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Vitamin D Levels & Mental Health: Is There A Clear Connection

Vitamin D Levels & Mental Health: Is There A Clear Connection

You already know that maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D is crucial for a healthy immune system and having strong bones. But did you also know that there’s a possible link between low levels of the “sunshine vitamin” and mental health issues such as depression?

If you’re into natural health, if there’s one thing the coronavirus pandemic has taught us, it’s probably that having sufficient serum vitamin D levels is critical for decreasing the chances of developing severe COVID-19.

Roughly a year and a half after studies first started showing the association between vitamin D levels and hospitalization outcomes, it may be no surprise to you that vitamin D is important for immune health. (And you probably learned years ago that vitamin D is critical for calcium absorption and bone health.)

What you may not realize is that studies have also shown a correlation between vitamin D and depression and other mental health issues. And it’s not simply because people who spend more time in the sun are generally happier. While this may be true to some extent, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

For starters, there are plenty of people who spend lots of time outdoors and still have insufficient vitamin D levels. Take 51% of a group of surfers and skateboarders in Honolulu, for example, who in this study, were found to have vitamin D deficiency despite spending ample time in the strong Hawaiian sun. Whether these people are happy or not may or may not have anything to do with their vitamin D levels.

Vitamin D & Mental Health: Correlation Not Causation

Vitamin D is actually more of a hormone than it is a nutrient. There are three forms of vitamin D. Calcitriol, otherwise known as 1,25 D3, is made from another form of vitamin D in the kidneys called calcidiol.

Calcitriol is the most powerful steroidal hormone in the human body. Steroid hormones and neurotransmitters have a profound impact on mood. Researchers aren’t exactly sure why low levels of vitamin D are associated with depression and mental health issues, but having poor neurotransmitter communication and insufficient steroidal hormones have been observed in several studies.

The third form of vitamin D is cholecalciferol, which is also known as vitamin D3. This is the type of vitamin D that your body makes when your skin is exposed to sunlight, sans sunscreen. Unfortunately, many people are so concerned about skin cancer, as they should be, that they do not get any natural sunlight exposure on their skin before applying sunscreen. Unless you’re somebody who burns very easily, strive to get 15-20 minutes of direct sun exposure during the middle of the day before applying sunscreen.

However, keep those vitamin D-deficient Hawaiian surfers in mind. Showing off some skin may not be enough to have adequate levels of vitamin D in your blood. You may need to take a supplement, which should also be in the form of cholecalciferol (D3).

Serotonin & Vitamin D

There are hundreds if not thousands of binding sites for Vitamin D, many of which are in the brain. The hypothalamus gland, one such receptor site for vitamin D, produces mood-regulating hormones. Researchers theorize that this is one explanation for the association between low vitamin D levels and depression.

A study in Journal of Affective Disorders expounds on the connection by explaining that Vitamin D regulates TPH2 (in the brain) and TPH1 (in the gut), in serotonin synthesis pathways. TPH stands for Tryptophan Hydroxylase, which is a protein in genes that’s been associated with major depressive disorder. In addition, researchers believe that vitamin D may regulate the function of oxytocin, the so-called “love hormone.”

How Can You Tell If You Need More Vitamin D?

The only way to know for sure is to get a blood test. That’s bad news if you have a fear of needles. But getting a quick prick and knowing what your baseline levels are is a critical piece of health information. Some lab testing companies suggest that anything under 30 ng/ml is considered insufficient and anything under 20 ng/ml is considered deficient. But many experts would say that if you’re under 40 ng/ml, that’s actually on the low side.

Can You Boost Vitamin D Levels With Food?

You can, but it’s difficult. You’d have to consume one or more of the following on a daily basis: herring, salmon, egg yolks, cod liver oil, and, well, that’s about all the foods that have a decent amount of vitamin D.

And if your levels are low, even if you ate every single one of those foods every day, it may not be enough. In order to support your immune system, bones, heart, muscles and, as you’ve just learned, your mental health, consider taking a vitamin D3 supplement. Many experts believe that taking a dose of at least 2,500 IUs per day is necessary for elevating serum levels of the hormone-like vitamin.

Do you take a vitamin D supplement? Leave a comment below...

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