Friday, January 4, 2013

Are You Struggling With the Winter Blues?

Footpath in snowy ForestA few days ago I noticed myself feeling down.  Not just down but actually feeling really depressed.  For those who know me that's a far cry from my normal upbeat self.

I recognized that this frame of mind wasn't normal for me, and took a mental step back to see what was going on.  I realized that I had hardly been going outside, as I've been recovering from a nasty virus, and it's been extra cold out (I live in Minnesota :).  On top of that I hadn't been regularly taking my vitamin D supplement, that being cod liver oil, recently.

So my guess was that I was depressed due to a lack of vitamin D in my system.  To test my theory I immediately took my cod liver oil, which can go into the blood stream faster than a supplement or sunshine.

  A few hours later I was seriously feeling better.  If you are wondering if I just talked myself out of it, I had already tried that, and failed at it.

Thankfully I realized the problem and was able to resolve it quickly.  However, I know for many other people this is a continuous battle.

I was talking with a friend of mine on the phone recently, and she was talking about how in summer she's always feeling great, but come every winter time she gets very depressed.

Snow Canyon 1During the summer and warmer months we tend to be outside more.  When the sunlight hits our skin it causes a reaction in our bodies that actually creates vitamin D.  Isn't that cool?

So you can see how in winter, when we are getting a lot less sunlight, we have a greater shortage of vitamin D in our systems.  So where are healthy places to get vitamin D in winter?

We have a few choices...

The Sun

Whenever possible get at least a few minutes of sun exposure directly on the skin, but not to the point of sun burn which can happen even in winter.  Even if it's just on the face, direct sun light will produce vitamin D.  The sun is our most natural source, so enjoy the warmth!

UVA rays from the sun can increase your risk of skin cancer.  However, UVB rays convert a cholesterol derivative into vitamin D3, which is an oil soluble steroid hormone.  It takes up to 48 hours for it to be absorbed into your blood stream, so Dr. Mercola recommends not washing the sunlight exposed skin with soap right after sun exposure.

To get the most amount of UVB rays Dr. Mercola also recommends being in the sunlight when the sun is at least 50% above the horizon.  The UVA has a longer wavelength than the UVB and can therefore penetrate the ozone layer more easily.
It's important to remember that vitamin D3 is formed from exposure to UVB rays, whereas UVA radiation actually destroys vitamin D. This helps keep your body in balance; it's one of the protective mechanisms your body has to avoid overdosing on vitamin D when you're outside. However, when you're exposed to sunlight through windows -- in your office, your home or your car -- you get the UVA but virtually none of the beneficial UVB. (source)
Tanning Beds


This one took me by surprise, but there are some tanning beds out there that mimic sunlight and can help you relax away the blues.  Dr. Mercola recommends tanning beds with low pressure UV lamps with a reasonable percentage of UVB.  Ask the tanning salon for further information.

Cod Liver Oil

The most natural supplement, besides sunlight, is cod liver oil.  A high quality one is most recommended because the more processed ones are likely to be lacking in minerals which help with absorption.  Many find the Green Pasture brand to be the best quality.

Vitamin D3  

Our bodies change UVB rays into vitamin D3.  When looking for a supplement make sure to look for the "3" after the D, it is the most like natural sunlight.

Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorous from the small intestine. It is essential for the growth and maintenance of bones and teeth and can boost your immune system. People who get sufficient vitamin D are less likely to get colon cancer and research suggests it may help treat irritable bowel diseases.  (source)
The main source of vitamin D in food is in milk and dairy products. Manufacturers fortify milk, yogurt, cream, butter and cheese with vitamin D; breakfast cereals are also often fortified with vitamin D. Another way to get it through food is by eating seafood, such as salmon, tuna and sardines and oysters, with the nutrient. Additional sources of dietary vitamin D include liver, egg yolk and (fortified) orange juice. (source)

A lack of good sleep, too much sugar, and a lack of exercise can also contribute to depression.  Take note of where you are at with each of these and see what you might need. 

It is not my intention to minimize the very serious issue of depression, but rather to bring attention to the fact that vitamin deficiencies play out in our bodies, as well as in our emotions.

Not all depression can be helped with vitamin D, although it's a great starting point.  The herbal supplement St John's Wort works really well for depression and anxiety, but can't be taken with other medications, as it reduces their effectiveness.

Disclaimer:  None of this is meant to be taken as medical advice.  It is not meant to treat, cure or diagnose.  If you are suffering with depression please talk to someone who can help you, or if need be seek medical help.


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