As a holistic doctor practicing on the East Coast of America, I dread this time of year.
And it’s not because I’m some ‘Scrooge’.
It’s because as the days get shorter – and there’s less sunlight – I watch my patients’ health take a nosedive.
Too little sunlight exposure can pose a serious hazard to your health. You might feel depressed, despondent, fatigued, and even hungry all the time.
This malady is a real disease, and it’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder (also known as SAD). It affects 10 per cent of the entire population, and although it can be quite disabling, it’s an elusive phenomenon.
The hidden cause behind Seasonal Affective Disorder
We can’t test for SAD, and we haven’t developed any treatments for it – besides exposing those affected to more light or treating their depression with prescription medication and psychotherapy.
But lots of doctors like me have known for a long time the real cause of the condition – too little vitamin D, which your body makes from sunlight.
How do we know that these SAD patients don’t have enough vitamin D? Because they feel a whole lot better when they DO get enough.
To prove my point: last year, a husband and wife that I have been treating for many years finally decided to travel down to Florida after suffering through New England winters for too long.
When they returned north in the spring to come in and see me, we were all astounded—their health had improved RADICALLY compared to appointments around the same time in previous years. They had more energy, better moods and even better blood sugars, cholesterol and of course vitamin D levels.
It helps that vitamin D is linked to the production of the incredibly important ‘feel good’ brain chemicals of dopamine and serotonin.1
Without that glorious sun exposure, our vitamin D levels take a nosedive – bringing our mood down with it.
It’s no shocker – vitamin D makes us healthy AND happy
You have to understand that in reality, vitamin D is really a hormone – NOT a vitamin – and it affects every major organ in our bodies.
We holistic doctors know how important optimising the vitamins, minerals, and hormones in the body is. In fact, I consider the level of vitamin D equally as important as the levels of thyroid, cortisol, human growth hormone, and oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone.
The human body has an amazing mechanism to make vitamin D, and sitting out in the sun helps it produce its own natural supply.When the Ultraviolet B form of sunlight (UVB) hits your skin, your body harvests it and converts a cholesterol molecule (7-dehydrocholesterol) into vitamin D, which then travels through the liver and kidneys in order to be fully activated and utilised by the body in the form of calcitriol, which has been shown to be a powerful cancer-fighter.2
Yes, I said a cholesterol molecule! Meanwhile, conventional doctors are trying to lower this valuable resource at every opportunity they get with statin drugs!!
The calcitriol (the active version of vitamin D) that circulates around the human body does way more than just help your bones.
There are physiological links of vitamin D’s role in many different organs and vital bodily functions, and it has a huge influence over the immune system and the brain, mood, and brain chemistry.
A good supply of vitamin D boosts your brain function and immunity AND reduces inflammation – and that means it can reduce your risk of congestive heart failure, inflammatory bowel disease, COPD, respiratory infections, severe allergic reactions, and gum disease.3
You can drink milk until the cows come home, but it won’t give you enough vitamin D
Vitamin D is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies among men and women.4
It’s running rampant because most of us aren’t even getting outside enough ANY time of year – not to mention during the winter, when we’re all nervous about getting sick or slipping on ice and snow.
But staying indoors… under all those artificial lights… is only making us prime candidates for SAD.
Those of us who do manage to go outside have been programmed to block the sun’s rays by wearing sunscreen or a hat, but this sun ‘protection’ has shut out your body’s access to the sun’s life-saving and uplifting effects.
It’s truly a calamity – it’s almost like we are TRYING to get SAD!
And as we cower in the shadows, waiting for spring to hit, not even changing our diets can boost our levels of D enough to make a difference.
The weird truth is: There are very few foods that naturally have vitamin D in them.
A great article published in the 2004 edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition goes so far as to claim that there’s NO WAY that milk and food can get us to where we need to be. We are not getting enough vitamin D even from the foods that are FORTIFIED with it!5
In the US, the government mandated that cow’s milk be fortified with vitamin D (albeit a synthetic form of the vitamin) starting in 1933. However, in the UK it is not mandatory to add vitamin D to cow’s milk or other foods.
I’m not a big fan of dairy anyway, because cow’s milk has been adulterated through pasteurization and homogenization – not to mention the use of growth hormones and antibiotics on cattle.
Get 3 times the oomph from bioidentical vitamin D supplements
It’s encouraging that a fair percentage of conventional doctors are actually checking vitamin D levels, but they are prescribing a synthetic form of vitamin D, called ergocalciferol, that comes from the irradiation of a kind of mushroom.
Synthetic vitamin D replacement (D2) doesn’t measure up to sun exposure OR the over-the-counter natural version of vitamin D, called vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol.
In fact, the synthetic vitamin D2 is only a third as potent as bioidentical D3, according to an amazing study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism in 2013, and it also stops working much sooner.6
And you can be sure that D3 doesn’t come from fungus. It comes from the wool of sheep (lanolin) or from the skin or livers of fatty fish (salmon, tuna, or cod). There’s a reason why your mother or grandmother used to force the cod liver oil down your throat when you were young!
How much vitamin D do you need?
Most doctors don’t usually come up with a long-term plan for their patients’ vitamin D. Conventional doctors will prescribe one large dose (50,000 units) once a week for a month or two – without any refills!
But a one-time replenishment of this vitamin does not cure your deficiency in one fell swoop!
The truth is: If vitamin D levels are not checked regularly, or if you don’t get vitamin D from some other source, then your levels will surely drop back down to a suboptimal level.
Holistic doctors like me actually shoot much higher than the standard levels of ‘normal’ when evaluating a patient.
In the effort to optimise patients, I aim for vitamin D levels way above the standard 30ng/ml – ideally, more like from 50 to 70.
Dedicate yourself to vitamin D in EVERY season
No matter what the season, make sure that your doctor is regularly checking your vitamin D level, and if it’s low, take the over-the-counter natural D supplement. Better yet, try the bioidentical version of vitamin D, vitamin D3. You can only get it at a health-food store, and it’s not appropriate for vegetarians or vegans.
Finally, try to get at least 10 minutes of direct sunlight every day. Unfortunately, depending on where you live and the time of year, that sunlight might not even be available to you. So if you are still experiencing the ‘winter blues,’ consider getting a natural light lamp to brighten your days – and your mood.
Dr. Glenn S. Rothfeld
Nutrition & Healing
Vol. 10, Issue 1 • January 2016
Full references and citations for this article are available in the downloadable PDF version of the monthly Nutrition and Healing issue in which this article appears.