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Beating the Winter Blues

The gloomy days of winter don’t just yield to frigid temperatures. For some, it’s also the time of year where seasonal affective disorder or SAD ― or even just bouts of the winter blues ― can disrupt their daily lives, leaving them searching for a fix. 

The lack of sunlight and early darkness can greatly affect our mood and mental health, affecting some more than others, even interfering with their day to day life.

What is SAD?

Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as the "winter blues" is a type of depression that occurs with the change of seasons. It commonly starts around Fall when sunlight exposure starts to decline and can continue until late Spring.

SAD affects up to 2% of Canadians however milder forms can reach up to 15% of the population and the majority are women. In fact, studies show that SAD affects females 4 times as much as males.

The increased levels of depression have been associated with reduced natural light exposure and changes in brain chemistry. This is why light therapy is a common treatment of the condition.

Signs & symptoms

Differentiating between depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder is usually determined by the timing of symptoms. SAD usually affects individuals in the fall months and gets worse during the wintertime. It tends to ease up around spring and summer when there is increased exposure to natural sunlight.

Symptoms of SAD include:

  • depression
  • lack of appetite
  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • apathy
  • lack of focus 
  • sleep problems
  • oversleeping
  • weight gain
  • cravings for carbohydrates and sugars

One popular method for treating SAD is with supplementing vitamin D, which most people naturally get from their diet and especially sunlight (something the wintertime very clearly lacks). Vitamin D is essential for optimal brain function and mood balance and has been shown to support neural development and cognitive aging in humans.

Vitamin D can help manage the debilitating symptoms of the mental health condition, which include a lack of motivation, changes in sleep patterns, increased irritability and sadness.

A 2014 study published in the journal Medical Hypotheses suggested that low vitamin D intake could contribute to the development of SAD. The study authors said vitamin D can play a role in the production of serotonin and dopamine, the “happy chemicals” in the brain that are often low when someone has depression or in this case SAD.

Given that SAD is a complex illness, experts can’t solely pin its presence on a lack of vitamin. What experts do know about SAD is that it can be increased by a lack of light, which is why it’s more prevalent in parts where there isn’t as much sun during the winter.

Taking a Vitamin D supplement (also known as the sunshine vitamin) or getting enough from food is important in the winter time for combating some effects of SAD. Look for a Vitamin D3 supplement that contains fat in the formula for optimal absorption like our Liquid emulsified D3.