Wintertime Depression

concerned-young-manWhen the winter solstice occurs and the sun is above the Tropic of Capricorn, do you turn from Prince or Princess Charming into an ogre? It’s the time of year when people report feeling more depressed—overwhelmed by the impending holidays, bothered by dried out bank accounts, disconcerted by situations at work. Folks get irritated by things that don’t raise a hackle the rest of the year. They get testy, feel low or inferior, and lose energy, concentration and drive. This relationship among body, mind, and environment is called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Blame it on the sun, or rather its scarcity, and the shortage of what the sun provides…vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin.

Are You Vitamin D Deficient?

Even in the sunniest places on the planet, people are deficient in vitamin D. You’d think that in Oman, at twenty-one degrees north of the equator, just within the tropical zone, the people’s vitamin D stores would be sufficient to prevent signs of deficit. In that part of the world it’s significant that women are covered, and for various reasons avoid sun exposure. This interrupts the complex relationship of sunlight, cholesterol and other factors that cause the body to manufacture vitamin D. (Alshishtawy. 2011) Likewise, in Bangkok, Thailand, whose latitude is even closer to the equator, vitamin D levels are surprisingly low. People living in Thailand’s municipal areas have lower circulating vitamin D than those in the rural areas. (Chailurkit. 2011) Might there be a connection between vitamin D levels and the seasonal blues?

It’s accepted that vitamin D deficiency is rampant, and that for a variety of reasons. People fear skin cancer, so they slather themselves with sun blocker or stay indoors or under cover. Some lack the physiological ability to manufacture vitamin D, perhaps with a cholesterol level insufficient to do the job. If brain development depends on ample vitamin D stores, then brain function seems to follow, especially in the realm of cognition and behavior as they relate to the presence or absence of pro-inflammatory molecules that are modulated by the vitamin. (McCann. 2008) Because seasonal affective disorder is often recurrent and predictable with the change of seasons, internal mechanisms related to circadian rhythms that are directed by vitamin D activity have been evaluated in aspects of SAD related to the major monoamine neurotransmitters, serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. More than one vulnerability factor is suspected, including the environment and genetic susceptibility. (Levitan. 2007)

Vitamin D Deficiency Research

Studies at the University of Texas uncovered an association of high vitamin D levels to low scores on standardized measures of depression. Persons with a history of depressive symptoms were found to have lower levels of vitamin D. (Hoang. 2011) Also in 2011, Dutch scientists found similar relationships between vitamin D deficiency and depression, observing that a poor diet and lack of sun exposure were common elements. (Koater. 2011) The geriatric population is even harder hit with SAD. Their failure or inability to maintain healthy eating habits, and their often self-imposed seclusion prevent them from attaining optimal vitamin D levels through what may be considered normal daily activity by other groups. (Stalpers-Konijnenburg. 2011)

Reports abound that recommend the testing of vitamin D levels for individuals affected by depressive symptoms of any kind, including SAD. The research finds this to be a cost-effective and simple way to effect a therapy that would improve long-term health outcomes and quality of life. (Penckofer. 2010) (Humble. 2010) Additional study has tentatively linked vitamin D deficiency to autism and schizophrenia, the incidence of both hypothetically linked to developmental (prenatal) vitamin D deficiency. (Humble, Gustafsson, et al. 2010)

How To Increase Your Vitamin D Intake

Vitamin D is usually obtained from the skin through the action of ultraviolet-B radiation on a kind of cholesterol, called 7-dehydrocholesterol, after which time it gets metabolized to 25-hydroxyvitamin D (the stuff measured in a blood test). It gets further metabolized to the hormonal form, 1,25-hydroxyvitamin D. Although genetics may play a part in vitamin D blood levels, adequate calcium intake, exercise, and less obesity can help to support them. (Mason. 2011)

Almost everyone decries going to bed in the dark and then waking in the dark. Exposure to bright light in the morning can get you revved up for the day. The problem is that, when you awake in the dark, the eye sends a message to the pineal gland that it’s time to go to sleep, and melatonin is made. That resets the sleep-wake cycle. But this is supposed to happen at night. Light therapy is accepted as an effective treatment for the winter time blues. (Virk. 2009) (Pail. 2011) You can buy lamps that radiate the full spectrum of sunlight. Even your incandescent reading lamp can help. (Szadoczky. 1991) After a couple of weeks of daily use, linked with vitamin D supplementation, you’ll feel better than new.

References

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Regional variation and determinants of vitamin D status in sunshine-abundant Thailand.
BMC Public Health. 2011 Nov 10;11(1):853.Hoang MT, Defina LF, Willis BL, Leonard DS, Weiner MF, Brown ES.
Association between low serum 25-hydroxyvitamin d and depression in a large sample of healthy adults: the cooper center longitudinal study.Mayo Clin Proc. 2011 Nov;86(11):1050-5.
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Depression is associated with decreased 25-hydroxyvitamin D and increased parathyroid hormone levels in older adults.
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Levitan RD.
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Mason RS, Sequeira VB, Gordon-Thomson C.
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McCann JC, Ames BN.
Is there convincing biological or behavioral evidence linking vitamin D deficiency to brain dysfunction?
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Pail G, Huf W, Pjrek E, Winkler D, Willeit M, Praschak-Rieder N, Kasper S.
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Penckofer S, Kouba J, Byrn M, Estwing Ferrans C.
Vitamin D and depression: where is all the sunshine?
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Privitera MR, Moynihan J, Tang W, Khan A.
Light therapy for seasonal affective disorder in a clinical office setting.
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Shipowick CD, Moore CB, Corbett C, Bindler R.
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Stalpers-Konijnenburg SC, Marijnissen RM, Gaasbeek AB, Oude Voshaar RC.
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Szádóczky E, Falus A, Németh A, Teszéri G, Moussong-Kovács E.
Effect of phototherapy on 3H-imipramine binding sites in patients with SAD, non-SAD and in healthy controls.
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Virk G, Reeves G, Rosenthal NE, Sher L, Postolache TT.
Short exposure to light treatment improves depression scores in patients with seasonal affective disorder: A brief report.
Int J Disabil Hum Dev. 2009 Jul;8(3):283-286.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

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