How Vitamin D May Affect Depression

It’s no secret that vitamin D contributes to the development and maintenance of healthy, strong bones. But did you know that it is also being researched for its effects on depression?

Here Comes the Sun!

Our bodies naturally synthesize vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. All you need for a week’s worth of vitamin D is 15 to 20 minutes in the sun. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which supports the development and maintenance of healthy bones. This is critical in children as they grow. Adults also need vitamin D and calcium to prevent osteoporosis, or brittle bones, as they age.

While we’ve known about the connection between vitamin D and calcium for some time, more recent research is looking into the connection of vitamin D to depression. It is possible that this vitamin may play a role in improving symptoms of depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Other research has shown that vitamin D may also improve muscle recovery, help prevent soreness and aching, and help with immune function.

You can get small amounts of vitamin D from foods including fish, eggs and fortified milk, but for people living in the Seattle area, it’s hard to get enough vitamin D without taking a supplement, particularly during winter.

Balancing Vitamins and Sunshine

The Institute of Medicine recommends a minimum daily allowance of 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D per day and 800 IU per day for people over age 70. People living in the Pacific Northwest may need more than this due to our limited exposure to the sun, particularly during winter.

Lisa Sieberson, DNP, ARNP, recommends to her patients that they take a daily vitamin D supplement with 1000 to 2000 IU to ensure sufficient vitamin D levels.

During the summer months, when the sun does come out in Seattle, it is easier to get those 15 to 20 minutes of sunshine per week. However, keep in mind that sunscreen blocks the UV light that allows our skin to synthesize vitamin D.

She doesn’t advise going into direct sunlight for extended periods of time without sunscreen, especially for those who are fair skinned or have other risk factors for skin cancer. For this reason, it may be worthwhile to take vitamin D supplements all year round.

Some people are more susceptible to low vitamin D than others. People with darker skin tones need more sunlight to synthesize enough vitamin D. Breast-fed infants are also prone to vitamin D deficiency because breast milk does not usually contain a sufficient amount of vitamin D and infants should not be exposed to direct sunlight.

Seattle’s latitude and propensity for cloudy days make it hard for all of us to get enough vitamin D, so if you’ve got the rainy-day blues and aren’t already taking vitamin D, you might want to consider a supplement to boost your vitamin D. Talk with your doctor!

Learn more about the author, Lisa Sieberson, DNP, ARNP or call 206.505.1300 for an appointment.