Winter Blues and Vitamin D

Known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is naturally made by the body when the skin is exposed to the sun. So what can we do during those Winter months, when getting your regular dose of sunlight is a bit more challenging?

Well, here in New Zealand our Ultraviolet Index (UVI) during the colder months is still relatively high (3 or higher), which is a good and bad. Depending on your skin-type, if you can get ten to thirty minutes under the midday sun, three to four times a week then you can most likely get your recommended amount of sunshine required to produce Vitamin D. Easier said than done and if you happen to live south of Nelson-Marlborough then you most likely need to look at alternative options from May to August as the Ultraviolet Index is to low.

Whilst we are focused on mood support during our colder months in this article, it’s important to note that Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, teeth and muscles and is suggested to supply a protective effect against multiple diseases and conditions such as cancer, type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis. There is a relationship between low levels of vitamin D in the blood and depression. However, research has not shown whether vitamin D was the cause or effect of depression. Certainly, spending time sensibly basking in the sun is a sensual pleasure and can elevate your mood, especially when mixed with exercise and healthy food.

Beyond that, good food sources of vitamin D include fatty fish such as salmon, especially wild salmon, tuna, mackerel, mushrooms, eggs and vitamin D fortified foods such as milk (cow, soy, almond, or coconut milk). Having two servings of salmon each week would give us all of the vitamin D we need. If you are vegetarian then mushrooms, eggs and the fortified foods previously mentioned are great options, additionally soy yogurts, cheese and orange juice (fortified) are a good source.

If diet intake falls short, you may need to supplement with vitamin D to meet recommended levels. Remember to discuss all dietary supplements with your healthcare provider. Vitamin D supplements usually contain Vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol). While we can synthesize adequate Vitamin D from sufficient sunlight, taking a D3 supplement may help to prevent Vitamin D deficiency and associated symptoms. It’s important to note that many supplements with vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) are of animal origin (lanolin); vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) is produced from yeast.

Interestingly, a few doctors have considered the possibility that sunlight exposure in the summer could impact how you feel months later. The critical link seems to be the relationship between summer light and winter levels of vitamin D. Light stimulates the production of cholecalciferol, which the body eventually transforms into vitamin D. The vitamin then helps the body maintain higher levels of serotonin during the winter.

A team has found that blood levels of cholecalciferol naturally peak in the winter months. So getting more exposure to sunlight during the summer may help you build up a store of cholecalciferol that lasts through the winter. All this cholecalciferol apparently spurs your body to produce more vitamin D during the darker winter months, which leads to higher serotonin levels. Happy days!

Make a simple start and take sun break during your workday, spend coffee or lunch breaks outdoors to increase your exposure each day. Perhaps walk or cycle to your next meeting? Whether or not the sun is shining, getting outside to enjoy the weather, is great for the mind and body.