Seasonal affective disorder and vitamin D deficiency can be hazardous to your health. The good news is, they are both easily treatable if identified and dealt with properly.
Feeling a bit glum may seem like an ordinary reaction to the fading glow of the holidays. But when that feeling of sadness persists for more than a week or two, it might not be just the lack of festive lights and carols getting you down.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known by the acronym, SAD, is a form of depression that cycles with the seasons. It can occur during any time of the year, but it typically hits most people in the winter.
As the weather gradually gets colder and the days shorter, people affected by the winter-induced form of SAD will generally begin to feel the symptoms of depression, including; a loss of energy, an increased appetite and an enhanced feeling of lethargy and tiredness.
According to the National Institutes of Health, SAD is more likely to strike women and people who live in northern areas where the sun is not as strong or constant.
The main difference between SAD and general depression is that SAD only strikes during certain times of the year. The hormonal changes that lead to depressive symptoms in people with SAD are usually caused by a decline in the amount of daylight during the winter and fall.
These effects can be compounded if a person primarily stays indoors and doesn’t have the opportunity to venture out into the sun often.
Adding light: Like other forms of depression, SAD can be treated with antidepressant medications, which are most effective if started prior to the onset of symptoms each year.
Another form of treatment designed to alleviate the symptoms of SAD is light therapy.
Light therapy utilizes a piece of equipment called a “light box” — essentially a fluorescent lamp that gives off light similar to natural sunlight. Most light boxes come with a filter that blocks UV rays so the light does not damage eyes or skin.
Research has shown that, when used properly, a light box can help decrease the amount of melatonin (a hormone that causes drowsiness and lethargy) circulating in a person’s body, and regulate the neurotransmitters serotonin and epinephrine. Having an imbalance of these chemicals can heighten the symptoms of depression.
If you are diagnosed with SAD, your doctor may instruct you to sit in front of the light box for 30 to 45 minutes a day, usually in the morning, in order to make up for the lack of sunlight most people experience during the winter.
Though it is not always the go-to treatment for SAD, some studies have shown that light therapy has the potential to be as effective as antidepressant medication when it comes to treating the disorder.
Of course, a more natural alternative to light therapy is daily exposure to sunlight. If time and weather conditions permit, spend some time outside during daylight hours.
More Vitamin D, please: Vitamin D is a vital nutrient that has been linked to bone health, cancer prevention, incontinence prevention, and diabetes prevention. You can obtain vitamin D by eating certain foods (salmon, beef, egg yolks, fortified cereals and juices), brief sun exposure, and by taking dietary supplements.
While frigid weather is likely to have little effect on availability of the right foods and supplements, the sun is out for shorter periods of time in the winter.
Lacking vitamin D is bad for a person’s health at any age, but can be particularly dangerous for the elderly. Older people who don’t get enough vitamin D have an increased risk for developing osteoporosis — a dangerous decrease in bone density that can contribute to broken bones. The National Institutes for Health has identified elderly people as an at-risk group for vitamin D deficiency.
Older people are often unable to be exposed to enough sunlight to be beneficial. And certain medications taken by older people, such as the anti-inflammatory, prednisone, can inhibit their natural ability to produce and metabolize vitamin D.
Solution: Eat foods fortified with vitamin D. Certain varieties of milk, yogurt and juice all contain extra doses of the vitamin.