Through the past few months of winter, you may have noticed a shift in your mood, energy levels, and ability to fight off infections. When the shy winter sun does not offer us a generous dose of golden nourishment we can suffer physically and emotionally. The human body is designed to be exposed to the sun’s rays to sustain life in a way similar to plant photosynthesis. Vitamin D, a hormone like vitamin that is essential for a variety of bodily processes, is manufactured on the skin when graced with sunshine.
It is theorized that as a species, we evolved into hairless (mostly) beings as a way to better regulate our body temperature in warm conditions. This opened up communication between the sun and our skin. It is believed that this relationship and the corresponding increase in vitamin D production fueled the development of our brains, allowing us to evolve to where we are today – demonstrating how essential the sunshine vitamin is for our mental health.
To obtain adequate vitamin D, ideally we would receive approximately 20 minutes of direct sunlight contact on our skin each day. However, in the winter months we must seek to obtain vitamin D in alternative forms – through food and supplementation.
How Do You Know if You Are Deficient in Vitamin D?
Vitamin D deficiency may present itself in various ways, which may include depression, fatigue, cognitive impairment, memory loss, allergies, asthma, and eczema. As a rule, anyone not receiving their 20-minute daily dose should pay close attention to the vitamin D in their diet.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mood condition that corresponds to deficient vitamin D levels in the body. If the past few months have left you feeling lethargic, unmotivated, and emotionally sensitive, this may be the reason why. Various studies have shown a connection between diminished serotonin levels in the brain and vitamin D deficiency.
Why is Vitamin D Important?
Over 30% of Canadians have less than optimum levels of vitamin D in their blood. Deficiency is most common among people who have darker skin, the elderly, and obese people. Receiving adequate vitamin D is preventative for many diseases, specifically those related to inflammation, immunity, and mental disorders. Virtually every cell in the body has vitamin D receptors. When these receptors are left empty, microbes can interfere and inactivate them. This in turn inactivates the innate immune system, the result of which creates an increased susceptibility to infections and chronic autoimmune diseases.
In addition to the importance vitamin D has in maintaining immunity and optimal brain function, it is also required by the body to absorb calcium from food. The health and strength of the human skeleton depends on it.
Where to Get Vitamin D?
There are two forms of vitamin D that can be taken through food and supplementation. Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) comes from animal sources and is the same form that is produced in the skin when exposed to UV rays. This form has been shown to be 87% more effective in raising and maintaining serum concentration levels than D2. Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) is the form found in select plants and fungi. This is the form that is used to fortify processed cereal grains and dairy.
Animal Derived Sources of Vitamin D3:
- Cold water fish (mackerel, salmon, herring, sardines)
- Cod liver oil
- Pasture-raised eggs
- Grass-fed butter / ghee
Plant Sources of Vitamin D2:
- Mushrooms (shiitake, chanterelle, maitake)
- Dark leafy greens
- Parsley, stinging nettle, alfalfa
- Rice bran solubles (tocotrienols)
In addition to consuming these foods, you may also get vitamin D through supplementation. You can have your vitamin D levels checked by a doctor to determine if supplementation is appropriate for you. I recommend vitamin D3 drops combined with a diverse diet featuring the foods listed above. D3 drops contain 1000IUs per drop and are very easy to take. According the Vitamin D Council, adults may take up to 5,000IUs/ day, depending on one’s personal requirement. Make sure you take the drops in the morning as taking at night may affect your sleep by disrupting melatonin production.
While vitamin D is essential for the prevention of disease and maintenance of mental health, there are many other factors to take into consideration. We thrive physically and psychologically when we receive nourishment from the sun, a variety of whole foods, and relationships with others. Even when the sun is in hibernation, spending time in nature can be immensely beneficial to maintain mood during the winter months. Recent research suggests one’s connectedness to nature positively correlates with overall health and happiness.
To stay energized, happy, and healthy this winter, spend time outdoors with friends and get busy in the kitchen with some vitamin D rich foods!
With Love and Nectar,
Balch, Phyllis A., and James F. Balch. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. New York: Avery, 2000. Print.