This is our latest post in our Get to Know Your Nutrients series. Each month, we’re sharing some basic information on a different nutrient. Check out our other posts on this topic.
What Is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is an essential vitamin that helps the body absorb calcium, magnesium, and phosphate, as well as aiding in a variety of other biological effects such as regulating insulin production, enhancing immunity, and regulating our mood, among others. Vitamin D also helps regulate calcium and phosphorus levels in the blood, both of which are key to having healthy bones. Vitamin D deficiencies can lead to softening of the bones and problems like rickets in children or osteoporosis in adults. In fact, up to 42 percent of the adult population in the US has low vitamin D levels.
What are the Benefits of Vitamin D
Vitamin D is important to have for a variety of reasons, but primarily because it helps maintain healthy bones and teeth. Vitamin D is unique among vitamins because it is the only vitamin the body can produce; the body synthesizes Vitamin D in response to sunlight. Vitamin D also helps support a healthy immune system, supporting lung and cardiovascular health, and potentially helps lower the risk of cancer.
One important function that Vitamin D serves is to help regulate our mood, with some studies finding a connection between Vitamin D levels and depression. When Vitamin D levels are low, serotonin levels decline, mood plunges, and people often experience the winter blues, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
SAD is a type of depression related to changes in seasons. In most cases, it is manifested during the winter due to less available sunlight. SAD is frequently caused by the disruption of serotonin and/or melatonin levels as well as your biological clock. In other words, the colder, darker weather limits the amount of happy hormones your body can produce, thus causing a depressive state. This cold weather depression often causes symptoms like losing interest and motivation to do activities, feeling sluggish or agitated, oversleeping, weight gain, and more.
Where to Find Vitamin D
Vitamin D’s main source is, as we mentioned, from sunshine. But the body can’t produce it year round in countries that receive less sunlight. Other factors such as if skin is dark or age can also make meeting the required doses hard to meet.
Vitamin D is also typically found in foods like fatty fish, egg yolks, fish liver oils, etc. But even if a person eats all of those regularly, they may still be Vitamin D deficient. People who adopt plant-based diets are particularly susceptible to Vitamin D deficiencies, as most sources are animal-based. Consuming 10-20 mcg of Vitamin D will meet the needs of 97-98 percent of healthy people and can be achieved by taking supplements.
A sun lamp, also called a SAD lamp or light therapy box, is a special lamp that produces light similar to sunlight (thus producing Vitamin D in the skin). It is an excellent alternative for patients who suffer from Vitamin D deficiency, especially during the winter months when natural sunlight is unable to produce it. Using a sun lamp each day within the first hour after waking up can help reduce symptoms of SAD.
Sun lamps have some health risks that patients should be aware of. Some people experience side effects such as headaches, eye strain, and nausea. Using the wrong type of lamp or one with the wrong level of intensity can damage eyes and cause other side effects. These lamps also emit UV light, which can increase the risk of skin cancer.
Because of these risks, supplements are often a safer way to get enough Vitamin D, particularly in the winter months. We highly recommend speaking to a medical professional before trying any of these treatments.