Vitamin D & Mental Health
There is no doubt that isolation from others can have damaging effects on the mind. The question is, how does this affect your body? Believe it or not, your mind and body are closely connected, and both are impacted by COVID-19 related distancing and extra time spent indoors.
Ask yourself, how have the past few months spent indoors impacted my mental health? One way to alleviate these impacts is to pay close attention to your vitamin D levels. To learn more about vitamin D and it’s connections to your mental health, especially during a pandemic, keep on reading. You can also take a look at our previous vitamin D article for a more in-depth review of this vitamin's bodily applications.
What does vitamin D do?
Vitamin D is a vital vitamin in the body. It is made naturally each time you are exposed to sunlight. It can also be ingested orally, via vitamin D supplements, and certain foods. For a more in-depth look at certain types of supplementation and foods that contain vitamin D, read an earlier article I wrote, The Sunshine Vitamin - Vitamin D.
Although it has a multitude of functions, some of its most common benefits are: it improves bone and immune health, promotes metabolic processes, and fights depression. The last benefit listed will be most expanded upon in this article.
Yes, vitamin D contributes to battling depression! Research has shown that vitamin D has a crucial role in stabilizing your mood and preventing bouts of depression. If you have recently been experiencing more frequent mood swings or symptoms of depression, it could be because you are lacking in vitamin D.
In fact, one study from the Journal of Internal Medicine found that individuals diagnosed with depression gained symptom relief with vitamin D supplements.
Another study determined that vitamin D deficiency was associated with both anxiety and depression in patients with fibromyalgia.
Because we are largely reliant on sunlight for the production of vitamin D, a lack of exposure to the sun could result in the reduction of these many vitamin-associated benefits.
What are the impacts of staying inside?
As discussed by the American Psychological Association, a 2018 national survey by Cigna, demonstrates that loneliness levels have reached an all-time high, with nearly half of 20,000 U.S. adults reporting they sometimes or always feel alone. These numbers are only intensified by the mandates of self-isolation, as loneliness has broadly been identified as one of the causes of health and mental health risks.
Though in practicing safe-social distancing, we are protecting ourselves and each other from potential COVID-19 infection, it is important that we consider the impacts that this may have on our health mentally.
Cigna’s study also determined that high loneliness levels are associated with increased mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Furthermore, there are several other health risks that are compounded by isolation and loneliness.
"There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase the risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators," HoltLunstad says. Source
"Emotional and mental struggles due to COVID-19 could lead to physical ramifications down the line. According to a report from the National Academies of Sciences: ‘Social isolation has been associated with a significantly increased risk of premature mortality from all causes,’ including a ‘50% increased risk of developing dementia;’ a ‘29% increased risk of incident coronary heart disease;’ a ‘25% increased risk for cancer mortality;’ a ‘59% increased risk of functional decline;’ and a ‘32% increased risk of stroke.’" Source
Clearly, COVID-19 has the potential to produce a variety of increased health concerns, many of which are promoted by mental disorders spurred on by increased loneliness.
What happens when your vitamin D levels are low?
Increased awareness for mental health damages during these trying times can partially be due to the lack of sunlight exposure that is associated with staying inside for days at a time. This can cause vitamin D deficiency, whose symptoms are mood swings, back/bone pain, weakness and aches, digestive issues, obesity, and decreased immunity. In mentioning vitamin D and its relationship to battling depression, we must also take into consideration the negative mental impacts associated with vitamin D deficiency.
Many researchers believe that a lack of vital nutrients in the body can have a rather profound influence on whether or not a person is susceptible to mental disorders such as depression. In fact, a 2005 study published in the National Library for Medicine specifically identified vitamin D receptors in the brain areas correlated with depression.
Age, skin tone, body weight, and the latitude in which you live all influence your body’s ability to properly synthesize vitamin D, so knowing the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are key to sufficiently avoiding it.
How can I increase my vitamin D levels?
Few foods are naturally rich in vitamin D. In reality, we rely on the sun for most of its creation. However, a person may require anywhere from 15 minutes to 3 hours of adequate sunlight in order to produce enough vitamin D to avoid deficiency and function properly. Now, during quarantine or other forms of mandated self-isolation, getting sunlight can be a tricky task. If you are looking to increase your vitamin D levels during quarantine, vitamin D supplements may be the way to go. Though this essential vitamin is present in most multivitamins, it can also be ingested through single-ingredient supplements as well. Multivitamins usually don't contain enough vitamin D to raise your vitamin D. If you are low in vitamin D, higher doses will be necessary.
The most common form of vitamin D available through supplementation is vitamin D3. This form is made in the skin, is apparent in animal-based foods, and is more readily absorbed by the body. Nonetheless, it is still biologically inactive, meaning that it must be activated within your body to work properly.
As mentioned earlier, the benefits of maintaining your body’s vitamin D levels are anything but few and far between. To promote a healthy mind, bones, immune system, and metabolism during this pandemic, vitamin D supplements could be both an easy and effective way to reap the benefits of this amazing and natural vitamin.
For a list of foods fortified with, or naturally containing vitamin D, visit our previous vitamin D related article.
Getting out in the sunshine to raise your vitamin D levels may sound rather easy. But during the pandemic it may seem impossible. When you factor your local climate and the season, opportunities for obtaining vitamin D seem sparse. Low vitamin D sets you up for depression during an already depressing time.
Advocate for yourself and your mental health by getting regular vitamin D blood tests and taking vitamin D supplements. You can also take a look at our other blogs to learn more about other useful forms of supplementation. Here’s to getting a little more sunshine back into our lives.
Carly Neubert BA, NC
For additional recipes, biohacking tips and lifestyle hacks -- check out my other blog on my coaching site www.cleancoachcarly.com! I post weekly about nutrition and lifestyle topics, all backed by science. Happy Reading!
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