Vancouver is famous for our rainy weather. Once summer ends, it’s hello to umbrellas and rain gear. The days get shorter, the sky gets cloudier, and for some, our moods change to match the dreary season. If you are prone to getting the “winter blues” when the rainy season begins, you may be experiencing what’s known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.
What is seasonal affective disorder?
Also termed “S.A.D.”,Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression that typically occurs in the winter months when our exposure to sunlight is limited. Approximately 2-3% of Canadians will experience S.A.D. at some point and 15% more will experience a milder version of the condition.
There is a natural tendancy to slow down in winter compared to the high energy lifestyles we tend to carry on in the summer months. However, if you notice you are feeling particularly low or experiencing the following signs & symptoms it might be time to consider consulting a Naturopathic Doctor for an assessment.
Signs & Symptoms
- Feelings of hopelessness & sadness
- Thoughts of suicide
- Cravings for sweet or starchy foods
- Weight gain
- Fatigue/low energy
- Decreased physical activity
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased sensitivity to social rejection
- Avoidance of social situations
It is currently thought that a combination of physiologic, psychologic, genetic, and environmental factors play a role in S.A.D., one of them being Vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D – The Sunshine Vitamin
Vitamin D, which actually functions more like a hormone, acts on receptors in every tissue in the body including the brain and immune system. As it is a fat-soluble vitamin, we get it through diet from sources such as fatty fish (sardines, salmon, tuna), eggs, and liver; and are also able to synthesize it through our skin when we get sufficient exposure to the sun. As such, Vitamin D levels have been shown to fluctuate with exposure to sunlight. Levels decline from fall to winter, and are naturally lower the further north you live from the equator.
Vitamin D has many functions within the body. It is needed for calcium absorption (healthy bones), healthy immune function, and also has a role in the release of dopamine and serotonin-signalling molecules that, in the brain, are associated with drive, pleasure, and happiness.
So, how much Vitamin D do you need?
Health Canada recommends a daily intake of 600-800 IU’s of Vitamin D daily. However, according to their statistics, most Canadians are not achieving this. While we know sunlight does provide Vitamin D, here in Vancouver, our cloudy climate and northern location are presumably inadequate to make up for the insufficient dietary intake in the winter months. Vitamin D levels also decrease with age, skin pigmentation, liver and kidney disease, obesity, certain medications, genetic mutations, and other conditions.