30 minutes a day (longer for dark skin), during the strongest time of the day, generally between 10 am-2 pm, just soak it in and expose as much skin as possible. Clearly, in the Wisconsin winters, this exposure just isn’t going to happen.

Vitamin D can also be acquired through certain foods, though many Americans do not get enough of the nutrient this way, as evidenced by the fact that up to 80% of us are deficient. These foods include Vitamin D fortified milk (but the amount in one cup is very minimal), cod liver oil, salmon, mackerel, sardines, liver and eggs.  Some of these foods are not very common or appealing, and if you are vegan or vegetarian, your options are even more limited.

How much Vitamin D do we need each day?  According to the dietary recommended intake (DRI’s), we need 200-600 International Units (IU) depending on age.  This estimate is way too low (especially for those who get little sun exposure), outdated and was first set in place as an absolute minimum to prevent diseases such as rickets.  More recent and comprehensive studies show that adults should receive 7000-10,000 IU, and can readily metabolize up to 40,000 IU a day without side effects.

It may be important to get your blood levels tested to see where you are starting from, and also note that this will change seasonally. An optimal value is 50-70 ng/ml, although a conventional doctor may say that 30-50 ng/ml is ok. A simple blood spot test can be purchased and done at home if you do not want to make a trip to the doctor’s office. If you do decide to supplement, go with a high quality form that is more natural and bio-identical, such as D3 instead of D2.  The D3 form is more readily available for your body.

Research has been conducted on exposure to UVB rays from tanning beds and increasing Vitamin D3 blood levels by Michael Holick of the University of Boston, and published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research. The results were promising and showed that this may be beneficial for people living in northern latitudes.  This doesn’t mean that everyone should go out and sign up for a huge package of 30 minute tanning sessions. But maybe that periodic exposure throughout the winter months, especially in those people who are affected by SAD or depression, would outweigh other possible negative effects.

Besides tanning, there are some other alternative ways to deal with the symptoms of SAD.  Take a quick getaway to sunny place. Replace regular bulbs with full-spectrum bulbs for light therapy.  Use an alarm clock or a special lamp with a built-in dawn and sunset simulator to mimic natural mornings and evenings. Eat a well-balanced diet full of whole foods.  Avoid caffeine, cigarettes, sleeping pills or anything that can disrupt normal body rhythms. Cut back on alcohol as it may increase depression symptoms. Get outside and get fresh air, preferably during daylight hours. Move your workspace close to a window. Drink lots of water.  Stay positive and find activities that make you happy.  Supplement daily with Vitamin D3. Try alternative healthcare treatments such as chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, reiki and herbs.  These will help keep your body balanced, your hormones regulated, help eliminate toxins, and overall make you feel better and pampered. Try not to be coaxed into pharmaceuticals by ads shown on TV this time of year.  Many of these drugs have serious side effects, can be addictive and do not treat the actual cause, which is a decrease in Vitamin D. The more natural path you choose, the less “SAD” you will be.

Dr. Brenda Trudell is a chiropractor and owner of New Beginnings Chiropractic in Mount Horeb and Sauk City.  The clinic focuses on natural health, especially for women, pregnancy and children through chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, reiki, nutrition and more. For more information, visit