First a reminder if you missed the first post in this series of the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
The typical symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) include depression, lack of energy, increased need for sleep, a craving for sweets and weight gain. Symptoms begin in the fall, peak in the winter and usually resolve in the spring. Some individuals experience great bursts of energy and creativity in the spring or early summer. Susceptible individuals who work in buildings without windows may experience SAD-type symptoms at any time of year. Some people with SAD have mild or occasionally severe periods of mania during the spring or summer. If the symptoms are mild, no treatment may be necessary. If they are problematic, then a mood stabilizer such as Lithium might be considered. There is a smaller group of individuals who suffer from summer depression.
To show the connection to Seasonal Affective Disorder I need to give you an idea of the scope and breadth of the influence of Vitamin D Levels in the body. And as you will see later in the post it has been identified that there is a difference in the incidences of several diseases between population is sunnier areas of the world and those that have extended winter months.
WHAT IS VITAMIN D?
Vitamin D is a fat soluable vitamin that is found in some food sources. We are also designed to make the vitamin in our body after exposure to the ultraviolet rays from the sun. When it is manufactured in the body it takes on a number of different forms, each of which have a different function to perform.
The main function is to maintain the correct balance of calcium and phosphorus in the blood and then to ensure that calcium is absorbed efficiently so that new bone is formed and maintained throughout our lifetime.
This link to calcium resulted in the first major nutritional breakthrough nearly 100 years ago when it was identified that children with rickets, usually from poor and industrial areas suffered from Vitamin D deficiency and were supplemented with fish liver oils resulting in a virtual eradication of the disease.
Calcium plays a crucial role in other functions in the body but one of the most important as far as cancer is concerned is its ability to maintain the acid/alkaline balance within all our operating systems.
There is also a strong link between magnesium and calcium in the role of balancing hormones and are used very successfully in the treatment of PMS and menopausal symptoms.
Oestrogen the female hormone has been identified as the fuel that breast cancer cells prefer and this is why during the menopause when levels are likely to be elevated, we are more likely to develop tumours. This can therefore be linked back to a deficiency in Calcium and by definition a lack of vitamin D which enables the mineral to be absorbed and used by the body.
Vitamin D also works to promote healthy cell growth and actively prevent the formation of abnormal growth which strengthens the link between not only breast cancer and a deficiency but other cancers as well. Incidences of breast, prostate and colon cancer in the cloudier, Northern parts of the United States are two to three times higher than in Sunnier states. A link has been established to a deficiency of Vitamin D with all these types of cancer.
Apart from working with other nutrients to provide a healthy balance, Vitamin D is also associated with a number of other chronic diseases including Osteoporosis (calcium) Diabetes, Heart disease, arthritis (immune system) Multiple sclerosis (autoimmune system) Obesity ( lowers the levels of leptin hormone produced by the fat cells which regulates weight) , PMS and infertility, chronic fatigue and depression.
Many people in countries with long wet and dark winters suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. Vitamin D which has been activated in the adrenal gland regulates an enzyme called tyrosine hydroxylase which is necessary for the production of neurotransmitters in the brain such as dopamine and epinephrine. Not only do they regulate how we feel but also are linked to some interesting parallel conditions associated with a lack in Vitamin D namely obesity, PMS and menopausal symptoms such as migraines, and chronic pain associated with arthritis etc.
HOW DO WE GET SUFFICIENT VITAMIN D?
There are actually two types of vitamin D found in nature – D2 is the one activated by sunlight in plants and D3 is found in animal foods. D3 is the one that is most commonly used in supplementation usually in combination with calcium as it is the most biologically usable and effective for humans.
If you have a liver or kidney condition then you should not supplement without your doctor’s advice. When we take in Vitamin D from food or sunlight it firsts goes to the liver and gets converted to one form and then onto the kidney to be converted into another form before being active and usable. If you have a liver or kidney problem you will be unable to convert the vitamin and will need the already activated form on prescription from your doctor.
Vitamin D taken in excess can be toxic and you should not supplement more than 1000 IU to 3000IU per day. The upper limit for safety has been set at 10,000 IU per day and if you are getting adequate sunlight provided vitamin D you should not need to supplement in summer months.
The recommended daily levels are confused as since 1997 when the original levels were set at between 200 and 600 IU An IU represents 5 micrograms. Researchers now believe that we need a minium intake of 1000 IU rising as we age to 3000 IU
Most of what we require on a daily basis is produced in the skin by the action of sunlight and many of us who suffer from depression through the dark winter months are actually missing around 75% of our required daily dose this represents over 2000IU of vitamin D for someone in their 70’s
There is quite a lot of information available regarding the amount of time that you need in the sunshine to produce sufficient Vitamin D and unfortunately it is also very confusing. Some researchers say that you only need 15 minutes per day in the sun and others recommend two to three hours of exposure.
What is crucial is the type of ultraviolet light, the time of day, the latitude and altitude and amount of bare skin exposed.
Ultraviolet light is divided into 3 bands or wavelength ranges which are UV-C, UV-B and UV-A. UV-C is the strongest and it is the band that causes our skin to burn in a very short space of time. This band is absorbed by the ozone level and thankfully never reaches our skin – yet.
UV-A is responsible for our tans as it activates the pigment in our skin. Usually we will not burn in this range unless we are photosensitive (some anti-depressants and St. John’s Wort can cause this) or very high and frequent doses are used. This range is used for tanning beds and there have been incidences of skin cancer resulting from over use. Until very recently this UV-A was not blocked in any sunscreens and of course sunbathers would lie out in extremely strong sunlight believing that they were protected completely from harmful rays. Of course they were not which is believed to be the reason for the increase in the level of skin cancers.
The ultraviolet wavelength we need to produce Vitamin D is UV-B and unfortunately despite its benefits also is the burning ray and the primary cause of sunburn.
It also however, produces the beneficial effects of stimulating Vitamin D production, causes special skin cells to produce melanin which protects our skin and also for those of us trying to lose weight also stimulates a hormone MSH (Melanocyte Stimulating Hormone) that helps in weight loss and energy production.
A drawback is that although UV-A is present all through the day the UV-B available is dependent on a number of factors including the angle of the sun rays and cloud cover as well as latitude and altitude. The upshot is that the most beneficial time to take advantage of the UV-B rays is in the peak burning zones of 10.00 a.m. to 2.00p.m.
The sensible approach is to build up you tan slowly and carefully over a period of time so that the melanin in your skin provides protection from burning. Start by getting five minutes exposure to very bright sunlight if you have very fair skin and then increase this as your tan builds. Walking at other times of the day will also benefit you and try to expose as much skin as is decently acceptable (don’t frighten the tourists) You need to try and reveal around 85% of your skin to be effective.
I don’t advise anyone to sit in scorching sunshine in the middle of the day for hours – If you do make sure you have adequate protection to begin with and then reduce the factor down to 8 over a period of time. Any sun blocks over 8 will not allow the UV-B rays through to produce Vitamin D so when you are ready and you have sufficient protection in your own skin reduce the sunblock to under 8.
Our ancestors mainly worked outside until the industrial revolution and activities such as farming, fishing and hunting meant that we were exposed to sunlight throughout the day depending on the latitude and altitude of our immediate vicinity. Those not lucky enough to get adequate sunshine would have instinctively sought other sources of Vitamin D from food. In those days it was the intestines, livers, kidneys, skin and fat of the animals they caught as well as seafood, oily fish and insects. It is obvious from this list how many foods have disappeared from our plates in the last 100 years. When was the last time that you ate liver, kidneys, the fat on your steak or the crispy skin on your chicken. We certainly have been told not to eat most of these to preserve our health but ironically it means that we are also missing out on viable sources of Vitamin D.
This has limited the available food sources of the vitamins and some of them are rather inadequate anyway.
An egg contain approximately 24 with a 100g serving of herring or tinned salmon providing just over 400 IU. Dairy products such as milk contain the vitamin but an 8oz glass only contains 100 IU of the vitamin.
Pork fat contains 2,800 IU per 100gms so start eating the crackling again (do not attempt if trying to lose weight. Herrings contain 680 IU, Oysters contain 640 IU (would need a lot more than a dozen) Sardines 500IU. Mackeral 450 IU and butter 56IU
This compares to 2,000 IU to 5000IU produced from sunlight dependent on the factors we have already covered.
COD LIVER OIL.
Now that most of us are well into the winter months I do recommend that everyone take high quality cod liver oil. Apart from the Vitamin D you will also be supplying your body with an excellent source of Omega 3 Fatty Acids essential for a great many of our bodies functions and the subject of another programme. Cod liver oil also contains rich amounts of vitamin A and the whole package will help protect you against age related diseases.
As children we were given spoonfuls of cod liver oil and thanks to that simple breakthrough in the early 1900’s we did not get rickets. Today if you cannot face a tablespoon of the oil, you can obtain high quality cod liver oil capsules. There are lots to choose from so I suggest you shop around to find the best quality you can.
As we get older our skin thins and we are less able to manufacture Vitamin D naturally, which is when supplementation is really quite important.. It is a good idea to take not only cod liver oil but also an additional supplement of calcium, magnesium and Vitamin D. This is important for both men and women to maintain the correct acid/alkaline balance and also to balance hormone levels during midlife when breast and prostate cancer is more of a risk.
Next time the link between Sunshine and Tryptophan.
©sally cronin- Just Food for Health – 2004 – 2016