Vitamin D Might Help Fight Symptoms of Depression

Metro Editorial
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People experiencing the blues, feelings of depression and other mood disorders might be able to use vitamin D to alleviate symptoms of depression. New studies point to low blood levels of vitamin D as a culprit in depression. Simply increasing these levels offers marked improvement.

A study conducted by VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam found that low levels of vitamin D may be linked to depression and other psychiatric illnesses. The Amsterdam research, which tracked over 1,200 people aged 65 to 95, showed that blood vitamin D levels were 14 percent lower in individuals with major and minor depression compared with non-depressed participants. A study in the United States indicated that vitamin D deficiency occurred more often in certain people, including African-Americans, city dwellers, the obese, and those suffering from depression. People with vitamin D levels below 20 ng/mL had an 85 percent increased risk of depression compared to those with vitamin D levels greater than 30 ng/mL.

Vitamin D has long been recognized as a nutrient essential to the development and maintenance of strong bones. It has also recently been discovered to be of crucial importance to several aspects of overall health. Being deficient in vitamin D has been linked to a number of disorders, including cancer, autoimmune disease, diabetes, and now depression.

Vitamin D, also known as the "sunshine vitamin," is one of the few vitamins the body can produce. The body can get all the vitamin D it needs simply by being out in the sun with ample skin showing to absorb the rays. However, increased awareness about skin cancer, the importance of sunblock and wearing clothes that protect skin from harmful UV rays has decreased many people's production of vitamin D considerably. In the United States, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that nearly three-quarters of Americans are deficient in vitamin D.

Although there are some food sources of vitamin D (salmon, tuna, mackerel and vitamin D-fortified dairy products, such as milk), the best way to get the vitamin is through moderate sun exposure. According to an article in U.S News and World Report, it's impossible to produce vitamin D from the sun during the winter if you live north of Atlanta because the sun never gets high enough in the sky for its ultraviolet B rays to penetrate the atmosphere. But during the summer, when UV-B rays hit the skin, a reaction takes place that enables skin cells to manufacture vitamin D. If you're fair skinned, experts say going outside for 10 minutes in the midday sun -- in shorts and a tank top with no sunscreen -- will give you enough radiation to produce about 10,000 I.U. Darker-skinned individuals may need a little more time.

During the winter and for an extra boost, you will need to take an oral supplement. A doctor can help determine how much you need based on a simple blood test.

With anxiety, depression, risk for heart attacks and a number of other health problems associated with low levels of vitamin D, it may be in your best interest to supplement with the vitamin.