Thursday, February 03, 2005

Seize the Day

It's the dead of winter. Short days, little sun ... cold. Cotton, wool, and Polartec from my ears to my ankles. And, Oh My God, don't bother me! Can't you see I'm not in a good mood?! It's all my parent's fault. No, it's all your fault. No, it's George W. Bush's fault! Oh, nobody loves me ...

The symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) are similar to the psychological affects of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), which are similar to symptoms of generalized depression, which all astoundingly mimic the effects of vitamin D and calcium deficiencies, regardless of your gender.

See for yourself ...

Clinical Features of Low Calcium Levels1
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Impaired memory
  • Impaired intellectual capacity
  • Personality disturbances
  • Neuromuscular irritability
  • Muscle cramps
  • Paresthesias (feeling of pins and needles)
  • Tetany (muscle spasms)
One reason light therapy is thought to improve the mood of SAD sufferers is its ability to boost vitamin D levels in the body, which in turn boost calcium levels. Certain wavelengths in broad-spectrum light (e.g. sunlight) will generate production of vitamin D when they contact our skin. And one role of vitamin D is the absorption of calcium from the food we eat. In fact, people who take too high a dose of vitamin D end up absorbing dangerously high amounts of calcium, setting them up for kidney stones and eventually kidney failure.

So, a cheap, effective, and healthy2 way to boost vitamin D and calcium (assuming you're getting some calcium in your diet) is sun exposure. And it doesn't take much, 10 minutes of mid-day summer sun (a bit longer in winter) on the face and hands will give you the current Daily Value for vitamin D (400 IU).

But if the sun fails to shine and you've hidden your luscious curves behind flannel-lined khakis and down-filled parkas ... if facing the day has become an exercise in tolerance, and you think Joy is the name of a dishwashing liquid ... try the supplement approach. A minimum of 400 IU (but no more than 2000 IU) vitamin D may be the thing to reacquaint you with your optimism.


1 Thys-Jacobs S. Micronutrients and the premenstrual syndrome: the case for calcium. J Am Coll Nutr. 2000;19(2):220-7.

2 Our bodies use a molecule of cholesterol to make a molecule of vitamin D. What a handy way to use up excess cholesterol.

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