Vitamin D Can Help Seasonal Depression

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by Marsha Stopa

It’s the beginning of December, the minutes of daylight are getting shorter every day and our seasonal depression is getting stronger.

How much Vitamin D?

More than I thought.

Since writing about Vitamin D, sunshine and your brain this summer, I’ve been reading more about Vitamin D deficiency and what current research is finding. It’s scary. And it’s fixable: Get more sunshine and supplement with more Vitamin D.

Stored sunshine or light deprivation?

Our bodies store the sunshine vitamin. After an idyllic summer of lounging on the beach, playing in the sun or working outside in sunlight gardens, we head into the dark seasons with an optimal reserve of Vitamin D. Less time outdoors and less sunshine depletes our reserve until we’re able to get outside again the following spring and summer.

Wait – not the way you spent your summer? If, like most of us, you spent your summer working in an office, factory or home – behind glass windows, wearing clothing, using sunblock or exposed to any air pollution – you are likely light deprived. Because most of us live most of our lives indoors, most of us suffer from chronic light deprivation. Our Vitamin D deficiencies are evidence.

That means that after a sunshine-poor summer we’re going into the fall and winter needing to not only replenish (therapeutic dose) our body’s reserve of this vital vitamin, but also get enough Vitamin D for daily functioning (maintenance dose). And, as the days remain gray through January and February we may need to boost our Vitamin D level as well.

Forget the standard dosage

Here’s what I’ve learned: Forget the standard recommended dosage of 400 IU/day. A healthy adult needs 5,000 IU/day to maintain a healthy, optimal Vitamin D level. Here’s what the Vitamin D Council says:

How much vitamin D you need varies with age, body weight, percent of body fat, latitude, skin coloration, season of the year, use of sunblock, individual variation in sun exposure, and—probably—how ill you are. As a general rule, old people need more than young people, big people need more that little people, heavier people need more than skinny people, northern people need more than southern people, dark-skinned people need more than fair-skinned people, winter people need more than summer people, sunblock lovers need more than sunblock haters, sun-phobes need more than sun worshipers, and ill people may need more than well people.

Determine your D level

Here’s what the Vitamin D Council recommends:

Over the age of 1, 1,000 IU vitamin D3 per every 25 pounds of body weight per day. Well adults and adolescents should take 5,000 IU vitamin D3 per day. Around 2–3 months later have a 25-hydroxyvitamin D blood test.

Here’s another helpful chart in calculating how much Vitamin D you should supplement. It takes into account your body mass and the amount of sun you receive and recommends a lower dosage than the Vitamin D Council. This site,Vitamin D3 – Cholecalciferol, created by a health-conscious gentleman in South Africa, is a compilation of current Vitamin D research and recommendations.

Our natural D production

If these amounts freak you out, consider this: After 20-30 minutes of sun exposure (without sunblock), our bodies produce 10,000 IU of Vitamin D. That natural production level, 10,000 IU, is considered by the Vitamin D Council to be the upper limit for safe daily Vitamin D supplementation, which is still far, far below what is considered to be a toxic level. Actual Vitamin D toxicity is considered rare, and the Vitamin D Council says hypersensitivity is more likely.

Don’t guess – test

There’s really no need to guess. Have a blood test. I like what the Vitamin D Council recommends:

Start supplementing with the vitamin D before you have the blood test. Then adjust your dose so your 25(OH)D level is between 50–80 ng/ml (125–200 nmol/L), summer and winter. But remember, these are conservative dosage recommendations. Most people who avoid the sun—and virtually all dark-skinned people—will have to increase their dose once they find their blood level is still low, even after two months of the above dosage, especially in the winter.

If, for whatever reason, you don’t want to have your Vitamin D level tested by your doctor, the Vitamin D Council offers an at-home version of the 25(OH) D blood test, (non-affiliate link) the correct test for Vitamin D. With the at-home test you can check your level before you begin supplementing, during the winter and again in spring.

Join me

I haven’t had my blood tested yet. But given my age, lack of sun exposure, latitude and body mass, I started taking 5200 IU a couple weeks ago – 200 IU with my multi-vitamin plus an additional 5000IU. I should be a good test subject because I’ve never taken supplemental D.

I’m wondering if I should increase it because I didn’t get outside as much as I would have liked this summer. I will say that I’m sleeping better and I haven’t yet encountered that steep downward slide that usually accompanies the gray days – I am using my light therapy lamp religiously every morning.

In my next article I’ll discuss why light therapy and Vitamin D is the one-two punch to knock out seasonal depression.

Are you taking Vitamin D to ward off seasonal depression? How has it worked for you? Tell us in the comments, and if you like this article and have friends and family that suffer from the winter blues, please hit the Facebook Like button.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Royale Scuderi November 30, 2010

I was tested with very low Vitamin D levels and have been taking 5000 IUs for a month now. It is helping tremendously already going into the “dark Season.”

2 Marsha Stopa November 30, 2010

Thanks for sharing your experience, Royale. I’ve always been hesitant to supplement. I think as long as we are sure to take our cues from what our bodies do naturally — how much Vitamin D we produce while in sunshine — we can use that as guidance.

3 Cher'ley February 2, 2011

What about the research that says your body can only absorb 600 iu at a time?

4 Marsha Stopa February 2, 2011

Hi Cher’ley,

Are you perhaps referring to the new Vitamin D guidelines that suggest adults only need 600 iu for bone health? I haven’t come across any research that says we can only absorb 600 iu at a time. Quite the opposite, I’ve read that our bodies will store Vitamin D, such as during the summer, to be used during the darker months of fall and winter.

Most Vitamin D researchers use the amount of Vitamin D our body naturally produces when exposed to sunlight as a guide. Caucasian skin will produce 10,000 iu Vitamin D in response to 20-30 minutes in the summer sun, which gives you a good idea of why many researchers believe optimal Vitamin D dosage is higher than what the government panel recommends.

If you haven’t had a chance to visit the Vitamin D Council website yet, I highly suggest it. It’s a wealth of research information.

And if you’d like to let me know where I can find more info about the 600 iu absorption limit, I’d love to learn more.
Let me know how else I can help you.

Many thanks,
Marsha

5 Cher'ley February 2, 2011

Sorry, I was thinking calcium. I’m low on both. The doctor has me on 50,000 iu of Vitamin D.

6 Marsha Stopa February 2, 2011

Cher’ley,
Not a problem. Calcium and Vitamin D work hand-in-hand, as I’m sure you know. Glad to hear you have a doctor who’s not shy on Vitamin D.

Have you noticed a difference since you’ve started the Vitamin D? I’m assuming that dosage is for a period of time, after which he’ll do a blood test? Let us know how it goes for you.

I’m so glad you are taking action to correct the deficiency. Things will get brighter!

Marsha

7 Luci January 4, 2013

Hi,

There are two forms of vitamin D, Ergocalciferol (vitamin D2), and Cholecalciferol (vitamin D3). Which one should we be taking and what are the differences?

8 Marsha Stopa January 4, 2013

Luci,

You are correct. Officially, both forms are considered interchangeable but Vitamin D3, which our body produces in response to sun exposure, is regarded as having greater bioefficacy as measured by 25-hydroxyvitamin D tests. In plain English, Vitamin D3 is better used by our bodies.

Here’s an article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that explains why the two forms are not equivalent: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/84/4/694.full

I hope that helps.

Let me know if you have any other questions. Thanks for asking.

Best,
Marsha

9 Nicole October 2, 2013

Hello there! Reading through this, I’d just like your suggestion on something. The past years I’ve struggled with depression throughout the entirety of the year with it spiking in the January month. Even with taking 5,000 iu of vitamin D3 it doesn’t seem to effect me at all. I am 150 pounds, and live in Minnesota where winter sunshine is rare. Would you suggest I bump up to 10,000 iu, or try something less?

10 Marsha Stopa October 4, 2013

Nicole,

Since you’ve been taking a fairly high dose of Vitamin D I suggest you see your doctor and ask for a Vitamin D blood test. That’s the only accurate way to determine if you have a deficiency or if there may be other underlying problems. Talk to your doctor.

Best of luck to you.

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