How Does Light Therapy Work
To use light therapy or phototherapy, you purchase a special lamp. It has white fluorescent light tubes covered with a plastic screen to block ultraviolet rays. The light is about 20 times brighter than regular indoor light. The intensity of light emitted should be 10,000 lux.
To use phototherapy, dont look directly into the light. Your exposure to the light should be indirect. Place the lamp about two to three feet away while you read, eat, work or do other activities.
Is There A Link Between Sad And Vitamin D
Since increased exposure to light has been shown to be one of the most effective steps in treating people with SAD, and since a main source of vitamin D is sunlight, it makes sense to conclude that seasonal depression and vitamin D are connected. The actual testing of this hypothesis, however, has wielded mixed results.
For every study saying that vitamin D deficiency and seasonal affective disorder are linked, there is another study out there saying that there is no proven benefit to providing patients with SAD an additional dosage of vitamin D.
Research done so far reinforces how little we know about SAD in general. For example, we dont know how light therapy works to improve symptoms of SAD. Although light therapy has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to treat seasonal depression, we do not know if this is because of the increased production of vitamin D or some other reaction.
Vitamin D Deficiency And Seasonal Depression
Vitamin D is well known for its important role in the formation of healthy bones, immune function, and cell growth however, vitamin D is now gaining popularity for its potential aid in preventing seasonal affective disorder and other mood disorders. Seasonal affective disorder is described as major depressive episodes that follow a seasonal pattern and occurs typically in the seasons with shorter periods of sunlight and colder days. The most common season related to higher reported occurrences of seasonal affective disorder is winter. Vitamin D is thought to be a contributor to seasonal affective disorder because serum vitamin D levels tend to be lower when people have less exposure to sunlight and clinical studies have found that vitamin D levels are lower in depressed individuals. Vitamin D levels have been shown to affect the amount of serotonin and dopamine produced in the central nervous system. Lower levels of vitamin D means less production of those feel-good hormones.
Tips for avoiding vitamin D deficiency:
Dietary sources of vitamin D include:
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Researchers Link Vitamin D Deficiency To Seasonal Affective Disorder
Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to increased risk of asthma, cancer and chronic pain, among other conditions. Now, a new study led by researchers from the University of Georgia associates low vitamin D levels with greater risk of seasonal affective disorder.
The research team led by Alan Stewart of the College of Education at the University of Georgia publish their findings in the journal Medical Hypotheses.
Seasonal affective disorder a form of depression that usually begins in the fall, continuing throughout the winter months affects up to 10% of the US population. Symptoms include feeling sad or anxious, fatigue, concentration problems, irritability and feelings of guilt and hopelessness.
Although the exact cause of SAD is unclear, numerous studies have suggested the condition may be triggered by lack of sunlight. SAD is more common among people who live at high latitudes or areas with lots of cloud.
One hypothesis behind SAD is that reduced sunlight exposure interferes with the bodys biological clock that regulates mood, sleep and hormones. Another theory is that lack of sunlight causes an imbalance of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin which regulate mood.
In this latest study, Stewart and colleagues present the idea that vitamin D deficiency may be behind all of the aforementioned theories related to SAD.
What Are The Causes Of Seasonal Affective Disroder
No one knows exactly what causes SAD, but research has found that it rarely occurs in locations close to the equator and becomes more common the farther away from it you live. According to the American Psychiatric Association , SAD has been linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by shorter daylight hours and a lack of sunlight in winter. The sleep-related hormone melatonin may also be implicated since it is produced at night and because longer hours of darkness can lead to greater production of melatonin. A drop in levels of serotonin, a brain chemical that affects mood, may play a role reduced sunlight can cause serotonin levels to fall. The APA notes that the most difficult months for those affected with SAD are January and February. Some researchers have suggested that the lethargy characteristic of SAD may have an evolutionary basis: it may reflect a genetically programmed attempt to conserve energy during the winter months, which historically has been the time when food is scarce.
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How Is Seasonal Affective Disorder Treated
Your provider will talk to you about treatment options. You may need a combination of treatments, including:
- Light therapy: Bright light therapy, using a special lamp, can help treat SAD.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy :CBT is a type of talk therapy. Research has shown it effectively treats SAD, producing the longest-lasting effects of any treatment approach.
- Antidepressant medication: Sometimes, providers recommend medication for depression, either alone or with light therapy.
- Spending time outdoors: Getting more sunlight can help improve your symptoms. Try to get out during the day. Also, increase the amount of sunlight that enters your home or office.
- Vitamin D: A vitamin D supplement may help improve your symptoms.
Vitamin D For Depression With A Seasonal Pattern: An Effective Treatment Strategy
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Department of Pain Management Center, United States Army Institute of Surgical Research, USA
Correspondence: Sonali Sarkar, Interdisciplinary pain anagement center, Brooke army medical Center, United states army institute of surgical research, USA, Fax 78234
Received: May 25, 2017 | Published: August 9, 2017
Citation: Sarkar S. Vitamin D for depression with a seasonal pattern: an effective treatment strategy. Int Phys Med Rehab J. 2017 1:91-99. DOI: 10.15406/ipmrj.2017.01.00021
Treatment For Seasonal Depression
Overcoming SAD isnt easy. However, you can manage it with a combination of professional treatment and natural remedies for seasonal depression. Although you may not be able to change the circumstances that have caused your seasonal depression, you can learn to cope with the symptoms and take control over the negative thoughts.
Counseling is one of the most popular and effective forms of treatment for SAD. Different therapists take different approaches to mental health counseling. Most focus on addressing the negative thoughts that may be impacting your mood, motivation, and overall well-being. You and your therapist can also explore the possible causes of your depression in winter and discuss coping skills that may help you get through difficult days.
Certain lifestyle changes may be helpful natural remedies for seasonal depression, too. Keep in mind, though, that low energy is one of the most common symptoms of SAD. Try not to feel upset with yourself if you cant find the motivation to dramatically change your lifestyle to combat your depression. However, activities like meditation, exercise, and art can all be great ways to lift your mood and increase your energy levels.
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Gloth FM, Alam W, Hollis B. Vitamin D vs broad spectrum phototherapy in the treatment of seasonal affective disorder. J Nutr Health Aging. 1999 3:5-7.
Melrose, Sherri. Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches. Depression research and treatment vol. 2015 : 178564. doi:10.1155/2015/178564
McMahon B., Andersen S., Madsen M., et al. P.1.i.037 Patients with seasonal affective disorder show seasonal fluctuations in their cerebral serotonin transporter binding. European Neuropsychopharmacology. 2014 24:p. S319. doi: 10.1016/s0924-977×70506-1.
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Can Taking Vitamin D Help With Seasonal Depression Here’s What Experts Had To Say
For some people, getting into the festive winter spirit can be comforting and exciting. But for many people who struggle with seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder , winter’s colder temperatures and shorter, darker days can feel dreadful. The lack of sunlight this time of year can also cause low levels of vitamin D, which may contribute to mood changes like depression. You might wonder, then, if taking a vitamin D supplement or eating more vitamin D-rich foods can help ease symptoms of SAD. POPSUGAR spoke with experts to find out.
Does Supplementary Vitamin D Improve Seasonal Affective Disorder
A number of studies have sought to better understand the treatment of SAD. One study, for example, compared the impact of vitamin D supplementation with that of light therapy. They found that while vitamin D levels improved in both groups, the group taking vitamin D supplements experienced far greater improvements. The experts concluded that vitamin D may be an important treatment for SAD.
Further evidence of this effect comes from a relatively small-scale analysis where SAD sufferers were provided either with vitamin D or a placebo tablet. Notably, this regime was commenced in late winter, when vitamin D levels tend to be at their absolute lowest. The results showed that vitamin D3 significantly improved depressive symptoms in volunteers.
Elsewhere, 441 Norweigians took either 20,000ius of vitamin D or a placebo, while undergoing regular assessments for SAD over the course of a year. The findings showed that supplementation with high doses of vitamin D seems to ameliorate symptoms indicating a possible causal relationship.
Lastly, while most research has involved oral vitamin D supplementation, one analysis from Iran used vitamin D injections as the mode of delivery. 120 patients suffering from both depression and low vitamin D status were provided with an enormous 300,000iu dose of vitamin D. The scientists found that the correction of vitamin D deficiency improved the depression state.
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What Is The Conventional Treatment
Exposure to bright light daily via a special light source, also know as light therapy, is the treatment method most often recommended for patients whose SAD symptoms are severe enough to affect their daily lives. Typically, SAD patients must sit in front of the light for about a half an hour per day. Light therapy is reputed to work in 80 percent of all cases of SAD. The light affects brain chemicals that play a role in regulating mood. This treatment can relieve symptoms within a few days, but sometimes takes as long as two weeks or more.
Light therapy may be recommended by psychiatrists and other physicians or health care professionals who treat patients with SAD or other forms of depression. While light boxes can be purchased without a prescription, a physician or other mental health professional can provide guidelines as to how to use a light therapy box for maximum effectiveness and may recommend a particular light box . For milder cases of SAD, the APA recommends a long daily walk outdoors or arranging your home or office so that youre exposed to outdoor light from a window during the day.
If SAD symptoms are severe, some physicians also prescribe antidepressants including paroxetine , sertraline , fluoxetine and venlafaxine or an extended-release version of the antidepressant bupropion . Physicians may recommend starting to take the prescribed drug before SAD symptoms set in and continuing beyond the time SAD symptoms normally disappear.
When To See A Gp
You should consider seeing the GP if you think you might have SAD and you’re struggling to cope.
The GP can carry out an assessment to check your mental health. They may ask you about your mood, lifestyle, eating habits and sleeping patterns, plus any seasonal changes in your thoughts and behaviour.
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How Is Seasonal Affective Disorder Diagnosed
If you have symptoms of seasonal affective disorder , dont try to diagnose yourself. See your healthcare provider for a thorough evaluation. You may have another reason for your depression. Many times, seasonal affective disorder is part of a more complex mental health issue.
Your provider may refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist. These mental health professionals will ask you about your symptoms. Theyll consider your pattern of symptoms and decide if you have seasonal depression or another mood disorder. You may need to fill out a questionnaire to determine if you have SAD.
Other Causes And Risk Factors
Vitamin D isnt the only factor involved in seasonal depression. Another possible cause is a decrease in serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters responsible for elevating your mood. Research shows that many people with SAD have higher levels of a protein that removes serotonin from the brain. Your serotonin levels may drop in the winter due to the lack of sunlight, and they may increase as the days get longer.
Melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate your sleep cycle, could play a role as well. Your body produces more melatonin in the dark, so your melatonin levels could increase in the winter. The hormone can also affect your mood, so people with SAD may feel lethargic, hopeless, or unmotivated in the winter because their melatonin levels have increased.
In addition to problems with hormones or brain chemistry, winter is simply a difficult time for many people. If you have a lot of outdoor hobbies, you may feel bored or isolated during the cold and snowy weather. The short daylight hours can make it feel like the days pass too quickly, and the lack of greenery can affect your mood.
There could be a genetic component to SAD as well. If you have a blood relative who struggles with seasonal depression or another mood disorder, you might be more likely to experience the condition.
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Treatment Using Vitamin D
Vitamin D supplements
Research suggests vitamin D supplements may help to relieve symptoms of SAD. Furthermore, vitamin D intake during other seasons could help prevent the onset of depression symptoms during winter since vitamin D is stored in the body.
You can purchase vitamins over the counter or take vitamin D supplements prescribed by a clinician.
These supplements are in the form of a fat-soluble vitamin D. This means that the supplements should be taken with a large meal so that the body can more efficiently absorb the vitamin D.
You should consult your doctor about the correct dosage to reduce depression symptoms and have them carefully monitor you during treatment.
Getting vitamin D from your diet
You can increase your vitamin D intake by eating more foods rich in this vitamin. Examples of foods high in vitamin D include:
Fish liver oils, e.g., Cod liver oil
Edible wild mushrooms
Fortified breakfast cereals
Getting vitamin D from food sources means you can overcome a lack of sunlight during specific times of the year. This also applies to people living in countries where sunlight is less available and daylight hours are very short in the winter.
It is important to note that concentrations of vitamin D in foods can vary significantly and often depend on the type, whether it was farmed or wild, and the location where it was sourced.
In addition, absorption of vitamin D differs between people.
Can I Prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder
You may not be able to prevent the first episode of SAD. But once your provider has diagnosed you with seasonal depression, you can take steps to better manage it or even prevent it from coming back.
- Use your lightbox: Start using light therapy at the beginning of fall, before you feel SAD symptoms.
- Get out: Spend time outside every day, even if its cloudy. Daylight can help you feel better.
- Eat a well-balanced diet: Even though your body may crave starchy and sweet foods, stick to nutritious choices. A healthy diet with enough vitamins and minerals can give you the proper nutrition and energy you need.
- Exercise: Try to get 30 minutes of exercise at least three times a week. Exercise relieves stress and anxiety, which can play a role in your SAD symptoms.
- See friends: Stay involved with your social circle and regular activities. They can provide support during the winter months.
- Find help: Consider seeing a mental health professional whos trained in CBT. This treatment can be very effective for seasonal affective disorder.
- Consider medications: Talk to your healthcare provider about taking an antidepressant. Medications can help if your symptoms are severe or if they continue after other treatments. In some cases, taking the medication before SAD begins can prevent episodes.
Talk to your healthcare provider to find out if starting treatment early, as a preventive measure, is right for you.
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