Feeling the winter blues?

Could a vitamin D deficiency be linked to depression and a low mood?

Winter has well and truly arrived. If you are feeling the winter blues you may need a bit more than getting snug in your winter woollies and comfy with a cup of warm chai. With the lack of golden summer rays our vitamin D levels can fall by up to a massive 30% in winter. When our vitamin D levels drop so can our mood. If you have been feeling flat, depressed or a little more sensitive than usual it may well be worth getting your Dr to check your Vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is mainly produced when our skin is exposed to ultra-violet light (UVB) from sunshine. We are therefore more prone to Vitamin D deficiency in winter or if we hardly ever expose our skin to UVB rays.

Vitamin D is an important vitamin (sometimes also referred to as a hormone) for our general health and well-being, it helps the body absorb calcium and maintains strong teeth and bones. It also plays a crucial role in keeping our immune system strong and is thought to assist prevention of autoimmune diseases such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis and even some cancers.

The best source of Vitamin D is daily exposure to sunlight. Just twenty minutes of winter sunshine is enough to keep our vitamin D levels in check but if our vitamin D levels are already low it is likely that our levels will drop further during the cooler months and supplementation may be required. Small amounts of vitamin D can be obtained through the diet by cod liver oil, salmon (with bones), sardines, mushrooms and dairy but if your vitamin D is low extra support via supplementation really is the best way to get them back up to a satisfactory level.

Top tip - If you store your mushrooms in a sunny spot after purchasing this can help to increase their vitamin D content!

The only way to accurately diagnose a vitamin D deficiency is via a simple blood test however there are some subtle signs and symptoms to be aware of. If any of these seem familiar it may be wise to get your vitamin D levels tested.

Signs and Symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency

A low fat diet

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means if you do not include fats in your diet you will absorb less fat soluble vitamins. Malabsorption gut conditions This includes gut conditions like Crohn's, IBS and celiac disease can also result in vitamin D deficiency.

Dark skin tone

The pigment in your skin acts as a natural sunscreen. The skin requires sunlight to manufacture Vitamin D so if your skin has more pigment, the more your skin is protected from the sun and the longer you need in the sun to make adequate amounts of vitamin D.

Flat or Depressed Mood

Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with a low mood and depression. When vitamin D levels drop we can feel flat and sometimes even more teary or emotional than usual. The brain chemical Serotonin that helps us to feel good increases with exposure to sunlight and decreases when there is a lack of sunlight. This may be why many people feel sad in winter and happier in summer.

Aching bones

Chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia type symptoms such as tiredness, aching bones and muscles can be symptoms of vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D helps the bones absorb calcium. If there is a deficiency of vitamin D the bones can become weak resulting in aching bones.

Excess Sweating

A classic sign of vitamin D deficiency is excess sweating, particularly a sweaty head or hands. This can occur in children and adults.

Low Vitamin D levels can be hard to detect as deficiency signs are easily missed, a blood test is the the best way to check Vitamin D levels. If low, a supplement may be recommended until your levels raise to a satisfactory level (usually the ideal range is 80 mmol/l). Drops or sublingual sprays tend to be more easily absorbed and my preferred from of supplementation. Most Vitamin D supplements are animal derived so if you are vegan speak to your healthcare professional or local pharmacist for a vegan friendly alternative.

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