Do experience the winter blues or struggle to keep your immune system optimal at this time of year? During the winter months, our lack of sunlight limits the amount of sunshine that we are exposed to, and this can result in a mood commonly called the winter blues. You may feel sad, have trouble sleeping and lack motivation to complete some tasks. However, If this sadness affects your ability to function, it might be a clinical condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a mental health condition characterized by depression and overwhelming feelings of sadness that can interfere with your daily functioning. Changes to our internal clocks and hormones both contribute to SAD. Our body’s internal biological clock—circadian rhythm—drastically changes when winter approaches. The decrease in daily sunlight signals to our body that it is nighttime which leads to fatigue throughout the day.
Self-care routines are essential to improving your mood and immune system in the winter months. Here are a few strategies to beat the winter blues!
Adopt a Regular Sleep/Wake Routine
Going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning can help stabilize your internal clock and allow you to wake up feeling refreshed and energized instead of feeling fatigued throughout the day.
Seek Out the Sun
What is rave about the Sunshine Vitamin?
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that is absorbed into your skin from direct sunlight exposure, intake of vitamin D rich foods and supplements. When you expose your arms and legs to direct sunlight between May -September in Canada, your skin can absorb a significant amount of UVB rays that convert to the active form of Vitamin D3. However, living north of 49 degrees parallel limits our skin’s ability to absorb Vitamin D from the UVB rays most months of the year! The sun needs to be at a minimum of 50 degrees or higher, above the horizon (90 degrees would be directly overhead) for the sunshine to even start synthesizing vitamin D in your skin. So even when your face is exposed on a sunny cold day in the winter, the low sun rays prevent vitamin D absorption. Furthermore, sunscreen also blocks your skin’s ability to absorb vitamin D and you definitely want to protect your face with a mineral sunscreen daily to prevent fine lines and wrinkles!
However, just sitting in the sun is overall wellness therapy anytime of year and can make us smile!
Vitamin D does so much more than improving your mood:
- Essential for building and maintaining strong bones and healthy teeth (sufficient vitamin D is required for calcium and Phosphorous absorption)
- Keeping a healthy store of vitamin D gives added protection against such diseases as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 diabetes.
- Helps with maintaining healthy insulin levels and managing type 2 diabetes.
- Vitamin D offers immune support as well as protection to the nervous system and the brain.
- Vitamin D is essential to the health of your lungs and cardiovascular system.
Exercise releases endorphins, which are known to improve your mood and energy. A brisk walk or moderate intensity workout at the gym or your own home 20-30 minutes each day for five days a week can improve your energy levels and mood. You will experience the benefits of fresh air and the sun with even going outside for a 15 minute walk every day! Being active outdoors is even better as it allows you to breathe in the fresh air, soak up the sun and enjoy nature…which has more benefits to our mental health that we realize!
Eat a Balanced Diet
In the winter, many of us crave sweets and carbohydrates, which can leave us feeling tired and sluggish. Try to incorporate protein, whole grains and fresh fruit and vegetables into your meals on a daily basis. Contact Me*****@mi******************.ca if you want help with personalized meal planning!
Eat 2 servings of Fish per week!
The only natural sources of vitamin D in the food supply are fatty fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines, cod, tuna, liver, Shiitake mushrooms and egg yolks.
Not only are these fish an excellent source of Vitamin D (except interesting to note that farmed fish contains significantly less Vitamin D), but rich in omega-3 fatty acids that also benefits your brain and heart health.
In Canada, cow’s milk, goat milk and margarine are fortified with vitamin D3 and it is recommended to drink 2 cups/day as a good source of calcium and vitamin D. Fortified plant- based beverages (eg. “fortified” soy, rice or almond beverages), and some yogurt and calcium-fortified orange juices may have vitamin D added. However, note that vitamin D2 (Ergocalciferol) is added to plant based milk alternatives, and this is not absorbed as well as the active form of vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol).
Simply supplement Vitamin D3
Dr. Michael Holick and the Endrocrine Task Force (2011) conclude that “Considering that vitamin D deficiency is very common in all age groups and that few foods contain vitamin D, supplementation is essential at suggested daily intake and tolerable upper limit levels, depending on age and clinical circumstance.” High risk populations for vitamin D deficiency include children and adults with obesity, bariatric surgery, breastfed infants, pregnant women, people with SADS, liver disease, kidney disease, osteoporosis, hyperparathyroidism, seniors, vegan diet, people with cow’s milk allergy, and people with naturally dark skin tone because dark pigment requires at least 3-5x longer sun exposure to make the same amount of vitamin D as a person with a white skin tone (Holick et al., 2011).
Since science has established the protective role of vitamin D in our immune function, it is better to be supplement vitamin D then to risk the consequences of low vitamin D status. Recent studies are now showing the correlation between low vitamin D status and more severe outcomes for respiratory viruses and Covid patients. A recent study in Israel concluded that “Among hospitalized COVID-19 patients, pre-infection deficiency of vitamin D was associated with increased disease severity and mortality.” (Dror et al., 2022). Current research also suggests that taking a 1000IU supplement of vitamin D may reduce your risk of cancer (specifically colorectal and breast cancer), with the least chance of harm.
The updated Health Canada recommended daily intake for vitamin D for children and adults ages 1-70 is 600IU per day. Since most over the counter supplements come in either 400IU or 1000IU in droplet form or a small tablet, it is simple to give your baby or child a 400IU droplet of vitamin D and to take a 1000IU dose yourself.
Since the Canadian Cancer society recommends 1000IU vitamin D for cancer prevention, we recommend 1000IU for adult maintenance dose as long as you need winter tires from October 1-March 31 from the border (Vancouver area) to the Interior region and October 1- April 30 living north of Prince George/Edmonton. If you are clinically deficient, and depending on your diet and health status, then higher doses of 2000-4000IU may be recommended by your doctor or dietitian.
Winter’s lack of UVB rays can deplete your liver stores of vitamin D. Although it is best to obtain your daily dosage of vitamin D directly from sunlight and food, taking daily vitamin D supplements may be the best way to improve your mood and immune system during the winter months and provide added protection against chronic disease!
Dror et al. (2022). Pre-infection 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 levels and association with severity of COVID-19 illness. PLOS ONE. Retrieved February 6, 2023 from Pre-infection 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 levels and association with severity of COVID-19 illness | PLOS ONE.
Holick, et al. (2011) Evaluation, Treatment, and Prevention of Vitamin D Deficiency: an Endocrine Society
Clinical Practice Guideline. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, July 2011, 96(7):0000 Accessed January 31, 2023 from Holick 2011 – Evaluation treatment and prevention of vitamin D deficiency.pdf (vitamindsociety.org)
Health Canada. (2020). What are the new DRIs for Vitamin D? Retrieved January 30,2023 from Vitamin D and Calcium: Updated Dietary Reference Intakes – Canada.ca.
Canadian Cancer Society. (2023) Eating well extras to consider | Canadian Cancer Society. Retrieved January
Sunsafe Rx. (2023) Vitamin D from Sunlight: How To Know If Your Sun Exposure Is Producing Vitamin D – Sunsafe Rx. Retrieved February 6, 2023.
Fuller, Kristen (2021). Winter Blues vs. Seasonal Affective Disorder. Retrieved January 30, 2023 from Winter Blues vs. Seasonal Affective Disorder (verywellmind.com).