Sunshine in a Bottle

Chase away your blues with vitamin D.

The winter blues affects millions of people throughout the United States and Canada each year. This period of mental and physical malaise, often diagnosed as seasonal affective disorder, drives many people to search for ways to overcome the condition.

Despite a surplus of theories, diagnoses, and unsuccessful attempts to “cure” this problem, there is, in fact, a simple and effective solution to this challenge: Vitamin D. Rather, the widespread deficiency in the daily intake of vitamin D is a leading cause for a variety of health-related problems, including complaints about lethargy and mild depression. In turn, the greatest obstacle involving this issue is knowledge—most individuals are unaware of their lack of vitamin D. Compound this situation with inefficient and impractical ways to absorb vitamin D, from sun exposure and large consumption of oily fish, and fixing this matter is more difficult than filling a prescription.

Education is a primary asset in this campaign, since tens of millions of people in the US and Canada—and others throughout the world—do not know about the importance of vitamin D. There is plenty of knowledge about other vitamins, especially the benefits of vitamin C or E, but there is a disconnect when the conversation turns to vitamin D.

Regardless of the reason for this phenomenon, one thing is certain: The risks associated with a lack of vitamin D, which further include cognitive impairment (in older adults), severe asthma (in children), cancer, and increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, are a genuine public health crisis. Additional problems, such as skeletal deformities and muscle weakness, are yet another sign—the warning signals abound—that vitamin D deficiency is a significant concern.

According to Dr. Jean-Jacques Dugoua, ND, HSBcm, PhD, “Most North Americans have far too low 25-OH vitamin D3 levels. At optimal levels, a healthy vitamin D status could prevent overall mortality, many cancers, heart disease, fracture risk, and osteoporosis, to name a few.” Consider this admonition yet another statement concerning the value of taking vitamin D, for the alternative—the decision to do nothing—is simply unacceptable.

Information is a critical tool in this fight, which means doctors, nurses and teachers, as well as the media, need to highlight these concerns for the betterment of people of all ages. Also, research suggests that vitamin D can play an influential role in the prevention of conditions as varied as diabetes (types 1 and 2), glucose intolerance, hypertension, and multiple sclerosis. To be clear, vitamin D is not a panacea, nor is it the answer to a host of troublesome ailments; but it can be factor—a critical one—for resolving a series of otherwise perplexing medical questions.

With this in mind, the issue shifts from why to how. That is, when lack of Vitamin D is an underlying factor for certain problems, the effort then involves finding a way to conveniently get enough vitamin D on a daily basis. And therein rises another factor:

Traditional means of absorbing vitamin D, principally through sustained exposure to the sun, are neither easy nor safe. Never mind the time commitment involved, where people must sit outside with no protection, for at least twenty minutes each day, and withstand harmful ultraviolet rays, in an attempt to get enough vitamin D.

This tactic also overlooks the fact that sitting outside, on a clear and sunny day (every day), is virtually impossible in the frigid climes of Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, or Toronto. Perhaps that approach works in Miami or San Diego, though it does rain in both locales, but it is still a bad idea.

Skin color also affects the uptake of the critical ultra-violet-B rays that trigger the vitamin-D reaction. Darker pigments—even a suntan—significantly impede the transmission. (A note to sun worshippers: the risks associated with ignoring these warnings—the dangers from sun damage to your skin and general health—are too overwhelming to dismiss as alarmist rhetoric. The evidence speaks for itself, reminding us that threats of melanoma are too grave for anyone to face.)

At the same time, certain foods contain vitamin D and other essential nutrients. These options, which include eating salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, liver, and vitamin D-fortified foods, are not very practical. These foods contain plenty of benefits, and various studies underscore the idea that fish is “brain food,” offering strengths related to attention and speed of information processing.

But eating salmon (or mackerel or tuna, or other fatty fishes) every day is both costly and, for most people, not particularly appetizing. The latter point has a lot of resonance, for vegetarians and those who do not like the taste of fish, making this choice unrealistic. Futhermore, many of these fish species carry dangerous levels of mercury—the hazards of which continue to grow more ominous as more studies are completed. And remember: few people want to eat the same food all the time, no matter how great the health advantages.

In contrast, effective (and convenient) supplements provide the recommended daily dosage of vitamin D3 (the natural form found in our bodies) without any of the hassle or expense (both healthfully and financially) of more conventional choices. Supplementing with vitamin D fulfills our desire to be healthy, and stay healthy, without interrupting our personal interests or professional responsibilities.

With these facts in mind, we can demystify the discussion about vitamin D and improve the lives and wellbeing of all.