By Melodie Veldhuizen
Vitamin D is essential for man’s overall physical health and prevents diseases such as cancer, heart diseases, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, auto-immune diseases, high blood pressure, obesity and rheumatoid arthritis. Sufficient levels can also prevent flu and colds. It furthermore ensures healthy teeth and prevents misshapen or brittle bones, thinning and softening bones, as well as low bone density (osteoporosis) and rickets (a bone disease in children). Research has found that vitamin D is also essential for a positive mindset and that there is a connection between vitamin D deficiency and depression as well as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
How does the body obtain Vitamin D?
The ultraviolet rays of the sun are the main source of vitamin D. It is recommended that we be exposed to direct sunlight for 20 minutes to two hours per day on average. No wonder vitamin D is also known as the “sunshine” vitamin. Certain factors could however cause us to not absorb sufficient amounts of sun through our skins that would be turned into vitamin D. In such cases it is essential that we keep the levels high enough in other ways. The best way of course is to eat more vitamin D rich foods. These include the following: fruit and vegetables rich in antioxidants; foods beneficial to the liver (garlic, onions, broccoli, cabbage and turmeric); foods containing omega 3 fatty acids (salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, nuts and seeds); organic foods. Also eat more fish and less dairy and meat. Steam or cook vegetables and avoid processed meat and burnt or browned food. You can also increase your vitamin D intake by taking vitamin D supplements, which you can usually buy over the counter at chemists. High dosages, which contain 50 000 units of vitamin D and can be taken once or twice per week, can only be obtained with a doctor’s prescription.
Factors which can lead to a vitamin D deficiency
Various factors can contribute to lowered vitamin D levels. Exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun is sufficient for many people, but then it has to be direct sunlight, and your skin should not be protected by sunscreen that blocks out UV rays. The amount of exposure to sunlight depends on the climate, time of day and time of year (season), as well as where you live. The vitamin D levels of people not living in a sunny country like South Africa is usually too low. The residents of countries where the winters are long and the days short and mostly cloudy, and where the rays of the sun are not so intense, are not exposed to enough vitamin D in a natural way. People with dark skins absorb sunlight slower. The body of a person who is overweight (BMI higher than 30) also does not absorb sufficient vitamin D from sunlight. Elderly people’s skin is no longer as effective in the synthesising of vitamin D and they also spend too little time in the sun. People with kidney or liver problems will also have a vitamin D deficiency as these organs activate vitamin D that is absorbed through the skin in the form of sunlight. Persons in one of the above risk groups should take additional care for sufficient intake of vitamin D.
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency
Physical symptoms that indicate possible vitamin D deficiency: you fall sick or get infections regularly; constant tiredness and exhaustion; muscle, bone and low-back pain and headache; wounds that take a long time to heal; osteoporosis and other bone problems and hair loss. Should you in addition continuously feel depressed and experience the following symptoms, it could be further signs of a vitamin D deficiency: thoughts of death or suicide, insomnia, loss of interest in things you used to enjoy; listlessness; excessive weight loss or gain; loss of appetite; problems concentrating; forgetfulness; anxiety. These symptoms could possibly be signs of other illnesses, therefore consult your doctor so that he can conduct tests for an accurate diagnosis.
The link between vitamin D deficiency and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a kind of depression that usually begins in autumn and continues right through winter when the days are shorter and one spends less time in the sun. It occurs particularly in residents of counters where the winters are long, the days short and mostly cloudy and the sun is not so harsh. SAD is also known as seasonal depression and has an effect on your mood, sleeping patterns, appetite, energy levels and takes a toll on all aspects of your life.
A team of researchers at the University of Georgia, led by Alan Stewart, found that vitamin D deficiency is the cause of SAD. The team observed that vitamin D levels in the body change in accordance with changing seasons and the amount of sunlight. According to Stewart, there is a time span of approximately eight weeks between the climax in the intensity of UV rays and the onset of SAD. This coincides with the time it takes for UV rays to be converted into vitamin D in the body. According to Michael Kimlin, another member of the research team, vitamin D also plays an important role in the synthesis of two neuro-transmitters, dopamine and serotonin, and low levels of these also have a connection to depression. He emphasises that it therefore is logical for a link to exist between low levels of vitamin D and SAD. The symptoms of SAD also coincide considerably with those of depression, as mentioned above, and are treated with antidepressants and light therapy. If it is true that the cause is a vitamin D deficiency, sufficient exposure to the sun, the correct diet and vitamin D supplements should also relieve these symptoms.
Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/286496.php