Are you suffering from depression and fatigue during winter time? Winter depression can have many causes, but vitamin D deficiency may be the culprit. Human beings are dependent on the Sun in many ways; we cannot survive without its light and warmth. The Sun’s movement regulates our circadian rhythm which impacts various hormones in the body including serotonin (happiness), melatonin (sleepiness), and vitamin D.
When we don’t get enough sunshine, especially in the winter, we can develop winter depression, also called SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), which effects at least 1 in 5 Americans, more women than men. According to research, SAD can be improved with vitamin D supplementation.
Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, is unique, because the human body can manufacture it when we expose our skin to the sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. All other vitamins we can take in from our food, but the food sources of vitamin D are rare and not enough to supply most people with adequate levels.
So how do you know if you are deficient? You can ask your doctor for a vitamin D test. You can also purchase the Vitamin D council’s in-home test kit for $50 and receive your results in a couple of weeks. You can redo the test as often as you would like. Their website also tells you what ideal levels you need to aim for. If you find out you are deficient, there are several ways to improve your levels.
Sun exposure by far is the best way to replenish you vitamin D because it is the most natural and efficient way. This means exposing your bare skin, without wearing sunscreen, every day. The Vitamin D Council recommends that you “get half the sun exposure it takes for your skin to turn pink to get your vitamin D and expose as much skin as possible.”
There are 5 main factors that affect your ability to produce vitamin D:
– The color of your skin: the lighter you are the more vitamin D you can create.
– The amount of skin you expose: the more the better.
– The time of day: you can produce more vitamin D in the middle of the day.
– Where you live: the closer you live to the equator, the more vitamin D you can make.
– Your age: the older you are the less vitamin D you can produce.
In the summer, as little as six minutes a day may be enough if you have pale skin and live close to the equator. If you have darker skin and live closer to the poles, you may need as much as an hour a day of sun exposure.
In the summer, most of us can probably do this with more or less effort. In the winter, however, there is not enough sunlight and it is too cold for us to walk around in our bathing suits. Exposing our hands and faces to direct sunlight will still hep us manufacture some vitamin D, but not enough. So unless you can move closer to the equator or head to the other hemisphere, you may need to resort to other options.
You can also use a tanning bed, but you have to be careful not to get burned. The vitamin D council recommends using only low-pressure tanning beds with good amount of UVB light, rather than high intensity UVA light. In addition, it’s better to use a tanning bed with an electronic ballast, as opposed to one with a magnetic ballast, which may create harmful EMF fields.
Vitamin D Supplements
The most convenient option is taking an oral vitamin D supplement, at least in the winter. You want to make sure you are getting D3, not D2. Also, vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, so you need to take it with good quality fat in order to increase absorption.
How much of the actual vitamin D you absorb will greatly depend on the condition of your digestive and immune systems as well as the condition of the liver and kidneys, where vitamin D is metabolized. Some people may not be able to absorb oral supplements or they develop side effects.
Vitamin D Cream
For those who cannot metabolize vitamin D through their digestive system, there is vitamin D cream, which absorbs through the skin. Transdermal application of vitamin D is a fairly recent and exciting area of research but it makes a lot of sense. Since we create vitamin D naturally by exposing our skin to the sun, it may be just as or more effective to use vitamin D creams than taking oral supplements.
Vitamin D’s Other Benefits
Vitamin D is not only helpful in preventing SAD, but it also supports other vital functions in the body, most importantly the absorption of calcium to promote bone growth. In addition, vitamin D can help protect against certain types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases and infections.
If you cannot get enough sunshine, or you find yourself getting the winter blues, get your vitamin D levels tested. There is no need to get depressed when the Sun is not out. Regardless of where you live, you will be able to increase you levels through one of the ways mentioned above.