Health Matters – Are You SAD?

It’s the middle of winter. And if you live in a cold, windy location (and isn’t all of Canada cold and windy at this time of year?), you may be feeling those winter blues settling in. For many of us, this means feeling impatient with the cold weather and dreaming longingly of Caribbean beaches. But for some, these ?winter blues? are a whole lot more than that, and aren’t to be taken lightly. These are the people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Are you SAD?

Are you feeling depressed or pessimistic for no apparent reason? Do you have trouble getting out of bed in the mornings despite adequate sleep, have difficulty concentrating when You’re awake, and lack energy and enthusiasm for anything? Is your libido nonexistent? Do you crave carbohydrates? These are some of the most common ?red flags? for someone who might be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder.

The incidence of SAD ranges up to 10 per cent in the winter months in North America, and symptom intensity varies from person to person. An official diagnosis of SAD requires an additional four specific criteria dealing with past mental health.


The cause of SAD is still somewhat of a mystery. Access to natural light is a major factor; those living in areas with less natural light during part of the year have higher SAD rates than those in locations that are sunny year-round.

One theory proposes that low serotonin levels in the brain can predispose an individual to SAD. Serotonin is sometimes referred to as the ?feel-good? neurotransmitter, since adequate levels can bring about a sense of well-being and happiness. Another theory relates low melatonin (a neurohormone produced in low light environments) levels to SAD.

But a further, more recent, school of thought states that SAD symptoms relate to low vitamin D levels. Vitamin D, often called the ?sunshine vitamin,? is made by our bodies when they have access to full, bright sunlight for a minimum of 15 minutes. During winter in the northern climates, however, sunlight access is restricted, and even on sunny days, the latitude of the sun in the winter months is not strong enough to cause the body to make vitamin D. On top of this, many in northern climates already enter the winter season with low vitamin D levels.

What Can I Do?

Get checked out. If you think you might be suffering from SAD, talk to your health care provider.

Get tested. Have your vitamin D levels tested (ask for the 25-hydroxyvitamin D test). Although there’s no definitive consensus yet on minimum vitamin D levels, many practitioners refer to 125 nmol/L of vitamin D as the marker for low vitamin D status.

Supplement with vitamin D. You can self-treat with up to 1000 IU vitamin D. However, since vitamin D is not a water-soluble vitamin, for higher doses (i.e. above 5,000 IU) you should get the above blood test to make sure you are deficient. If you do supplement with vitamin D, the ideal form is D3, since It’s the form best absorbed by the body. (Note: D3 is made from sheep’s wool oil, so it may be inappropriate for vegetarians or vegans.)

Get a lamp. SAD lamps offer light that mimics natural summer sunlight. Using one of these will allow you to bask in the healing light of the summer sun?in the middle of winter!

Get light bulbs. You might also consider purchasing full spectrum light bulbs for those areas of the house or office in which you spend the most time. (A caution, however: the bulbs can be costly, and there’s not a huge amount of research to support their use.)

Fortunately, there are many options to help sufferers of Seasonal Affective Disorder. You may not have to be SAD anymore!

Katie D?Souza is an AU graduate and a licensed naturopathic doctor. She currently lives in Ontario.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for personal interest only; it is not intended for diagnosis or treatment of any condition. Readers are always encouraged to seek the professional advice of a licensed physician or qualified health care practitioner for personal health or medical conditions.