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Importance of Vitamin D

January 23rd, 2019


The Importance of Vitamin D on the Human Body & Brain

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?”

- John Steinbeck
Vitamin D Importance

Goodbye Sunshine

Warm weather is often desirable to many people – especially the people who experience seasonal changes throughout the year. Winter days tend to be shorter, which provides people with less exposure to natural sunlight. During the summertime, natural sunlight allows the human body to produce higher levels of Vitamin D than it is able to create during the winter months. When a person’s body begins yielding less Vitamin D, they may feel more depressed and tired; and they could possibly be suffering from a type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Vitamin D’s Impact on the Human Body & the Brain

  • Vitamin D is a chemical that is not only great for the physical body but for the mind as well
  • Vitamin D is produced naturally in the skin after exposure to sunlight
    • During winter months, not only is there less available sunlight but there is less skin showing because people are wearing heavier and lengthier fabrics to stay warm
  • In the body, Vitamin D:
    • Supports calcium levels (for strong bones)
    • Helps strengthen cell communication
  • The winter months may cause an unexpected drop in Vitamin D levels which may affect serotonin production in the brain
    • Serotonin is the “happy” hormone and disrupted creation, people may feel the opposite of happy
  • Besides depression, Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to:
    • Schizophrenia
    • Alzheimer’s
    • Cancer
    • High blood pressure
    • Various autoimmune diseases

Seasonal Affective Disorder Defined

  • Categorized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a type of depression with severity levels that are mostly mild to moderate
  • SAD may begin during the fall and end during the mid-spring and summer months
  • Depressive symptoms are more likely to occur throughout the colder months
  • More commonly seen further north or south of the equator
  • Women are known to have SAD more commonly than men
  • Typically, SAD symptoms occur in people who are between the ages of 18 and 30
Seasonal affective disorder lack of vitamin D Unhappy woman having walk in winter

Symptoms of SAD

  • Increased loss of energy levels and higher fatigue
  • Hypersomnia (a disorder that refers to excessive sleeping) may occur
  • Overeating (especially carbohydrates). This, in turn, may cause weight gain
  • Higher isolation, because a person may feel like spending more time alone and away from social scenarios
  • Having a harder time concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Feeling low and depressed for most of the day

Possible Causes of SAD

  • Low production of Vitamin D- The less exposure to sunlight, the less the body naturally creates Vitamin D
  • Circadian Rhythm
    • This is also known as the body’s biological clock
    • Since the winter days are shorter and there is less sunlight available, the body’s internal clock may be disturbed which can cause feelings of sadness and depression
  • Decreased serotonin
    • It is possible that Vitamin D deficiency decreases serotonin activity
  • Increased melatonin
    • This hormone increases production in the presence of darkness
    • Due to the shorter winter days, there is an increase in nighttime/darkness
      • Therefore, there is an increase in melatonin levels which leave people to either sleep more or feel more depressed because they are so tired

Ways to Help Manage Those Grey Months

There are a variety of options and ways to help alleviate the onset and management of having the winter blues. Some of these treatments, medications, and remedies that may help decrease symptoms of SAD include, but are not limited to...

  • If the symptoms of SAD are out of control, it may be best to speak with someone.
    • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
      • Psychotherapy that is effective in replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts
      • This may also help an individual learn how to manage their stress levels
  • Light therapy
        • Also known as phototherapy and may be one of the first options to help prevent or decrease SAD symptoms
        • Typically, within the first couple hours of waking up every morning during the winter, there is a special lightbox that is placed a few feet away from you
        • This lightbox exposes you to bright light that seems to change brain chemicals (serotonin levels) and increase mood
        • Before purchasing a lightbox, discuss with your doctor the benefits and figure out the best kind to buy
      • After chatting with your doctor, possibly consume Vitamin D supplement pills
        • Vitamin D may also be found in some foods including tuna, salmon, sardines, liver, milk and cheese, egg yolks, red meat, and mushrooms
        • Regular consumption of these foods can provide higher levels of Vitamin D
      • Consistently consuming a healthy diet
      • Steadily putting yourself in a strong sleep cycle
        • For example, it is healthy for the average adult to receive around 8 hours of sleep
    • Exercise
      • Keeping your body active through exercise can help to decrease SAD symptoms
        • This is due to a happy hormone, known as Cortisol, which is released in greater quantities and will help diminish any sad or depressing feelings
    • Create a brighter environment
      • For example, try to sit near the window at school, work, or home
    • Partake in yoga, meditation, or any other relaxing methods
    • Focus your mind on a personal hobby
      • Painting
      • Singing
      • Reading
    • Lastly, even though it may be cold out, try to get outside more – take morning walks or even build a snowman!

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