Vitamin D eases winter depression
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Does vitamin D help with winter depression? Every time I tan, I seem to feel less depressed. Does tanning help?
Vitamin D may play a role in seasonal affective disorder (including winter depression), which typically occurs when vitamin D levels are lower.
The “vitamin D winter” occurs at latitudes north of 34 degrees (for those of us who live north of Tennessee).
The safest, cheapest, and most practical means of increasing vitamin D levels is by taking an over-the-counter supplement daily under your health care provider’s or pharmacist’s direction.
In a 2010 study published in the “Annals of Long Term Care,” people with winter depression receiving daily vitamin D oral tablets significantly improved compared with patients receiving bright light therapy, and the higher the vitamin D blood levels, the less the winter depression.
Vitamin D is obtained primarily by skin exposure to ultraviolet B light, which stimulates the manufacturing of the active version of vitamin D.
Fifteen minutes of skin exposure to sunlight is capable of manufacturing up to 20,000 international units of vitamin D daily, whereas sitting in a sunny glassed-in area produces almost no vitamin D, as glass absorbs most of the ultraviolet B rays.
Vitamin D skin production is decreased by the more northern latitudes, winter months, the use of sunscreens, darker skin pigmentation, cloudy days and wearing clothing. Furthermore, as we age, our skin thins and the potential to produce vitamin D decreases by 75 percent by age 70.
Generally, vitamin D blood levels of at least 50 ng/mL is ideal. For patients with insufficient vitamin D blood levels of 21 ng/mL to 29 ng/mL, oral supplementation with vitamin D doses between 1,000 IU and 2,000 IU is often adequate.
The amount that the vitamin D serum levels will increase is difficult to predict due to differences in absorption and breakdown, but it has been estimated that a daily supplementation of 1,000 IU of vitamin D will raise blood levels by about 10 ng/mL.
For those who are more deficient in vitamin D, weekly doses of 50,000 IU weekly for eight weeks is often given, followed by 1,000 to 2,000 IU daily.
Vitamin D levels may be rechecked in about three months due to the wide variability in response to oral supplementation.
Tanning beds also help to maintain the necessary level of Vitamin D during the winter months. Modest exposure to tanning beds may be adequate to increase vitamin D. However, with UVB exposure, there is concern about increasing the risk of developing skin cancers, tanning in moderation is the key to mental and physical health.
The presence of vitamin D receptors in the memory and emotional centers of the brain and vitamin D’s anti-oxidative effects may contribute to the relationship between low vitamin D levels and other conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia.
Adequate levels of this vitamin provide a cost-effective means of improving our mental health, especially during our winters.
Dr. Jay Fawver