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Beat the Winter Blues

January, February, and March can be difficult months when you live in a cold northern climate. Some folks fly south, whereas others crank the heat, blast a humidifier, and make tropical drinks with tiny umbrellas to feel like they’ve flown south! But the rest of us are left trying to make the best of the cold and ice.

Some people experience more than their share of sadness, low energy, irritability, and fatigue in the winter months. This is a variant of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Causes of SAD:

  • Lowered serotonin levels (one of our happy brain neurotransmitters)

  • Changing circadian rhythms (our 24h internal clock)

Both because of a lack of sunshine!

Decreased sun also results in lower vitamin D levels, which has been linked with symptoms of depression, probably because it also affects serotonin activity. Living as far north as we do, our bodies just do not synthesize vitamin D in the winter months.

If you’re not sure if you’ve got some mild “winter blues” or clinical SAD, but are wishing you could just feel better, schedule an appointment with a naturopathic doctor to determine the best course of treatment.

You should test your vitamin D levels!

It’s important to test blood levels of vitamin D before taking high doses to ensure you are doing it safely. Unfortunately, our provincial labs will not test vitamin D on most people anymore, but this test is still available through private testing facilities accessed by naturopathic doctors. Other treatments your ND will discuss with you are cognitive behavioural therapy (usually done with a psychologist), supplements or medications to support serotonin, or light therapy.

A note on SAD lamps:

To be effective, a light therapy box (aka a “SAD lamp”) should:

  • Give 10,000 lux of cool-white fluorescent light

  • Have UV rays filtered out.

  • Be used 20-60 minutes per day every morning throughout the fall and winter.

Just being in a regular lighted room won’t do the trick –

these light therapy boxes are 20 times brighter.

There are some cautions and contraindications to trying light therapy, so discuss it with your naturopathic doctor first.


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