Vitamin D Deficiency and Depression
Although the public awareness about vitamin D is on the rise, many questions pop up to mind: how is vitamin D associated with sunshine, how much sunlight do we require, why is it essential to get enough vitamin D for excellent health and what foods to eat? People are also interested in just how common the vitamin D deficiency is.
What Is Depression?
The WHO says that depression is the primary cause of disability globally. Worldwide, over 300 million people of all age groups suffer from the disorder. Depression comes in forms ranging from dysthymia, major depression, and SAD (seasonal affective disorder). Depressive bouts are also a feature of (BPAD) bipolar disorder.
Depression is a complex disorder comprising many systems of the body, including the immune system, either as an effect or cause. It interferes with appetite, and it disrupts sleep; in some cases, it causes weight loss; in others, it contributes to weight gain as well. Depression is also often accompanied by restlessness. Studies indicate that not only do the two conditions co-occur but that they overlap in genetic vulnerability patterns.
Vitamin D is also involved in the production of dopamine and serotonin, and within the brain, both chemicals linked to depression, according to scientists.
Evidence exists that low levels of serotonin and dopamine are linked to depression. Therefore, it is convincing that there can be a link between depressive symptoms and low levels of vitamin D. Research has also found depressed patients commonly had lower levels of vitamin D.
Why is Vitamin D essential for good health?
Vitamin D, the "sunshine vitamin," is a steroid hormone precursor. It was initially believed to play a role only in the mineralization of teeth and bones and by maintaining the correct calcium/phosphorus ratio. But studies have also linked low vitamin D levels with diabetes, obesity, autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and osteoporosis.
According to a study by the CDC (centers for disease control and prevention), in 2006, a whopping 1/4 of the population was deficient in vitamin D, 8 percent were "at-risk" for vitamin D deficiency deficiencies, and 1 percent had levels that were considered imminently harmful. According to experts, vitamin D is perhaps the single most undervalued nutrient in the world of health.
What's causing these low vitamin D levels?
One argument is that we are not outside as much as earlier generations, and when we are, we apply sunscreen that prohibits UVB (the rays culpable for suntans) from penetrating the skin. These same UVB rays naturally generate vitamin D.
The season, the time of day, the latitude, the altitude, and other factors come into play to determine how much UVB penetrates the skin. Vitamin D levels can become decreased without sufficient sunshine, and this is especially true during the cold months when we stay inside more, and the sun is not as profound.
What has this got to do with psychiatry?
The results of the recent studies by the Vitamin D Council reported in the New England Journal of Medicine and by Springer are indicating an association with depression. Of note: Canadian scientists reviewed fourteen studies involving 31,425 participants and found a strong correlation between Vitamin D deficiency and depression. The lower the Vitamin D level, the higher the risk of depression. But the big question is still causality. Does depression lower the vitamin level? Does one get depressed because of a lack of Vitamin D?
The SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) study is impressive as well. The NIH (National Institute of Health) cites several studies where sunlight remarkably improves mood. Of course, even though we are aware that sunlight boosts vitamin D levels, this doesn't prove that the spike in vitamin D is what is responsible. It also doesn't show that sunlight will work in those who are depressed and do not have Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Here are some important things to note:
(1) The curative rays of natural sunlight cannot pass through glass. You read it right! You cannot sit inside your car or home and reap the benefits of sitting in a sunny spot. You must venture outdoors.
(2) If you have dark skin, you'll require about twenty-five times more exposure time as a light-skinned individual to generate an equal amount of vitamin D.
(3) Your body cannot absorb calcium without adequate vitamin D. You can take all the calcium you want but will receive no help unless vitamin D is included.
(4) Vitamin D deficiency is not reversed immediately. You're looking at months of sunlight, and supplements before levels return to normal.
(5) Your liver and kidneys activate vitamin D. Having a damaged liver or a kidney disease will block the ability to activate vitamin D when required.
(6) Now for the bad news. There has to be some bad news, right? Well, here it is. Sunscreens notoriously reduce the amount of vitamin D the body makes. Considering this, there is a belief that more people are depressed these days because everyone uses sunscreen, and they're not taking vitamin D supplements.
Written by Henna Lawrence
About the Author
Henna is a wellness lifestyle writer. She loves sharing her thoughts and personal experiences related to natural remedies, Ayurvedic, yoga and fitness through her writing. She currently writes for How To Cure. She can connect with others experiencing health concerns and help them through their recovery journeys through natural remedies.
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