Did you know that low Vitamin D can cause feelings of depression?
“Over 42 percent of Americans suffer from vitamin D deficiency. Many chronic illnesses are due to vitamin D deficiency, including osteoporosis, cancer, and depression.” –Andreas Moritz
As the countdown for real spring weather begins we start to realize how tough the winter months can be and how they tend to bring on hardships for a lot of us including sickness, depression, or even just fatigue. Something I’ve noticed about myself over the last few years as I have entered adulthood is how much my body struggles in the winter months. The effects that are caused by low vitamin D alone are a lot more relevant than some people may think.
Low Vitamin D can be associated with these 4 things: getting sick often, fatigue, pain, and depression.
1. Getting sick often – As a kid, I always loved the snow days filled with layers of clothes, neighborhood snowball fights, hot chocolate and comfort food. It was easy for my mind to get wrapped up in the fun kid parts. I thought every adult that said they could live without winter was insane and I had no idea of the effects the cold had on some people.
Now, as the winter months approach, and at the first sign of sickness from anyone around me I can almost always be sure it’ll be my turn next, lucky me. Then every year when I finally end up at the doctor’s office my tests come back with vitamin D levels that are too low.
You see, vitamin D keeps your immune system strong so you are able to fight off viruses and bacteria. Therefore, with lack of this vitamin and a lowered immune system you’re more likely to get sick.
2. Fatigue – Do you ever wonder why it is so hard to get yourself off the couch sometimes in the winter or out of bed in the morning when it’s still dark? Sure it doesn’t help that it is freezing cold outside, but it really has less to do with the temperature and more to do with the amount of sun exposure you are getting.
I know that during the summer months, there is nothing I enjoy more than waking up with the birds. The sun is shining, and I am feeling refreshed and fantastic. Then, like clockwork, every year when November starts to roll around my snooze button gets used way more often than I care to admit.
Numerous case studies have shown that low blood levels of vitamin D are directly related to levels of energy being produced in one’s body and the symptoms of fatigue you may feel during these winter months.
3. Pain – Low vitamin D levels have been known to have an effect on your bones and muscles. Again during winter months a lot of people tend to become achy and think it is a result of the cold weather. While the cold temperatures certainly play a factor, Vitamin D also plays a huge part in your bone and muscle health. The vitamin helps to keep these components of your body healthy and without it, you can start to experience bone loss and pain along with muscle pain.
4. Depression – Considering all the above effects low Vitamin D can cause on your body, it makes even more sense that low Vitamin D can cause be associated with depressive symptoms. While it isn’t understood in its full entirety how exactly Vitamin D works in the brain, there is enough evidence to link low Vitamin D levels to depression.
Studies have shown that people experiencing depression almost always have low Vitamin D levels and when they are given supplements to help with this deficiency their symptoms of depression lessen. Vitamin D has been found in many parts of the brain. There are receptors in the brain for vitamin D, which means it is acting someway in the brain, and these receptors have been found in areas that are linked to the development of depression.
People can seem to go through seasonal depression, this is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is defined as a mood disorder that is characterized by depression that occurs at the same time every year, usually during the winter months. Low Vitamin D has not only your physical health symptoms but affects your mental health as well. How are you supposed to feel good emotionally if your body is feeling pain, tired, and even sick more frequently? Low vitamin D can be quite the domino effect on our overall physical and emotional health.
After doing some of my own research I felt inclined to get more information on Vitamin D from The Inner You’s very own Licensed Dietitian, Kimberly Lewandowski.
1. Alexandra Haggerty: Why does the body need Vitamin D?
Kim Lewandowski: The body doesn’t self-produce Vitamin D because our bodies can make most of what we need with exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D is responsible for increasing intestinal absorption of calcium, magnesium, phosphate, and multiple other biological effects.
2. AH: How much Vitamin D does the human body need?
KL: The DRI (dietary recommended intake) is 600 IU, however, if you are living in northern states like we are it can be anywhere between 600-2000 IU. I would never suggest more than 2000 IU without the requirement of a blood test in order see where your levels are currently at.
3. AH: How much sun does the body need to produce a sufficient amount of Vitamin D by itself. How do autumn and winter compare to summer?
KL: The body needs about 15-30 minutes of sunlight a day, no less than 15 minutes. Darker skin usually requires more sunlight than fair skin. The time of year doesn’t really matter, what mainly matters is that to produce Vitamin D the body requires direct contact with the skin which is obviously harder in winter months seeing as everyone is always bundled up or inside.
4. AH: Is there a difference in obtaining vitamin D from sunlight and obtaining it through supplements/food? Is so what is the difference?
KL: Yes, absolutely. Sunlight is the most efficient way for the body to obtain Vitamin D. It is very hard to try to obtain the vitamin through food intake because the supply is limited. Natural sunlight is by far utilized as the best way to obtain Vitamin D.
5. AH: What are the consequences of a Vitamin D deficiency?
KL: There are many potential consequences of a Vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is an anti-inflammatory so when there is a deficiency of it your immunity to illness is compromised. It can also cause bone deterioration, seasonal mood disorder, and much more the list goes on.
6. AH: Is an oversupply of Vitamin D possible through the body’s own synthesis?
KL: An oversupply of Vitamin D isn’t possible through sunlight because your body regulates the amount of vitamin D produced by sun exposure. However, with supplements, it is entirely possible.
7. AH: Does a Vitamin D oversupply have any effects on health?
KL: Yes, the main consequence of Vitamin D toxicity is a buildup of calcium in your blood (called hypercalcemia), which can cause nausea and vomiting, weakness and frequent urination. Symptoms could even progress to bone pain and kidney problems, such as the formation of calcium stones.
In conclusion, how can we best try to prevent a Vitamin D deficiency or just low levels of this vitamin that is so important to us?
1. Supplements! Nothing helps beat a vitamin deficiency in your body like feeding your body what its craving. During those winter months, when it’s especially hard to get the amount of Vitamin D your body needs, aid in your body’s search for Vitamin D by taking a daily supplement approved by your doctor/nutritionist.
2. Eat foods naturally containing Vitamin D. Eating more foods with vitamin D in it, like salmon or egg yolks, will absolutely assist in meeting your bodies need for this vitamin.
3. Get tested often. An excellent way to keep up with whether or not you have a Vitamin D deficiency is to go to your yearly physical and have your blood levels tested this way you can make sure if you are deficient you can take care of it right away!
4. Get outside when you can. I know it’s hard to push yourself to get out in the cold but if you notice there is a day coming up in the week that will be a little warmer than others and the sun will be shining set some time aside to bundle up and go for a walk. I can’t think of a better way to absorb the nutrients you need than the all-natural way of exposure to the sun.
Written by: Alexandra Haggerty