Yesterday, we officially lost five minutes of daylight. Today, it’s the same story and will be until the darkest day of December signals a swap back to sunnier times.
As fall hunkers down on the doorstep of Southeast, it’s important to take our northern latitude into full consideration — our location is unique and amazing for many reasons, but it also comes with a few hiccups. We lack the duration and intensity of sunshine our bodies require.
Most Alaskans are all too familiar with the complications an ongoing deficiency of sunlight can cause — seasonal affective disorder and a handful of health concerns that make fighting the winter blues a losing battle.
Don’t get down in the dumps. Instead, take that vitamin D.
Jane Roodenburg, a family nurse practitioner with Wellspring, said most Juneauites “pretty much have seasonal affective disorder, to small degree, all the time.” She said some — those with active lifestyles especially — feel it less than others, but added individuals who find themselves crawling onto the couch as soon as it gets dark, will probably have a harder time than their outdoor enthusiast counterparts.
New research is connecting a deficiency in vitamin D, a fat soluble vitamin that works in tandem with sunlight to become effective in the body, with the development of cancer and autoimmune diseases. But that’s just the beginning; lack of this little light-induced vitamin can also cause weakness in bones and joints, it has been linked with the onset of diabetes and heart disease, as well as mental disorders such as depression.
“If someone is fatigued, depressed, if they just don’t feel good or have aches and pains that can’t be described ... they could be on the low end of normal, or downright deficient,” Roodenburg said.
Of course, vitamin D is naturally found in certain foods, such as oil-rich seafood (salmon and sardines, for instance) and fortified milk and dairy products, but eating the right foods is not enough. To make sure one is completely covered, a supplement is necessary.
Roodenburg said the medical database UpToDate recommends a maintenance vitamin D supplement of about 5,000 International Units per day. Active individuals can get away with less, she said.
What may come as a surprise is exclusively breast fed infants also require a vitamin D supplement — RDA of 400 IUs. Mom’s Alaska-made milk won’t have enough of the “sun vitamin” to keep baby from getting too low, doctors have said. Formula-fed babies, young kids and teens should also take a supplement. Obviously, the right amount of supplementation for Alaskans will vary and it’s vital to check with your physician first.
Really, the best solution is a little tanning time on a beach in Hawaii. It’s true, the sun does wonders; even 10 minutes of direct sunlight daily can do the trick.
Speaking of tanning, Roodenburg said tanning booths won’t fill the void either. The lights don’t offer enough of a broad spectrum, she said.
So get out in the sunshine that peeks through. Invest in a good brand of vitamin for you and your family and take it daily.
It does and will make a difference.