Sunlight is vital to nearly all living things, us included. Aside from giving warmth and light, the sun nourishes us with essential nutrients that our bodies need to function. A lack of exposure to sunlight can lead to complications with your health and even affect your mood and outlook.
While spending time outdoors can help, our busy schedules often prevent us from finding hours during the day that we can dedicate to outdoor activity. Fortunately, it is possible to supplement your diet with vitamin D to make up for a lack of sun exposure. This essential nutrient can also help patients who get enough sun exposure but who still suffer from symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Is a Vitamin D Deficiency Causing Your Depression?
Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin because your body can produce it when your skin is exposed to the sun.
This essential, fat-soluble nutrient facilitates calcium absorption, keeping your bones healthy and strong while promoting cell growth and benefiting your immune function. It may also play a role in alleviating depression, as researchers have noted that many people with depression have low serum vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D and Depression
Researchers have found that many people who have depression also have low circulating levels of vitamin D in their blood, so the two factors may be related. Some studies have suggested that low levels of vitamin D during pregnancy are connected to postpartum depression — a type of depression that occurs in the days, weeks, and months after a person gives birth.
Researchers have also found similar connections between depression and low vitamin D levels in people with gout, chronic spinal cord injuries, stroke, and multiple sclerosis. Some studies have noted that certain groups of people experience improvements in symptoms of depression shortly after they start taking vitamin D.
Risk Factors for Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D deficiencies can be caused by a number of different factors, conditions, and environmental variables. Regardless of the reason, a vitamin D deficiency can be remedied with supplements and lifestyle changes.
Limited Sun Exposure
Sunlight exposure is the primary source of vitamin D for most people. If you stay out of the sun, you limit your exposure, which can lead to vitamin D deficiency. The amount of sun exposure you need will depend on your local climate, the time of day, and the time of year. People with lighter skin also tend to make vitamin D more quickly than people with darker skin.
However, when it comes to increasing your time in the sun, some researcher says there is no clear answer about how to balance exposure with cancer risk. Research seems to indicate that most people don’t need much sunlight exposure to make enough vitamin D, so you may not have to spend as much time outdoors. Sunscreen is essential to help prevent skin cancer, however, keep in mind that it also blocks some of the sun’s UVB rays, which your body needs to make vitamin D.
Not very many foods are naturally rich in vitamin D. However, several are easily accessible that are easy to incorporate into your diet. Increase your intake by eating more of these great natural sources of vitamin D:
- Fatty fish
- Fish liver oils
- Animal fats
- Vitamin D-fortified food products, such as orange juice and cereal
If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, there is a chance you are not getting enough vitamin D. However, there are some vegan foods that do contain vitamin D. These include
- Fortified plant-based milks, fruit juices, and grain products
- Mushrooms that have been exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light to increase their vitamin D content
A link exists between vitamin D deficiencies and people with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. Compared to people with moderate weight, people with obesity may need to absorb more vitamin D to reach recommended nutrient levels.
If your BMI is 30 or higher, consider asking a healthcare professional about getting your vitamin D levels evaluated. You doctors can help you come up with a plan that caters to your lifestyle to increase your levels. In most cases, doctors will prescribe a high-dose vitamin D supplement to address your deficiency.
Age can also contribute to a vitamin D deficiency. As you get older, your skin becomes less efficient at producing vitamin D. Older adults also tend to limit their time in the sun and may eat diets with insufficient amounts of vitamin D.
How to Treat a Vitamin D Deficiency for Depression
Vitamin D deficiency and depression are separate conditions, so they require different treatments. However, treating a vitamin D deficiency may also help with depression.
Ways you can consume more vitamin D include:
Take Vitamin D Supplements
A daily dose of 600 IU of vitamin D is recommended for most people. If supplementing on your own, it’s safe to take up to 4,000 IU without speaking to a healthcare professional, according to the National Institutes of Health.
However, it is important to get your vitamin D levels checked before you begin taking high-dose vitamin D supplements. You should also work closely with a healthcare professional to determine the right dosage for you. Vitamin D is also a fat-soluble vitamin, so it can build up in your fat cells. For this reason, taking high doses over time may lead to a vitamin D toxicity, which can cause high calcium levels, kidney stones, digestive problems, and neurological changes.
Increase Your Sun Exposure
Dedicate time each day to spend outside. For optimal vitamin D synthesis, spend at least 10–30 minutes outdoors in the warmest part of the day (typically around noon) when the sun is shining.
Eat Foods Containing Vitamin D
Vitamin D-rich foods during the winter, such as vitamin-D-fortified dairy or plant-based milk, fish like trout or salmon, or UV-exposed mushrooms.
Learn to Cook with Vitamin D-rich Foods
Cooking for your health can be fun and tasty! To help introduce more vitamin D into your diet, try one of our favorite salmon recipes.
Making changes to your diet is one of the easiest ways to improve your physical and mental health. At Poppy Life Care, our nutritionists and wellness experts can help guide you toward healthy eating.
Orange Pomegranate Salmon (adapted from Taste of Home)
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 skinned salmon fillet (about 2 pounds)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 medium navel orange, thinly sliced
- 1 cup pomegranate seeds
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh dill
- Preheat oven to 375°. Place a 28×18-in. piece of heavy-duty foil in a 15x10x1-in. baking pan. Place onion slices in a single layer on foil. Top with salmon; sprinkle with salt. Put orange slices over top. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds; drizzle with oil. Cover with a second piece of foil. Bring edges of foil together on all sides and crimp to seal, forming a large packet.
- Bake until fish just begins to flake easily with a fork, 25-30 minutes. Remove to a serving platter and sprinkle with dill.
Serving Size: 4 ounces cooked salmon:
307 calories, 19g fat (3g saturated fat), 76mg cholesterol, 274mg sodium, 8g carbohydrate (6g sugars, 1g fiber), and 26g protein.