If you’re struggling with your mood, vitamin D could be what you need.
One of the few vitamins the body can actually manufacture, Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin because exposure to the sun triggers its production in the skin. Its primary biologic function is to regulate calcium levels, and it was long known primarily for its importance in building and maintaining strong bones.
But recent research is proving that the sunshine vitamin plays a huge role in many aspects of health and wellness. In addition to providing protection against a variety of age-related disorders including osteoporosis, heart disease, cancer, and autoimmune disease, deficiency of this important vitamin is associated with a wide range of mood and cognitive disorders.
Vitamin D Deficiency Linked To Depression
Depression is a very common problem for people over 60, both in association other diseases and as a chronic, recurring condition. Studies have demonstrated a strong link between low levels of the vitamin and depression, and in fact mood swings and feelings of depression are among the symptoms of deficiency.
A landmark 2008 Dutch study of more than 1200 men and women 65 and older showed an unmistakable correlation between vitamin D deficiency and instances of depression. Blood levels of the vitamin were 14% lower among the subjects who were suffering from depression than among the non-depressed subjects.
The study also measured blood levels of parathyroid hormone, which increases when blood levels of vitamin D are too low. It was found that in the patients with major depression, parathyroid levels were 33 percent higher than in non-depressed patients.
An Important Factor for Midlife Women
As the body ages its ability to produce vitamin D declines, and insufficient levels of the vitamin lead to a decrease in calcium absorption. It has long been understood that low calcium absorption heightens the risk of bone-weakening diseases like osteoporosis, but it has recently been found that low calcium can increase the risk of depression as well.
This syndrome is particularly important to older women because reduced estrogen levels also appear to effect calcium absorption, compounding the problems created by D vitamin deficiency. Research on how the vitamin effects mood in post-menopausal women is ongoing, but recent studies by the University of Massachusetts showed that in younger women supplemental calcium and vitamin D helped control the mood-related symptoms of Pre-Menstrual Syndrome, including tearfulness, anxiety and irritability.
A Cure for SAD?
Since it’s known as the sunshine vitamin, it seems reasonable to expect that vitamin D would ease Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a chronic seasonal depression that occurs during the winter months when there is little exposure to sun. But though there is general agreement that lack of sun leads to both deficiency of the vitamin and the disorder, researchers say more studies are needed to determine whether supplemental doses of the mood vitamin can be used as a treatment.