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Winter blues and vitamin D

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For many, winter brings ‘seasonal affec-tive disorder’ (SAD), which is a form of depression. A study of more than 81,000 women found that those with the highest intakes of vitamin D from food had significantly fewer depressive symptoms (Am J Clin Nutr, 2011; 94: 1104-12). So, if you suffer from SAD, it’s best that you spend as much time as you can outdoors when the sun is shining.

D for depression
On evaluating the effects of vitamin D on the mental health of 80 elderly patients, those with the lowest levels were 11 times more likely to be depressed (Am J Geriatr Psychiatry, 2006; 14: 1032-40). Also, intakes of more than 400 IU of vitamin D from food was associated with a 20-per-cent lower risk of depressive symptoms than intakes of less than 100 IU. However, most adults need about 8000 IU/day of vitamin D to derive any benefits for cancer and heart disease.

It’s likely that vitamin D fights depression not only directly in the brain, but also via inflammation. Vitamin D receptors are present throughout the body, including the brain, and the vitamin is also involved in metabolic pathways in the hippocampus and cerebellum, both of which play a part in planning, processing information and the formation of new memories.

Sufficient vitamin D is also necessary for proper functioning of the immune system to combat inflammation, the levels of which are higher in depressed people.

Let the sun shine in

In the US, only about 30 per cent of the vita-min D in people is from sunlight, most likely the unfortunate byproduct of public-health officials’ misguided advice to avoid the sun to avoid cancer-when, in fact, vitamin D from sun exposure can prevent cancer.

After exposure to sunshine, the skin synthesizes vitamin D3 sulphate that, unlike vitamin D3 oral supplements, is water-soluble. This form can therefore travel freely
via the bloodstream, whereas supplements need LDL (the ‘bad’ cholesterol) for trans-port. Also, oral (non-sulphated) vitamin D cannot be converted to the more beneficial sulphate form.

This is a compelling reason to get most of your vitamin D from sunlight. However, if that isn’t feasible, then be sure to take an oral vitamin D3 supplement, which comes as either an oil (liquid drops) or as tablets.

It’s difficult to get enough vitamin D from the diet alone, as very few foods naturally contain vitamin D. Interestingly, it’s the only vitamin not found in breast milk. Cod liver oil is the best food source, followed by fish (salmon, tuna and mackerel), with raw white mushrooms as a good plant source.

Beating the blues
Most depressed people can also be helped by the following.

  • Exercising: Regular physical activity works better than antidepressant drugs to improve mood, and can even help to prevent and treat depression.
  • Avoiding sugar and fructose: These both have serious detrimental impacts on brain function-for more information, read The Sugar Blues by William Dufty (New York, NY: Warner Books Inc, 1975).
  • Increasing intakes of high-quality omega-3 fats: The brain is about 60-per-cent fat (DHA), so a constant input of essential animal-based omega-3 fats such as krill oil helps brain functioning. One study found that people with lower blood levels of omega-3 were more likely to have depression and a more negative out-look on life, whereas those with higher blood levels had more positive emotional states (Psychother Psychosom, 2009; 78: 125-7). An excellent plant source of omega-3 is purslane (Portulaca oleracea), which can be made into soups or salads, or stir-fried, pur’eed, added to a stew, cooked like spinach or eaten as a leafy vegetable. It has a delightful, slightly sour and salty taste, and contains more omega-3 fatty acids than any other known edible plant.
  • Addressing emotional stress: This includes engaging in any stress-relief techniques that appeal to you, such as massage, journaling, guided imagery and autogenic training, as these can also be very effective.

However, as depression can be a serious condition, I do not recommend that you self-treat. Instead, it would be best to find a qualified healthcare practitioner who can guide you through natural treatment options that provide holistic emotional and physical support, thereby allowing healing to take place at the deepest levels.

Harald Gaier

WDDTY VOL 22 NO 10 January 2012

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