Don’t be sun-shy and soak up that needed dose of sunshine!

Are your mood swings overpowering your daily work or have you been feeling gloomy and dull lately? You might be surprised to know that a deficiency or insufficiency of vitamin D can be one of the reasons behind your troubled mental health.

Vitamin D is not only essential for healthy bones by regulating calcium absorption but also plays a vital role in mental health. Vitamin D aka the sunshine vitamin is among the most essential nutrients for human health. Optimum Vitamin D levels in adults not only promises healthy bones nonetheless decreases the chance of depression, anxiety and other mood disorders. [1] The role of vitamin D is pivotal in maintaining a healthy brain and better mental health.

Did You Know: Overuse of sunscreen and higher melanin pigment can prevent vitamin D absorption in the skin. 

Hence even spending 10-15 mins in the sun can boost your brain health, improving various cognitive functions. So, if you are looking for a natural way to maintain your mental health and ease out anxiety, vitamin D can be the key.

Vitamin D And Brain (Mental health)

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin synthesised in our skin in the presence of sunlight. Vitamin D is a neuroprotective nutrient involved in regulating many genes important for brain function. 

Although vitamin D is a vitamin, it also functions as a neurosteroid and activates various neurochemical pathways. 

The central nervous system and the hippocampus in the brain have receptors for vitamin D. Vitamin D is known to activate and deactivate enzymes that synthesise neurotransmitters, protect neurons and encourage nerve growth.

Vitamin D And Dopamine Levels

Dopamine is a neurochemical that plays a role in the regulation of cognition, memory, mood, awareness and learning. Low dopamine levels cause a loss of happiness in things that you once found enjoyable. Ultimately low levels of dopamine in the brain results in a lack of motivation and apathy. 

According to one animal study, vitamin-D-deprived mice showed a decreased level of dopamine. And the supplementation of the vitamin–D3 directly led to an increase in dopamine.[2]

However, further human studies are needed to understand the relationship between vitamin D and dopamine in people. 

Does Vitamin D Improve Brain Function?

The simple answer is yes, vitamin D levels can improve brain functions. New research findings directly suggest a link between deficiency of Vitamin D to schizophrenia.

Optimal Vitamin D levels have been associated with proper cognition functions of the brain, including better focus and improved memory. Lower vitamin D level has been shown to affect mood.

Hence people experience more winter blues due to lack of sunlight and less sun exposure leading to mood disorders. So, soak in the sun for 10-20 minutes every day without sunscreen to improve your brain cognitive functions.

 Effect of Vitamin D Deficiency on Brain/mental health

The decrease in vitamin D levels can lead to cognitive impairment, dementia, psychosis, and autism.[3] There is evidence that vitamin D may be responsible for brain development and plays a potential role in neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders.[4]

Vitamin D deficiencies in adults have been linked with neuropsychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia. It may also lead to unfavourable brain conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, depression and mental decline. [5]

Vitamin D And Clinical Depression

Depression is a medical condition that is known to affect multiple facets of human life. According to WHO, depression is fourth in rank on the global disease burden list.

In the United States, depression alone costs $36.6 billion and about 6.7% of Americans have the disease. Clinical depression can be classified by the following symptoms. 

  • Social Isolation and withdrawal from routine activities
  • Difficulty to maintain focus and attention
  • Disturbed Sleep-wake cycle
  • Loss of appetite and in some cases emotional eating
  • Unusual thought patterns including, suicidal inclinations, anxious behaviour

That being said, not all signs and symptoms of depression are due to vitamin D deficiency. As many people might have a lower vitamin D level but not always have resulting mental illness. 

Positive research between vitamin D deficiency and people diagnosed with clinical depression still can be established. As people with depression have social withdrawal and thus lack of outdoor activities might have led to lower levels of the vitamin.

Research on the seasonal affective disorder (SAD), linked vitamin D to mental disorders like schizophrenia, psychosis and depression.

Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency

The following are the symptoms associated with Vitamin D Deficiency. It has to be noted that not all the symptoms would be related to lower vitamin D levels. It is best to consult your physician before ruling out the cause.

Low Immunity

Vitamin D is associated with improving immune functions and protecting the body against infections. Lower immunity due to vitamin D deficiency leads to changes in getting seasonal infections from viruses and bacteria more frequently.

Body fatigue

Insufficient Vitamin D is also known to cause bad body fatigue and tiredness. Thus Vitamin D supplementation can reduce fatigue improve performance and boost energy.

According to one research study, lower vitamin D levels has been shown to lead to poor sleep quality, delayed bedtimes thus contributing to body fatigue.

Bone and Muscle pain 

 Vitamin D and bone health are significantly associated with each other. Vitamin D maintains bone health and density by aiding calcium absorption. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to a loss of bone density, which can contribute to osteoporosis and fractures (broken bones).

Large observational studies have been shown to relate the causes of lower back pain in patients to insufficient or lower vitamin D levels in the blood. Having strong and healthy bones protects you from various bone conditions, such as arthritis, musculoskeletal conditions and rickets. 

Rickets is a disorder in children that makes bones weak and soft. It is caused by a lack of vitamin D in the body.

Anxiety

Anxiety is among the most common mood disorders found among youth. The main cause of anxiety is stress. The lower levels of vitamin D in the body also lead to anxious behaviour and mood changes.

Children and young people who spend more time indoors with lower sun exposure are known to have mood disorders, including anxiety.

Hair loss

Hair loss is common in people experiencing high-stress levels. That being said, not just stress but a nutrient deficiency in food can also lead to weak and damaged hair leading to hair loss.

A research study quotes that the lower Vitamin D levels in women cause hair loss and increased risk of developing alopecia areata. Alopecia is an autoimmune disease that causes drastic hair loss from the scalp. It’s correlated with rickets, which causes weak and brittle bones in children due to vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D Sources

When Outdoors our body directly produces vitamin D from direct sunlight in our skin. We can also get some vitamin D from different food sources. Below we have provided an easy table to refer to. 

Vitamin D has two forms, Vitamin D2( ergocalciferol)and Vitamin D3. Vitamin D2 is obtained from mushroom and dairy-based food, whereas vitamin D3(cholecalciferol) is mostly from animal-based foods and supplements.

The table below provides the most vitamin D rich foods with their serving size and IU of Vitamin-D available.

Food Group  

 Food

Serving Size International Unit (IU)per serving
Animal Based Food Sources Cod Liver Oil 1 Tbsp   1360 IU
Swordfish Cooked 85.04 g 566 IU
Tuna Fish, Cooked 85.04 g 68 IU
Egg(yolk) 1 Large-Medium 41 IU
Beef, Meat, Liver 85.04 g 41 IU
Dairy-Based Food Sources Milk  1 Cup 115-124 IU
American Cheese 28 g 85 IU
Plant-Based Foods Mushroom ½ Cup  366 IU
Orange Juice, Fortified With Vitamin D 1 Cup  100 IU
Soy Milk 1 Cup  119 IU

The data value for the dosage of Vitamin D to the serving size is referred from a reference article, if you wish to know more, read here.[6]

FAQ

Why is vitamin D so important?

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that is vital for different body functions. Vitamin D plays an important role in mental health and supports physical health by calcium absorption and maintaining bone density. 

Can a vitamin D deficiency cause cognitive impairment?

Vitamin D deficiency is known to cause cognitive impairment such as memory loss, lack of attention, anxiety disorders and even scezophereia and clinical depression in some cases. 

Does vitamin D improve your memory?

Yes, several research studies have shown that an adequate amount of vitamin D can increase focus, attention and memory power. 

How can I raise my vitamin D level quickly?

Sunlight is an adequate source of vitamin D and accompanying it with vitamin d fortified food can help raise the vitamin d level. Alternatively, vitamin supplements will also lead to a quick rise in serum vitamin d levels.

Wrapping It Up 

Vitamin D deficiency is remarkably common, and most people are unaware of it. Fortunately, a vitamin D deficiency is usually manageable to fix. If you think you may have vitamin d deficiency, you must speak with your physician and get your blood levels measured. 

You can either increase your sun exposure or add more vitamin-D- fortified foods to your diet.

We hope that this article has expanded your understanding of vitamin D and its effect on mental health. Please remember, nonetheless, over-exposure to sunlight — especially from 10 a.m to 3 p.m — can result in skin damage and might increase the chance of skin cancer.

What next?

You can also read up on 10 Amazing Benefits of Daily Yoga[with daily routine] to make your daily sun-soaking experience a bit healthier!

References

  1. National Library of Medicine.“Vitamin D deficiency and psychotic features in mentally ill adolescents” (2012)
  2. National Library of Medicine. “Vitamin D signalling and the differentiation of developing dopamine systems”.Neuroscience, (2016)
  3. NCBI. “The Role of Vitamin D in Brain Health”, (2018)
  4. National Library of Medicine. “Vitamin D and the brain”, (2011)
  5. National Library of Medicine. “The effects of vitamin D on brain development and adult brain function”.Mol Cell Endocrinol, (2011)
  6. NHS. Vitamin D Sources.