The Importance of Vitamin D on Mental Health
By: Jen McWaters, Psy.D. | February 3, 2023
In the throes of winter with shorter and colder days, it’s common to experience a slowing down of energy. Many people, however, experience more pronounced lethargy, lack of motivation, energy and drive, low mood, or symptoms of depression. A lesser-known contributing factor to these symptoms may be to blame: Vitamin D deficiency.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is both a nutrient we eat, and a hormone that our bodies make. It plays an important role in cell growth, bone growth, and mood. Vitamin D earned its namesake of the “sunshine vitamin” because it is predominantly derived from sunlight. Few foods naturally contain Vitamin D, but it is naturally occurring in the presence of the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Many people have insufficient levels because they have limited sun exposure – even in Sunny San Diego!
What is a healthy level of Vitamin D?
If you’ve had a blood panel recently, it’s not uncommon for your Vitamin D levels to be within the normal range. But in actuality your numbers may fall outside the optimal range and could be a factor in your depression symptoms. There is a high percentage of Vitamin D deficiency in the U.S., and it is even more common in the winter months. Upwards of 50% of my clients have learned that they are deficient after receiving their bloodwork results.
While your blood work on paper may say that the normal range is anywhere between 25ng/ml to 100ng/ml and deficient is less than 25ng/ml, most holistic providers recognize that anything less than 40ng/ml is insufficient and an ideal range is 40-90ng/ml, depending on our health status and symptoms. Many providers prefer the range of 60-90ng/ml.
If your blood work shows that you are less than 40ng/ml, I highly recommend a follow-up with a doctor to discuss whether supplementation would be helpful. Please note that taking mega-doses of Vitamin D can be dangerously toxic and should never be done without a prescription and careful monitoring from a doctor.
How do I increase my Vitamin D levels?
The best way to ensure that you are getting a healthy amount of Vitamin D is to get plenty of outdoor sunshine exposure on bare skin (at least 15-30 minutes daily,) ideally between 11:00am to 3:00pm, without sunscreen or sunglasses so you can absorb the rays. Absorbing sun rays helps our body create Vitamin D and provides a whole host of other mental and physical health benefits. Don’t be afraid of getting some sun when it’s in moderation and time limited.
For those who can’t be consistently in the sun due to their location or occupation, using supplements is a great option, as well as increasing consumption of Vitamin D- rich foods like salmon or fortified orange juice.
Why it’s important.
Vitamin D deficiency is incredibly important to correct, as Vitamin D is implicated in the following mental and physical health issues:
- Anxiety and OCD, ADHD, schizophrenia, and autism
- Neurological issues such as multiple sclerosis
- Arthritis and other inflammatory diseases
- Cardiovascular disease
- Asthma and allergies
- Risk of influenza
- Autoimmune diseases
Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked in research to increasing your risk of contracting COVID and having more severe symptoms.
Correcting a deficiency may help lessen the severity of mental health symptoms, but it’s only one part of the puzzle. A healthy mind and emotional balance are the result of working on your mind AND body health, not just one or the other. Working with a San Diego Psychologist with an integrated, holistic approach will help you make lasting changes that will improve your mood and overall well-being.
If you feel overwhelmed by the multitudes of self-help information available, meeting with a psychologist at Therapy Changes can help. You and a member of our talented team of therapists will develop strategies to help improve your mental health from a whole-person perspective. Contact Us today to schedule an appointment.