Can The Weather Make You Depressed? Seasonal Affective Disorder, Depression and Vitamin D

Thursday, January 30, 2014 by Meg   •   Filed under Physical Health and Emotion


Yeah, right. It's about two hundred degrees below zero, and snow is bullshit.

Something to consider, though: it is usually right around this time of year when depressive symptoms spike, particularly for those in colder climates. And researchers say that some of these mood changes might be related to low vitamin D levels.

What Does Vitamin D Do? 

Vitamin D deficiencies can show up with a wide range of symptoms. The only vitamin that is also a hormone, the Big D works with nearly every bodily system to assure proper functioning. Because of its vast uses within the body, the symptoms of deficiency can show up in many ways, from muscle weakness to dental caries to cognitive impairment to mental health issues. 

Said another way: It's pretty fucking important.

Can Low Vitamin D Cause Depression?

Vitamin D may play a role in depression, according to research out of the Netherlands1. In this study, researchers compared vitamin D levels in 3 groups of people:

  1. People with current depressive disorders
  2. Those with a history of depression 
  3. Those without depressive symptoms

They found that those with current depression had the lowest levels of vitamin D. Those who had a history of depression tended to have levels that fell in the middle of the spectrum, and as expected, people without any history of depression had the highest levels of vitamin D. This provides yet more evidence that clinical depression and vitamin D are closely linked.

Then there's SAD, a disorder with an almost too appropriate acronym. 

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and Vitamin D

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder include the following: 

  • Depressive symptoms
  • Sadness
  • Hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Low energy/oversleeping
  • Heavy limbs
  • Weight gain
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Trouble with focus
  • Symptoms appear in late fall or early winter, and go away in the spring and summer

According to Chicago researchers, SAD may be related to the lack of vitamin D 2. In the winter months, people spend more time inside, leading to less opportunity to synthesize vitamin D from the sun.  

That's right: humans can absorb a form of this vitamin from soaking up some rays.

"Sunbathing is not lazy! It's cheaper than a shrink!"

However, there is some evidence that sunlight may not be enough, especially in cooler climates, or at certain times of the year. In these cases, an indoor lamp like this one may be helpful. 

Researchers on both of these reports concluded by suggesting vitamin D supplementation as a treatment for those with depressive symptoms. And you can start with diet. 

Foods For Depression (with estimated % of recommended daily values for vitamin D)

  • Cod liver oil: 340%DV in one Tablespoon
  • Wild salmon: up to 127%DV in one serving
  • Oysters: 67%DV in 6 oysters 
  • Caviar: 9%DV in one teaspoon (ensure your caviar is without food colorings or preservatives)
  • Eggs: 4%DV in one large egg
  • Mushrooms: 2%DV per one ounce serving
  • Cheese and other fortified dairy products: up to 32%DV per serving (Absorption of synthetic vitamins from "fortified" products remains unclear)
  • Try a vitamin D supplement like this one

Vitamin D plays a huge role in mental health processes. While some may benefit from more aggressive vitamin supplementation through a physician, hanging out in the closet for a few minutes with a spoonful of cod liver oil and a sun lamp doesn't usually have too many side effects.

Unless you sit too close to said light and burn the crap out of yourself. So seriously, follow the directions. 

If you suspect you may be suffering from a vitamin deficiency, contact your doctor for proper diagnosis. 

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Topic-Relevant Resources

Gut and Psychology Syndrome: Natural Treatment for Autism, Dyspraxia, A.D.D., Dyslexia, A.D.H.D., Depression, Schizophrenia
An additional piece to the puzzle for those suffering from allergies and certain types of neurological issues. Food matters for mental health. This helps to explain some of those processes.

Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation
New techniques for mindfully altering the wiring of your own brain, leading to increased happiness.

Against Depression
Detailed explanations of the systems involved in depression along with personal stories of success from psychiatrist Peter Kramer.