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Winter Blues Got You Down?

Americans every day have their routine down perfectly. When summer is here, we take our vacations, visit the beach or travel somewhere exotic. We make sure we slather on that sun block to protect us from harmful rays. At the end of the vacation, we go back into our routine of getting up early when the sun is no longer there to greet us. We work our eight hour shifts, often inside, and too often see the sun setting for the day when we leave, forcing us to drive home in the dark.

What are we missing in winter? Our healthy dose of vitamin D!

Sun and train

We get our vitamin D mostly from the sun in summer months.  Diet can provide some, however in very small quantities. Unfortunately, that sun block we use in the summer also blocked the sun from activating our vitamin D. Naturally, our body will stock up to get ready for the winter. For some of us, our stores are either used up too quickly, or we didn’t have enough to begin with, leading most of us with a vitamin D deficiency. A common side effect we see as a result from our vitamin D being less than 30ng/mL is an increased risk for Osteoporosis, a disease of decreased bone density.

Others may actually have an increased risk for seasonal affective disorder (SAD) which is a type of depression that occurs usually in winter. Common symptoms associated with SAD include, but are not limited to hopelessness, increased appetite and weight gain, increased sleep, social withdrawal and unhappiness or irritability (Board ADAM). If you are noticing these symptoms, you should seek medical attention. Your healthcare provider may prescribe Light Therapy. This is an option, but now would be the opportunity to ask to have your vitamin D tested!

More recently, studies found a correlation between low vitamin D levels and seasonal depression. The Journal of Internal Medicine published a study looking at the effects of vitamin D supplementation. The authors of the study including R. Jorde found that after 1 year of supplementing with vitamin D, when compared to the placebo group, had a significant improvement in their Beck Depression Inventory scores, meaning they showed fewer signs of depression.  Further more, they concluded that by supplementing with vitamin D one could avoid symptoms associated with SAD.

So, what can we do to avoid this? Other than taking a tropical vacation in our winter months, we can prepare our bodies by supplementing with an active form of vitamin D commonly labeled as Vitamin D3. Depending on your level, a safe dose would be 2000iu daily for children and adults. Others may need a mega dose and should discuss this with your doctor or a registered dietitian who have tested your level. It is also a good idea to retest your level in a month after taking a mega dose to ensure your level is not too high. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, meaning your body can store this in your fat cells. Yes, those fat cells are good for something! However, too high of levels may result in excessive calcification of bones, calcification of soft tissues like kidneys, heart, and lung, other signs of toxicity include kidney stones, headaches, weakness, and constipation. It is important to monitor your vitamin D when supplementing. Depending on the test, blood levels should not exceed 80ng/mL or 100ng/mL.

Other supplements you can try would be 5-HTP if you are not sleeping well or are waking up not feeling refreshed. A study done by Raymond Lam found that decreased levels of tryptophan, a essential amino acid and precursor to serotonin, resulted in increased depression scores.  Other than eating turkey everyday, 5HTP has the tryptophan we need when we do no see enough sunlight.  Generally the initial recommended dose for 5-HTP is 150mg to 400mg daily, (Jangid). Do not take 5-HTP if you are on MAOIs (Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors) or are already taking an antidepressant as it may overly enhance the effect of the drugs. Discuss with a doctor or registered dietitian who is comfortable enough to discuss the use of 5HTP.

*Please speak to your current healthcare provider before starting any supplements. These are potential guidelines for the general healthy population, but can vary depending on your own health.*


Board, A.D.A.M. Editorial. “Seasonal Affective Disorder.” Seasonal Affective Disorder. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 24 Feb. 2014. Web. 26 Nov. 2014.

Jangid, P. Malik P, Singh P, Sharma M, Gulia AK. Comparative study of efficacy of I-5-hydroxytryptophan and fluoxetine in patients presenting with first depressive episode. Asian J Psychiatr 2013;6:29-34.

Jorde, R., M. Sneve, Y. Figenschau, J. Svartberg, and K. Waterloo. “Effects of Vitamin D Supplementation on Symptoms of Depression in Overweight and Obese Subjects: Randomized Double Blind Trial.” Journal of Internal Medicine264.6 (2008): 599-609. Web. 21 Nov. 2014.

Lam RW, Zis AP, Grewal A, Delgado PL, Charney DS, Krystal JH. Effects of Rapid Tryptophan Depletion in Patients With Seasonal Affective Disorder in Remission After Light Therapy. Arch Gen Psychiatry.1996;53(1):41-44. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1996.01830010043007.

Mahan, L. Kathleen., and Sylvia Escott-Stump. Krause’s Food & Nutrition Therapy. St. Louis, MO: Saunders/Elsevier, 2008. 76-79. Print.

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