Monday, November 9, 2015

What Makes Me MAD About SAD

by Kate Collins

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is defined by the Mayo Clinic as: “A type of depression that's related to changes in seasons. SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year.

“If you're like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer.

“Treatment for SAD may include light therapy (phototherapy), psychotherapy and medications. “

ABC news reported this story last week, and I’ve been doing a lot of ruminating about it ever since.

My husband was affected by SAD. His solution was to take vacations in the sun, which I realize not everyone can do. And I know some people get seriously depressed to the point of contemplating suicide, which most definitely needs medical intervention.

But for the majority of us, who may just feel grumpy and sluggish and lack motivation, why would we take a drug when the reason we feel those symptoms is a lack of sunshine, i.e. vitamin D?  Would taking a drug give us the vitamin D our body is craving? Did the TV doctor mention that at all?  Of course not. Would talking to a therapist fill our bodies with Vitamin D?

What is the first thing most physicians reach for? Their prescription pad.

Actually, vitamin D is not a vitamin at all but a potent antimicrobial agent, producing 200 to 300 different antimicrobial peptides in your body that kill bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Suboptimal vitamin D levels not only cause symptoms like SAD, but will also significantly impair your immune response and make you far more susceptible to contracting colds, influenza, and other respiratory infections. *

The best source for vitamin D is direct sun exposure. Even though for many of us, this just isn't practical during the winter, so unless you have access to a safe indoor tanning device, your best option is a supplement. Vitamin D is not expensive, but it needs to be in high enough doses to give the body what it needs.

Based on the latest research, many experts recommend 35 IU's of vitamin D per pound of body weight. This recommendation also includes children, the elderly, and pregnant women. The only way to determine your optimal dose is to get your blood tested. Ideally, you'll want to maintain a vitamin D level of 50-70 ng/ml year-round.

For me, that means taking a supplement of 5,000 IU a day during the winter. No big deal. My go to source is the Life Extension organization, but there are many reputable vitamin sources, and I’d much rather take a natural product than a chemical drug with side affects. But that’s just me.  I only wish those TV reports would give people alternative ways of combating illnesses and conditions without always pushing pharmaceuticals. This particular report did make mention of the Light Box, which I was very glad to see.

If you’re one of the many moderately affected by SAD, what do you do to help yourself?



Marina Sofia said...

I've had SAD since I was a child (was wondering why I got so grumpy in winter). I now have a lamp for use at my desk, but by far the best strategy is to go out skiing or skating at lunchtime, to make the most of the sunshine and keep active. I know I'm lucky because I live near Geneva, Switzerland, so have easy access to winter sports. However, I dread to think what it will be like when I return to England and have uniformly grey days from November till April. And beyond.

Ramona DeFelice Long said...

My first experience with SAD was last winter, while away from home working in a studio that was long, narrow, and dark on cloudy days. Of my 19 days in residence, 10 were rainy, and it rained for 5 straight days the first week. On day 3, I had no energy or drive and wanted to sleep all day. On day 4, same thing, and I became concerned I might be depressed, which made no sense because I was thrilled to be there. I finally thought about SAD, and just the realization made a huge difference. I was able to move to a brighter location on dark days, and on sunny days, I was perfectly fine. I struggled off and on all winter when it got gloomy. I take Vitamin D but prefer to avoid pills. For me—and my bouts were incidental, not long term—a simple change of scene worked. However, the force of SAD was surprisingly powerful. If I had been unable to figure out what was happening, I’m sure I’d have been in a doctor’s office talking about antidepressants, which is frightening. That’s not what I need. So, thank you for this post and spreading good information about a real problem.

Kate Collins said...

Marina, I would recommend doing research on a vitamin D and K supplementation. is my best source for clear, well researched information.

Kate Collins said...

Thanks for sharing your experience, Ramona. I'm afraid a lot of people would do exactly what you said and not realize that sunshine is what is lacking. You can't talk that out with a therapist or take an antidepressant for vitamin D.

Lorraine Bartlett said...

I wonder if I could benefit from a light box. I have my desk lamp on all day--everyday--year round, but it points down at my hands--not the rest of me. I take 5000 units of vitamin D a day and it's not enough. I'm told I should now take 10000 two days a week. Not thrilled about that either. Skin cancer runs in my family, so I don't go out in the sun very much.

Kate Collins said...

Definitely get a light box. That will give you a source of D that is safe. Current vitamin D recommendations are higher than 5,000. So make sure you take Vitamin K2 with it, though, or you won't absorb it well.

Andrea Stoeckel said...

Be careful with any vitamin intake but especially the ones that are fat soluable as they can accumulate to cause avitaminosis...vitamin poisoning. All vitamin and OTC supplements should be cleared because of good or bad interactions ( example, low dose asprin therapy and ginko both thin blood and might cause excessive bloody noses). And I'm on doctor recommended 1000 IU vit D daily. Your light purchase should be full spectrum (UVA/UVB) light. An inexpensive sub is a plant grow light. Make sure you don't spend all your time with it. That can cause trouble too.

Kate Collins said...

Good to know about the light. But brand new recommendations on Vitamin D3 is 7,000 if you test low. Cancer patients should take double that. And you have to have Vitamin K2 to absorb it. Everyone should get the simple blood test for D levels because most people test deficient unless they live in the lower states and are outdoors at least 20 minutes every day.

Diane P said...

I had the blood test done & I'm at 29 even with a bright sunny summer. My doc has me on 10,000 units a day. I asked about over doing & she said i' d never get that high. I do feel better"

Kate Collins said...

That's encouraging, Diane. Some doctors have caught on. I think your level should be greater than 35. Is that what you were told?