In the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, there’s a lack of bright light in winter. This can cause a condition known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are similar to those of many types of depression.
SAD can bring feelings of misery, hopelessness, and despair. Fatigue and lethargy can make every activity an effort. Even taking care of families and homes may require too much effort to bother with.
SAD can also show physical symptoms such as joint pain or digestive problems, as well as a craving for carbohydrates, overeating, and weight gain. The overeating and weight gain can lead to even more of a poor self-image than before. It becomes a vicious cycle. First, sufferers feel bad and having a lack of energy. Then, they try to eat more to gain energy. Finally, they end up feeling badly because of the weight gain.
Dealing with SAD
For the person suffering from SAD, even large amounts of sleep may not be restful. People often report that they are sleeping much more than usual during the fall and winter. But, they still seem to have no energy.
Luckily, there are some things you can do to combat SAD. One way is to seek out phototherapy. In this treatment, the patient’s eyes get exposed to light about 10 times brighter than ordinary domestic lighting.
But, some experts believe exposure to artificial light actually BLOCKS the benefits of certain vitamins and minerals to your eyes. When full-spectrum light enters the eyes, it stimulates the brain and facilitates the absorption of specific nutrients. So what else can you do to help prevent and treat SAD?
Vitamin D for Seasonal Affective Disorder
Vitamin D has long been touted as the “sunshine vitamin.” This vitally important nutrient helps the body absorb calcium. Together, vitamin D and calcium maintain strong bones, nails, and teeth. It also supports your central nervous system. As you likely know, you can get ample vitamin D from the sun’s rays.
So, Mom was right after all – fresh air and sunshine ARE good for you. And, unless you’re one of the 10 million Americans suffering from SAD, it’s all you need. Even people suffering from SAD may be able to benefit from the sunshine. Sunlight has been shown to improve depression in several studies.
Just about everyone knows about the link between sunshine and Vitamin D. Although you may have been pushed out the door for being a pest around the house, mom was doing your health a favor. Lately, due to an increase in skin cancer, there has been an increase in public health warnings about going out in the sun without protection. However, doctors suggest at least 10 to 30 minutes of sunshine a day is needed for your body to produce vitamin D.
I don’t know about you, but there are times while working in front of my computer that I just HAVE to get outside. I need to get some sunshine and fresh air, even when it’s cloudy. Clouds may block some of the warm summer sunshine, but they don’t necessarily block the much-needed UV-B rays.
But, what about getting your sunshine quota during darker months? These times, when SAD is more likely to occur, you need new sources. That’s when dietary options and supplements come in. You can get vitamin D from egg yolks, cow’s milk, and fortified soy beverages. If incorporating these new foods in your diet isn’t possible, try a supplement. Find a safe and natural vitamin D supplement to ensure you get the daily required dose.
John Ott, a pioneer in the relatively new field of photobiology once said, “by deliberately screening out supposedly harmful traces of atmospheric ultraviolet with tinted windows, sunglasses, suntan lotions and the like, we may just be making ourselves sick.” He termed this condition, “malillumination,” which he thought of as a sort of malnutrition.
While we won’t go as far as Ott does in telling you you shouldn’t wear sun protection (sunglasses are so important!), we do agree with him that sunlight is essential for mental and physical health. It has also been proven to help support healthy sleep. So, take the time and get outside for at least 10 minutes every day. This will help combat SAD and malillumination.
So, now is perhaps the time to push away from the computer. Step outside and get some visual nutrition. As the song says, “Let the sun shine in.” You’ll not only be making yourself feel better, you’ll be helping your vision as well.
Sunshine and Eye Health
It’s well known that vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. That’s why some milks are fortified with vitamin D, as these two nutrients work well together. But, do the eyes even need calcium? Yes, yes, and yes! It’s especially important for women over the age of 50 to get their vitamin D and calcium doses. At this age, women’s bodies often become deficient in calcium which affects their bones. For the eyes, calcium helps protect them from wet macular degeneration. At one point, it was believed that calcium contributed to the risk of macular degeneration, but this isn’t true.
Not only do the eyes need vitamin D for calcium, but they need it for inflammation. Vitamin D has anti-inflammatory properties that can help prevent dry eye syndrome. And, it can help the eyes heal after wounds or injuries.
The Institute of Ophthalmology at University College London has been running tests on older mice. The results have been amazing! Using a supplement of vitamin D3 they have found that the mice have:
- Improved vision
- Reductions in inflammation and lower levels of amyloid bets accumulations (a sign of aging)
- Marked reduction in immune cells that can cause inflammation
We know that some of these results are also present in humans, especially the reductions in inflammation. So, get your daily dose of sunshine or start taking a vitamin D supplement. Not only will this benefit your eyes, but it’ll help you avoid SAD during the winter months.