Have you been feeling blue lately? Well, it may be time to go over your groceries and dine al fresco to increase your absorption of Vitamin D.
More and more, scientists, doctors, and holistic healers alike are uncovering the link between nutrition and mental health. While it’s no secret that eating a well-balanced diet can increase one’s overall wellbeing, the connection between specific vitamins and their effect on mood is only now emerging as a viable point of focus in nutritional science. In particular, the correlation between Vitamin D levels and depression is growing increasingly apparent.
Vitamin D is strongly linked to emotional wellbeing because it is the only vitamin that acts as a hormone once absorbed into our bodies. We receive vitamin D from two separate sources: sunlight and food. When we step into the sun, receptors in our skin convert UV rays into calcitriol—the active hormone form of the vitamin. Similarly, the liver also converts food-based vitamin D into calcitriol and releases it into our bloodstream.
Calcitriol affects every tissue in the body by regulating each organ’s use of minerals phosphorus and calcium. It is especially important in growing and strengthening the skeletal and muscular systems. Like with any hormone, a lack of calcitriol in the body inhibits cells that form our organ tissues from carrying out their necessary functions, thus slowing the rate of the body’s normal processes and creating a truly depressed environment. This is how a vitamin D deficiency can dampen your mood.
So how can you make sure you’re getting enough of this happy vitamin? First, make sure to spend at least 15 minutes in sunlight every day—just enough to slightly flush your skin so that it turns lighter when pressed. Unfortunately, sunscreen limits your skin’s ability to absorb the vitamin, so if you are planning on spending more than 15 minutes in the sun, are very pale, or have a history of skin cancer, it’s best to turn to food to receive most of your vitamin D.
If you live in a particularly cold and/or cloudy region, you can still get the vitamin D you need. Despite appearances, UV rays still reach your skin when it is cloudy and/or raining, so much so that you should still choose sunscreen over vitamin D absorption if you are planning on being outside for more than 15 minutes. If you work in an office during those short day winter months, bundle up and aim to go on 2 to 3, 10-minutes walks throughout the day. It may seem like a hassle, but the payoff is worth it.
Additionally, you can get a substantial amount of vitamin D from dietary sources. One serving of salmon contains nearly three times the daily-recommended intake. Other fish like sardines and mackerel also house sizable amounts of the vitamin. If you are a lacto-ovo vegetarian or cannot eat fish due to other reasons, be sure to incorporate organic, non-rBGH treated cow’s or goat’s milk, cheese, or yogurt into your diet, as one serving supplies roughly 1/3 of your daily Vitamin D needs. If you are vegan, you can look to fortified dairy alternatives like almond or organic soymilk as well as supplements. Shitake mushrooms also contain small amounts of vitamin D, but not enough to serve as a primary source.
So if you find yourself in a funk, don’t D-spair! Step outside for a few minutes and add some vitamin-D rich delights into your diet. You’ll be D-lighted at how a few small adjustments can make all the difference!