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Vitamin D and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

I’ve been thinking about taking a vitamin D supplement. I’m not much for taking pills and supplements. I don’t even take a multivitamin and rarely take pain killers like Tylenol or Advil. Generally, I just think one should eat a relatively healthy diet and get good, moderate exercise and good sleep. However, if you’re like me and experience some seasonal depression, maybe a vitamin D supplement is in order.

Oregon has some of the highest rates of depression in the US

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression in which symptoms arise in response to the changing seasons – frequently fall and winter, although some people are affected by the hotter months in the spring and summer instead. Researchers have not identified a particular cause of SAD, although it has been noted that SAD is more prevalent in people who are young, female, and those who live farther from the equator. In addition, a family history of depression increases a persons likelihood of experiencing SAD. Yeah 🙁 – unfortunately, genetics do seem to be at play.

People like us who live in the Pacific North West (PNW) experience some of the greatest rates of depression in the nation. In fact, a CBS news report on depression ranked Oregon the seventh most depressed state in the US. The same study reported that 7.58% people living in Oregon have experienced an episode of major depression in the past year.

We also experience very long and dreary months of rain and dark skies here in Portland, which can bring on feelings of sadness, irritability, changes in weight and/or appetite, lack of concentration, social isolation, changes in sleep patterns, and general discontent. Sufferers may also experience a loss of interest in activities and general apathy. Unfortunately this frequently means further social isolation and restless discomfort.

Vitamin D and light therapy can help

I’m thinking about taking a vitamin D supplement because I suffer from anxiety and depression, and it gets particularly bad during the winter. So, I’m looking for some way to feel better as we head into the cold and rainy season. Vitamin D can help, especially in addition to light therapy because our skin produces vitamin D (in the form of cholecalciferol) in response to the UVB radiation from full spectrum light. Sitting in the presence of a full spectrum bulb (“light therapy”) is recommended for the treatment of seasonal depression.

I haven’t yet taken the step of buying a full spectrum lamp, or even just a bulb, but I am considering taking a vitamin D supplement (see the photo on the right).

What’s the best dose?

Primary care providers sometimes prescribe high doses termed either “physiologic” or “pharmacologic” doses to help treat people with abnormally low levels of vitamin D. A ‘physiologic dose’ is about 3,000 and 5,000 IU/day, whereas the ‘average’ person is recommended to take between 400 and 800 IU/day. Wow! That’s a pretty big difference.

In addition, a “pharmacologic” dose, which is prescribed by a provider when a patients vitamin D levels test substantially low, is around 50,000 IU once per week. Lets’s take note and think about that: 50,000 IU is a HUGE dose! It is also called a ‘mega dose’ or ‘stross dose.’ “Stross,” or “speeding up” is not something we should do without the supervision of a trained medical provider (i.e. a primary care physician). Thus, a dose we choose for ourselves should be substantially lower. I’ve decided to take a 1,000 IU dose (see the picture on the right).

1,000 IU a day seemed like a fair compromise based on the research I did, and the variation in doses that are prescribed. I took it late last night –  around 8:00pm – and had a hard time sleeping. My partner then told me this morning that this is a ‘potential’ common occurrence with vitamin D supplements because it can have an activating effect. If you experience this, too, try taking it in the morning, like I did today. I’ll report back about my experience as the weeks go on!




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