The sun will come out tomorrow, or so we hope. Most of us are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to fully transition out of our sweater weather into lighter threads because it means more time in the sun and an overall brighter mood. But why is being outside such a source of joy for many of us? The answer has many moving parts, but a key part of that answer is that high levels of vitamin D are embedded in the rays of sun we’re soaking in.
Studies have shown that exercising outside in the sun, eating vitamin D rich foods like salmon, orange juice, and, thankfully, cheese, and taking dietary supplements not only improve vitamin D deficiency but also improve one’s well-being. People who are most at risk for vitamin D deficiency also happen to be those most at risk for depression, and they include the elderly, adolescents, people with chronic illnesses, and people with obesity, among others.
Though the clinical certainty of high dose vitamin D supplementation in the geriatric population is still up in the air, research has shown statistically significant improvement in mental health scores for this demographic. One study found that vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency occur at a high rates in acute stroke patients, and low vitamin D serum levels are associated with depression in these same patients.
Another important demographic that cannot go unspoken for is women, especially given the higher rates of depression in women compared to men, and the prevalence of postpartum depression in women of childbearing age. The data about the relationship between vitamin D levels during the first trimester of pregnancy and rates of postpartum depression are mixed, but the Endocrine Society still recommends routine vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy and lactation because of increased maternal metabolic demand despite another large review recommending against screening.
Women with PCOS can also benefit from co-supplementation of vitamin D and probiotics, not only for improving their mental health but also for treating their associated labs and symptoms, which includes lowering testosterone levels and decreasing hirsutism.
It has been well established that psychiatric populations tend to have lower levels of vitamin D compared to the general population, but luckily, vitamin D supplements are easy to access over the counter and come in a range of doses to meet any individual’s nutrient needs. And if able, one might try to take a stroll outside on the way to the pharmacy to absorb as much natural supplementation while it’s available.