The Benefits of Vitamin D in Fall and Winter Seasons

contemplative ethnic woman with curly hair in snowfall

Do you tend to feel gloomy and down during the winter months? Are you concerned that winter is going to bring another bout of depression that might sabotage your recovery progress? Did you know that taking Vitamin D supplements may help alleviate some depressive mood disorders? Scientists find that most Americans are deficient in Vitamin D, sometimes called the “sunshine vitamin.” Pollution, lack of outdoor activities, and seasonal changes can all affect the body’s Vitamin D production. The National Institutes of Health recommends a minimum daily intake of 600 IU of Vitamin D per day.

For many recovering individuals, anxiety and depression may worsen in the winter months when there is less sunlight. If you experience seasonal mood changes, you are not alone. Understanding the science behind this winter gloom can help you through it. The body usually synthesizes Vitamin D when sufficiently exposed to sunlight, so lack of sunlight can lead to a Vitamin D deficiency, which then triggers a depressive mood. 

The Importance of Vitamin D

Strictly speaking, Vitamin D is not a vitamin. It more closely resembles a hormone. You may have heard of the connection between this vitamin and calcium absorption. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, so the lack of it can cause your bones to soften. Because the “sunshine vitamin” is essential for nearly all organ systems of the body, other signs of Vitamin D deficiency include muscle pain, unexplained fatigue, and weakness. Chronic deficiency may lead to higher rates of heart and vascular disease. 

Apart from helping calcium absorption and muscle recovery, Vitamin D improves lower body strength and regulates the immune system. It is also known to boost serotonin production, leading to better moods. Research finds that Vitamin D deficiency is related to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), schizophrenia, and depression. To alleviate depression and other mental health problems, Vitamin D is often included in a variety of supplements, including Vitamins B and C, magnesium, lecithin, etc. People who live in less sun-lit regions or places with long winter months are especially recommended to take vitamin D supplements, omega-3 fatty acids, and other key micronutrients. 

Sunlight, Chemical Balance, and Mood

Sunlight can have such an effect on your mood because two kinds of hormones in the body—melatonin and serotonin—are naturally associated with the degree of exposure to sunlight. Serotonin regulates wakefulness and mood change and melatonin is sometimes referred to as the “sleep hormone.” Some antidepressant drugs include serotonin. When there is less sunlight, the body’s melatonin and serotonin levels respond accordingly, regulating one’s sleep and mood following the season.  

More specifically, the changing serotonin levels in accordance with sunlight is the reason why your mood tends to be more elevated during the summer and gloomy during the winter. This key hormone also helps with eating and digestion. Apart from a healthy diet, scientists find that activities like sunbathing, massage, exercise, and remembering happy events can boost one’s serotonin levels. 

The “sunshine vitamin” also helps boost the body’s healthy immune response, which is especially important now during the COVID-19 pandemic. Scientists believe that Vitamin D plays a positive role in reducing the risk of COVID patients developing severe illness and thus needing hospitalization. For this and so many other reasons, sufficient Vitamin D in your body is incredibly important.

Getting Enough Vitamin D in the Winter

There are many ways to ensure you get enough vitamin D, even during the winter. For example, as much as possible, try to get around twenty minutes of sun exposure each day during the winter, even in cold weather. Inactivity and indoor isolation are directly related to Vitamin D deficiency. Apart from outdoor activities—or if you are unable to get outside—you should take vitamin supplements. Consuming foods like salmon, milk, tuna, mushrooms, soy, orange juice, and eggs, all of which contain high amounts of this vitamin is another important way to supplement.

If you notice a seasonal pattern of depression, then you should heavily supplement your diet with Vitamin D in the winter. You can even start supplementing during late summer into fall to prepare your body and prevent gloom as early as possible. Do not wait until the winter months to ready your body, because it’s easier to prevent seasonal depression symptoms than it is to get rid of them once they come.

Some recent scholarship finds that seasonal Vitamin D deficiency occurs more often among women. Postmenopausal women, in particular, may experience health issues when Vitamin D levels dip in their bodies. Therefore, women and those who have health conditions especially should take supplements in winter. 

Have you experienced seasonal depression during the winter months? Do you tend to feel down in colder seasons? Do you know ways to prevent or treat cyclical depression? If you are in recovery, it is important to be prepared for how seasons changing can affect your co-occurring mental health problems. There are many ways to prevent seasonal depression, and you can seek help from health professionals about what supplements to take. At Laguna Shores Recovery, our licensed mental healthcare professionals and therapists can help you prevent seasonal depression. We offer both inpatient and outpatient programs that address a range of mental health issues that co-occur with addiction. At our residential facility, Laguna Shores Recovery offers a range of treatments, including diagnosis, behavioral therapies, 12-step programs, and custom treatment plans. You do not need to be stuck in anxiety and depression during this winter. Call us at (866) 906-3203. We are eager to help you.