Vitamin D is a nutrient present in almost every single cell in the body. It is primarily used to regulate calcium and mineral uptake, mineral metabolism, and bone growth. However, the abundance of vitamin D in the body’s cells indicates it has much broader actions than may be entirely known.
One main role of vitamin D is presumed to be the regulation of depression as data and clinical associations have observed low vitamin D levels in a high percentage of patients with reported depression. Low levels of vitamin D may even be a predictor of increased propensity to depression. Vitamin D receptors are present in the same areas of the brain linked with depression, and vitamin D is known to assist in the release of dopamine and serotonin, essential mood modulating neurotransmitters. Vitamin D clearly has a role in mood regulation, even if the mechanism of its actions in regulation is not entirely clear.
The good news is that enhancing vitamin D absorption or supplementation has been demonstrated to improve mood and alleviate depression.
Vitamin D deficiencies can go undetected because the symptoms are largely internal without any specific disease associations, except childhood rickets or bone softening. Low vitamin D levels are often found in individuals with low immunity, chronic colds and flus, asthma, poor digestion, psoriasis, mood disorders, cardiovascular disease, and periodontal disease. However, each of these conditions has a multitude of causes and is not linked solely with vitamin D deficiency.
Factors that can contribute to increased risk of vitamin D deficiencies include increased melanin in the skin, daily sunscreen use, obesity, digestive or liver issues, advanced age, or low dietary Vitamin D intake in infants.In each of these health conditions, and as part of a yearly wellness and prevention exam, vitamin D should be tested; the most accurate test for active vitamin D is 25-hydroxy vitamin D.
Correcting vitamin D deficiency can be easily addressed with simple diet, supplementation, and lifestyle adjustments. Even though vitamin D is made by sunshine hitting the skin, individuals living in abundantly sunny areas like our valley can actually be at risk for deficiency as sunscreen use, which blocks vitamin D production, is more common. Sitting in direct sunlight without sunscreen for 15 minutes per day can raise vitamin D levels. Taking a daily vitamin D3 supplement of 2000 iu (or more as needed) is recommended to prevent and treat vitamin D deficiencies.
Dietary sources of vitamin D include mushrooms, wild fish, organic pasture-fed dairy, and organic free-range eggs which can increase vitamin D body stores.
Depression has many causes, and a deficiency in vitamin D can be a cause or exacerbating factor. Even in cases where depression is present and vitamin D levels are within normal range, raising vitamin D levels within a safe range can still be very helpful and useful in alleviating depression symptoms.
With chronic health issues and for prevention and wellness, have 25-hydroxy vitamin D tested annually or more frequently as needed by a qualified health provider.
Dr. Sinsheimer is a Naturopathic Doctor with Optimal Health Center in Palm Desert and can be reached at (760) 568.2598.