Vitamin D During Winter Months and Depression
We have arrived at the time of year when the amount of sunlight available throughout the day is at a minimum. We get to work early in the day but if we leave at a typical 5:00 pm then it has already become dark. The summer sports we watched in the warm sun have gone away. Neighborhood kids have all huddled up inside due to the cold and most of the adult walkers we see have also disappeared. The people that are outside are now all bundled up so what little sunlight that is available does not penetrate the multiple layers of clothes. One thing that shows up when the daylight hours go down is depression and deficiency in your Vitamin D.
Depression can affect every aspect of a person’s life. With every health condition you have, depression can cripple your ability to manage them through the winter months. This is a leading cause of disability affecting close to 15 million people in the United States. Depression can vary in severity from person to person. I want to focus on the people that suffer depressive tendencies in winter months and how Vitamin D may help.
It is estimated that up to one billion people may suffer from a Vitamin D deficiency. This is typically checked with a blood test to check for Vitamin D levels. A deficiency is a level of 20 ng/mL; an insufficiency is less than 30 ng/mL. Recently a study focusing on Vitamin D and its effects on depression in overweight and obese people showed the importance of proper Vitamin D levels. The results revealed that groups receiving up to 20,000 IU cholecalciferol during the week for a year showed significant improvement in their depression.
How does sunlight help to keep your Vitamin D levels stable? Sunlight exposure accounts for over 90% of Vitamin D required levels. When the skin is exposed to the sun it builds Vitamin D in the skin cells. Sun exposure is greatest during spring into early fall during sunlight hours. We are now in the late portion of the fall. The sun will rise at 7:30am and set at 5:20pm. This leads to about 10 hours of available sunlight during the day. In the summer months, the sun may rise at 6:15am and set at 9:00pm giving us up to 15 hours of available sunlight. The longer hours of sunlight can lead to higher levels of Vitamin D in the bloodstream, but the winter months can lead to depleted levels. Many people that suffer from depression also have low levels of Vitamin D circulating in the bloodstream. Vitamin D deficiency and depression are two separate conditions that require different treatments but treating the deficiency may help with depression.
What does this all mean? Vitamin D is a key nutrient for physical and mental health. Studies have found the low levels of Vitamin D are associated with fatigue, mood changes, sleep disturbances, muscle weakness, neurocognitive dysfunction and depression. The most recent study in Food Science and Nutrition published July 2022 showed that young to middle-aged participants had beneficial effects with a reduction of depression symptoms in those with milder clinically significant depressive symptoms. If you would like to consider adding Vitamin D into your daily regimen, please contact your doctor and have appropriate Vitamin D blood testing performed so you are aware of your levels and how much Vitamin D that is recommended. Your doctor will help you with a duration, dose, type, frequency and whether you should add calcium with your Vitamin D.
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