The beginning of November brings shorter days, less daylight and a lot of seasonal depression. In fact, reports show that about 10 million Americans are affected by Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)—a type of depression that comes as a result of the changing seasons (especially in the winter with lack of sunlight). Furthermore, about 10-20% of Americans have a mild case of SAD each year.
Sunlight helps the body produce something called cholecalciferol, which the body eventually turns into Vitamin D. When exposure to sunlight is limited, levels of Vitamin D are naturally lowered, eventually resulting in deficiency. This deficiency can lead to depression, inflammatory disease, respiratory infection, chronic musculoskeletal pain and certain autoimmune diseases.
Having the right amount of Vitamin D in the body will naturally boost serotonin, a brain chemical responsible for intestinal movements, mood, hunger and sleep. When our bodies become low in serotonin levels, our mood drops and our bodies often experience certain food cravings (think carbs and fried foods). Vitamin D also helps support the immune system, bones and may help prevent certain cancers.
One way to combat the winter blues is to ensure you are getting at least fifteen minutes of sunlight per day (without sunscreen so the body can absorb the light and produce Vitamin D). Achieve this by taking short breaks outside each day—take a coffee break outside, or spend your lunch outdoors (if the weather is warm enough). Taking supplements will do the trick, too. The suggested minimum daily dose of Vitamin D is 800 IU, though some doctors will recommend at least 1000 IU of D3 daily.
Ultimately, Vitamin D levels vary from person to person depending on age, weight, skin color and season. It’s best to consult a medical professional to see what your recommended Vitamin D intake is, but as a general rule, the older, heavier or dark-skinned you are, the more Vitamin D you need.