National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Spending your vacation sitting on the beach soaking up the sunlight sounds like a great way to forget work pressures and to banish the blues, but what if it were a prescription for treating depression? You would want to get your doctor to write that script pronto, right?
Many studies suggest that vitamin D—often called the sunshine vitamin because the body produces the vitamin from cholesterol by the action of sunlight on the skin–plays a significant role in mood and depression. There are two main forms of vitamin D: D2, which is found in plants; and D3, which is found in animal foods. When you consume foods that contain either form of vitamin D or you are exposed to sunlight, it is converted in the liver to form 25(OH)D (25-hydroxyvitamin D) and then in the kidney to 1,25(OH)D.
Vitamin D and Depression
Experts have long known that light therapy (often in the form of light boxes) is an effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that occurs during the winter months, usually at high latitudes, when exposure to sunlight is minimal or nonexistent.
But what about other forms of depression? A study of older adults conducted at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, for example, found an association between vitamin D deficiency and low mood, while a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry reported on the relationship between depression and decreased levels of 25(OH)D and increased parathyroid hormone levels. Fortunately, vitamin D deficiency and high parathyroid hormone levels can both be treated by increasing intake of vitamin D and exposure to sunlight.
Are You Vitamin D Deficient?
According to experts, 40 percent of Americans are vitamin D deficient, but if you just consider elderly people in nursing facilities, the number is about 70 percent. Since most people in nursing and long-term care facilities are depressed, it’s been proposed that treatment with vitamin D may help resolve both problems.
The level of vitamin D in the body considered to be healthy is in the range of 35 to 50 ng/mL.To find out the level of vitamin D in your body, request a blood test from your physician. According to the Vitamin D Council, the only lab test that should be used to measure vitamin D deficiency and vitamin D stores is 25(OH)D. The Council also recommends that if you suffer from depression, you should get your 25(OH)D level checked.
Levels lower than 35 ng/mL indicate a vitamin D deficiency and you should begin to take supplements and/or receive treatment to correct it. The RDA for vitamin D is only 200 IU, but many health professionals recommend taking 400 IU or more daily. Talk to your doctor before you start supplementation.
How long it takes you to bring your vitamin D level to within a healthy range cannot be predicted, but studies indicate that it often takes months of supplementation and sunlight exposure to correct it.
Perhaps now is the time to book that vacation to Aruba.