Vitamin D3: Your Secret Weapon Against Seasonal Affective Disorder
Good news, everyone! We’ve officially passed the winter solstice, and the hours of daylight are now increasing. Day by day, minute by minute, we’re getting a little bit more sun. Although, it currently being December, it certainly doesn’t feel like it. We’ve still got a long way to go until spring.
If you’re one of the many people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder during the winter, there may be a vitamin that can help counter its more brutal effects: Vitamin D3.
Vitamin D3, also known as cholecaliciferol, is formed in the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight. The UVA and UVB rays are then synthesized into something useable by the body. Think of it as something akin to a human version of how a plant photosynthesises sunlight. Instead of directly helping with energy production, though, Vitamin D3 works to regulate various chemicals in the body to provide a variety of benefits. (Fun fact: despite the name, given that Vitamin D3 is produced inside the body in this way, it’s technically considered a hormone, rather than a vitamin).
The main chemical inside the body that Vitamin D3 helps regulate is calcium. Calcium, as you most probably know, is vital for the development and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth. Maintaining healthy levels is vital for protecting against diseases associated with bone weakness, such as osteoporosis. Stock up on this one while you’re young, and save yourself a ton of trouble later in life.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a condition with many symptoms in common with depression, which is experienced most commonly during the winter, when sunlight is in short supply. It can result in low energy levels, low moods, changes in appetite, such as wanting to eat more than usual, and sleep problems, such as sleeping for too long or having difficulty waking up. Kind of like your body wanting to go into hibernation for the winter.
One of the major theories around Seasonal Affective Disorder is that it’s a result of the lack of sunlight present during winter and the ways in which this affects the brain. This works in a few interesting ways:
- Disrupting circadian rhythms: Your body clock works determines what time of day it is based on a number of factors, but the most important is light levels. With shorter days, your body clock is thrown out of whack, and you may find your natural sleep cycle adjusts to match the longer hours of darkness.
- Decreasing serotonin levels: Serotonin is the hormone in the body that affects both your moods and your appetite, with decreased levels resulting in lower moods, and also in more food cravings. Depression is often a symptom of the body’s inability to process serotonin correctly, and the most common type of antidepressant medications, known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, help with increasing the amount of serotonin available in the body.
- Increasing melatonin levels: melatonin is responsible for controlling your body’s sleepiness. When levels in the body are higher, you’ll have an easier time falling asleep, and vice versa.
Are you noticing a pattern here? In brief, less sun = less energy.
So, back to Vitamin D3. When there’s not enough daylight for your body to produce its own Vitamin D3 supply, it’s time to give your body a helping hand and look to other sources. Vitamin D3 can be found in fish such as salmon and mackerel, and in other animal products such as egg yolks and liver. Certain foods such as milk and cereals can be fortified with Vitamin D3, too, and dietary supplements are also readily available.
By ensuring your body is getting the right amount of Vitamin D3, especially during the times of year when natural sunlight is less available, you’re essentially reaping the benefits of sunlight exposure when it wouldn’t otherwise be possible. Of course, it can’t compare to the real thing, but at this time of year when the days are short and sunlight precious… fake it ‘til you make it!