Healthspan November 01, 2017

Winter is fast approaching and with it come shorter, darker, colder days. Whilst there’s parts of these colder months that are easy to love – woolly hats and gloves, evenings by the fire and dare we say it – mulled wine, this is often the time that people begin to feel somewhat down in the dumps either in a perfectly understandable way or because of a specific seasonal affective disorder – SAD. 

SAD is more than just longing for some sunshine, and has effects similar to depression. As the nights draw in, sufferers take no pleasure in everyday activities, feel irritable and lethargic, sleep more, and find it harder to get up, as well as craving sugary carbohydrates and piling on weight. Unlike standard depression though, it usually lifts in the spring and summer.

Where does vitamin D come in?

Some studies have found that low levels of vitamin D - also known as ‘the sunshine vitamin’ - are associated with depression, and may be a trigger for SAD, although more research is needed to establish any causal link.

Vitamin D is made by the body on exposure to sunlight, meaning those who live far from the equator where the UV index falls below 3 (the minimum required for vitamin D synthesis) in the winter months, don’t get enough to maintain levels.

At the same time, vitamin D supplementation has been shown to help you deal with your stress levels— through indirectly helping to manage depression, and being associated with decreased levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Around half of the UK’s adult population do not have sufficient amounts of vitamin D, with 16% of people being severely deficient in winter and springtime.

Other ways to keep your mood in check over winter:

1. Exercise

Exercise can have an instant uplifting effect on your mood. It floods the brain with mood-enhancing endorphins and releases the stresses and strains of the day. Any type of exercise is useful, as long as it suits you and do enough of it. But do limit yourself to exercise that is personally enjoyable as this means you will be far more likely to develop a routine and stick to it.

2. A healthy diet

Eating a healthy and balanced diet is very important. Too much sugar, fat, caffeine and alcohol could leave you feeling lethargic and lower your mood. Some people don't feel like eating when they're depressed and are at risk of becoming underweight. Others find comfort in food and can put on excess weight.

For some people, alcohol can become a problem. You may drink more than usual as a way of coping with or hiding your emotions, or just to fill time. But alcohol won't help you solve your problems and could also make you feel more depressed.

3. Mindfulness

Phycologist Dr Meg Arroll says, ‘Using mindfulness to be ‘present in the moment’ has been found to have numerus health benefits. Mindfulness not only helps with low mood, anxiety and can allow people to deal more effectively with stressful situations, it can also benefit physical health problems and give us the mental space to develop a sense of acceptance’.

For more information on how vitamin D can help support your overall health and wellbeing, head to our advice centre.

References
Hyppönen, E. and Power, C., 2007. Hypovitaminosis D in British adults at age 45 y: nationwide cohort study of dietary and lifestyle predictors. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 85(3), pp.860-868.

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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