Feeling down? Vitamin D levels and seasonal affective disorder

Before dis­cuss­ing an indi­vidu­al vit­am­in, I want to be very clear:

Our body needs a mul­ti­tude of vit­am­ins at the right (optim­al) levels on a con­tinu­ous basis. One vit­am­in is rarely the answer for our best health, but many are vital to con­tin­ued health. 

As a child I used to joke around about want­ing to move to a dif­fer­ent coun­try just because of the weath­er changes in the winter months. We have long win­ters in Canada, and depend­ing on where you are, less sun expos­ure as well.

When we lose sun expos­ure in the winter, we lose the abil­ity to nat­ur­ally pro­duce vit­am­in D, as our body makes vit­am­in D through sun-expos­ure on the sur­face of the skin. The act­ive form of Vitamin D is D3, which is sun-exposed. Vitamin D3 is crit­ic­al not only for the func­tion­ing of our immune sys­tem (turns on very vital chem­ic­al reac­tions to cause our immune sys­tem to “fight” for­eign invaders), but it is also involved in the pro­duc­tion of chem­ic­als in our brain (dopam­ine, nore­pineph­rine, and epi­neph­rine), chem­ic­als when they are imbal­anced are implic­ated in many mood dis­orders, includ­ing schizo­phrenia.

Many people suf­fer from sea­son­al affect­ive dis­order (SAD), which is thought to be asso­ci­ated with lack of sun­light dur­ing the winter months. The (dir­ect) con­nec­tion between vit­am­in D, sun­light loss, and feel­ing blue even to the point of depres­sion is not entirely under­stood at this time. What we DO know is that as a fat-sol­uble vit­am­in, Vitamin D has the capa­city to act like a hor­mone and inter­face with our hor­mone sys­tems. Vitamin D recept­ors are also present in the hypo­thal­am­us, a brain centre that coordin­ates the immune sys­tem and the hor­mone sys­tem. The hypo­thal­am­us inter­faces with an import­ant brain centre called the pineal gland, which is involved in the pro­cessing of light and dark, and our brain’s under­stand­ing of what is day and what is night. Melatonin, a hor­mone pro­duced in the pineal gland in the dark­ness, is in the same chem­ic­al path­way as our happy neuro­chem­ic­al, sero­ton­in. As you can ima­gine, if more melaton­in is pro­duced in the dark­ness dur­ing the winter months, then less sero­ton­in is pro­duced. Vitamin D is an integ­ral part of this pro­cess, but the dir­ect con­nec­tion is again, quite mis­un­der­stood.

We now know that Vitamin D defi­ciency is rampant and per­vas­ive, espe­cially in coun­tries in the north­ern hemi­sphere (above the equat­or). Optimal levels in the blood­stream are now doc­u­mented to be 78 pg/​mL.

Recently in Ontario, OHIP has been restrict­ing requests for vit­am­in D3 levels with the assump­tion every­one is Vitamin D defi­cient! This is slightly con­cern­ing. If we do not know what levels of vit­am­in D from which we start, how can we prop­erly sup­ple­ment? As Dr. Alan Gaby MD has out­lined in a recent inter­view, we do not know the implic­a­tions of large doses of vit­am­in D over time, and as vit­am­in D is vital in bone health and dir­ect­ing cal­ci­um into the bones, we must assume that if the bones do not have the prop­er levels of vit­am­ins (vit­am­ins A, D, E, K2, cal­ci­um, mag­nesi­um, boron, stron­ti­um) then increas­ing one of the vit­am­ins in this del­ic­ate inter­play we may be throw­ing off the bal­ance in the body. Additionally, when we are truly defi­cient, the prop­er dosages must be pre­scribed to bring the body back to bal­ance.

Please, before sup­port­ing your­self with vit­am­in D for your sea­son­al or per­vas­ive depress­ive symp­toms, do see your natur­o­path­ic doc­tor or your med­ic­al doc­tor to assess your vit­am­in D levels. If they are in the low range of nor­mal, it may be prudent to mod­er­ately sup­port your levels before going into the winter months. If they are already depleted, then the prop­er dosages must be giv­en to get you out of the doldrums and back to feel­ing like your fab­ulous self.

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