You’ve probably heard it somewhere by now that vitamin D is good for your health. After all, as per a study in the journal Nutrients, vitamin D is one of the highest searched dietary health supplements on Google.
But have you wondered about what exactly are your vitamin D levels? If you are like the majority of Americans, it is possibly at the suboptimal level (30 ng/mL), if not deficient (20 ng/mL). This means you aren’t getting enough of the vitamin from your food.
Come winter, if you live in places like the north of Atlanta, there are fewer possibilities of possible exposure to sunlight for the production of vitamin D. Sunlight has tremendous restorative, protecting, and healing effects on everything from bone to immunological health.
However, many people are unaware of the plethora of mental health benefits of vitamin D. So, to get to the pit of what vitamin D can do for your mental health, we have compiled a list of the top mental health benefits of vitamin D.
What Is Vitamin D?
But first, a quick explanation as to what this stuff actually is. Vitamin D is not your average nutrient. Its name does not provide a complete picture. It is not just a vitamin. It is a hormone that acts on various organs of the body.
There are two distinct sources of vitamin D for the human body. Our bodies can create vitamin D from the action of sunlight. It has its receptors in the body, making it more of a hormone than a vitamin. However, we shall continue to address it as a vitamin to avoid confusion. But that was an interesting fact, right?
According to the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient found in several food items like salmon, milk, dietary supplements, etc.
Since our bodies are able to create vitamin D for themselves through the sunlight, it is sometimes referred to as the ‘sunshine vitamin.’
But how exactly does this process work?
Let’s break it down for you.
When UV lights from the sun fall on you, your skin immediately starts converting it into D3. It is the previtamin form of vitamin D. In this form; it travels through our blood, kidneys, and liver, where it is finally converted into the real active form of vitamin D. From here on, the vitamin travels to its receptors present in the pancreas, brain, cardiac tissues, etc.
Recommended daily dosages of vitamin D
After clearing what vitamin D is, let’s know about the optimum level of it required in our body. As reported by the National Institutes of Health, the daily amount of vitamin D micrograms (mcg) or International Units (IU) you need each day depends on your age:
- Birth to 1 year: 10 mcg (400 IU)
- Children 1–13 years: 15 mcg (600 IU)
- Teens 14–18 years: 15 mcg (600 IU)
- Adults 19–70 years: 15 mcg (600 IU)
- Adults 71 years and older: 20 mcg (800 IU)
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women: 15 mcg (600 IU)
The Top Mental Health Benefits Of Vitamin D
Vitamin D deficiency is associated with an increased risk of various mental illnesses.
These situations are significantly more common in places of the planet farthest from the equator (such as the Nordic countries), which receive far less direct sunshine and have far fewer daylight hours throughout the winter months.
Let’s dive deeper into the top mental health benefits of vitamin D:
1. It helps in treating depression
Depression is a prevalent mental disorder and a primary cause of disability, affecting more than 121 million people worldwide, including more than 7% of Americans.
Vitamin D deficiency has been discovered in persons with depression. Vitamin D treatment (either by sunlight, food, or supplements) has been shown to reduce depression rates and improve symptoms. It has also been found to play a role in other common childhood mental health problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
As per a research published by the National Library of Medicine, the role of vitamin D in regulating serotonin and calcium has been linked to a possible therapeutic effect on depression.
2. It helps in lowering the rate of schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia is a severe mental illness that causes people to lose contact with reality, leading to psychotic symptoms like hallucinations and delusions.
A link found in the research by Xiaoying Cui reiterated one of the several mental health benefits of vitamin D. It revealed that people with schizophrenia are more likely to have low vitamin D levels and reside in areas of the world with less sunlight. According to numerous other researches, insufficient sunshine exposure during childhood has also increased the chance of developing schizophrenia later in life.
Furthermore, a study by Süheyla Doğan Bulut has shown that patients with schizophrenia experiencing more acute symptoms have lower vitamin D levels than those in remission from more severe symptoms.
3. It helps in reducing seasonal affective disorder.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a kind of depression that produces unpleasant mood fluctuations in response to seasonal changes, primarily during the winter months.
Summer-pattern SAD is a type of SAD that occurs less frequently during the summer months.
SAD is known to impact significantly more people living farther north in places with fewer daylight hours than those living closer to the equator. Light therapy successfully reduces symptoms of SAD, with favorable results usually visible within a week of starting lightbox sessions.
Another one of the mental health benefits of vitamin D is found in its relationship with serotonin. Serotonin, a brain chemical (or neurotransmitter) involved in mood and sleep cycle regulation, is harmed by vitamin D deficiency.
4. It plays a vital role in treating eating disorders.
In the months of fall and winter, researchers have seen an increase in symptom severity and eating disorder incidences, suggesting that vitamin D insufficiency may play a role in developing these mental health issues.
Bright light therapy and vitamin D supplements may help cure and prevent eating disorders, according to a research by Dalit Modan-Moses. Vitamin D’s role in regulating circadian rhythms and serotonin (together with melatonin) is also thought to play a role in developing these severe eating disorders.
Vitamin D deficiency affects a large number of people.
While those with specific disorders linked to vitamin D deficiency benefit from increased sunlight, light treatment, or vitamin D supplementation, everyone should consider increasing their sunshine and vitamin D intake.
The National Library of Medical Science estimates that around a billion individuals worldwide may be vitamin D deficient or insufficient.
Many Americans intake less than the recommended daily dose of vitamin D and have insufficient levels of the essential.
“Get outside and get some sun,” as grandmothers say, isn’t simply an old wives’ tale. Instead, sunlight (and the vitamin D it allows our bodies to produce) provides enormous physical and mental health benefits.
Now that you have read about the mental health benefits of vitamin D, let’s take you to another natural ingredient and its effects on your mental health. To know more about the mental health benefits of asparagus, click here.
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