Often times when we feel lethargic or weak, it’s easy to reduce it down to an iron deficiency; after all women and anaemia go hand in hand, like a friend you never wanted but you can’t seem to get them to stop following you around. However, anaemia may not be the only reason you’re feeling tired and unmotivated - maybe not this time anyway.
Vitamin D is produced in our skin; however, this production is triggered by UV-B radiation in the sun. Vitamin D can also be found in fats in our food. As our body needs lots of vitamins and minerals you may not have paid any more thought to this specific one; after all, why is vitamin D any more special than vitamin B, C, or E? However, more people are coming forward on social media to share their personal stories on how they came to know they were vitamin D deficient.
Having a vitamin D deficiency can be quite detrimental to your daily functioning, and can even cause depressive symptoms.
H̶e̶r̶e̶ ̶c̶o̶m̶e̶s̶ ̶ there goes the sun, doo doo doo doo...
Using data from 440,581 UK participants, Biobank found that, shockingly, Asians were 57% vitamin D deficient in the winter, followed by 38.5% of black Africans, multi-racial, Chinese, and finally white Europeans. In fact, PhD student Joshua Sutherland states,
"The reason that people with darker skin are more at risk is because higher levels of melanin, which increases skin pigmentation, can lessen the skin's ability to make vitamin D," Sutherland says. "But this, combined with spending more time indoors and consuming lower vitamin D-containing foods, can foster severe deficiency (I).
The extremely high rates of vitamin D deficiency within UK dwellers comes as no surprise when you find out that on average ye old England just about gets a full 6 days of sun in summer.
If England during the summer isn’t tragic enough, (in the immortal words of Game of Thrones), winter is coming. A windy, cold, and incredibly dark British winter. This means waking up to darkness, going to work, and then spending the remaining hours of the day in darkness. Whilst home working means no more dark commutes (for some of us anyway), this was my reality a few years ago. I’d wake up at 6am, go to work, spend all day inside and when I left the sky would be the same dark grey colour that it was in the morning. Because of this I never got any sunlight, and looking back I believe that I was vitamin D deficient because of how low and unmotivated I felt.
Now that we’re entering that period where most of us may fall into the slump of seasonal depression, it's even more important to talk about how this affects us, and most importantly how you can help yourself if you’ve been feeling under the weather.
Depression or deficiency?
Vitamin D aids lots of internal processes along in our body. Some of these things include calcium absorption, digestive and immune functions. If you are not getting enough vitamin D, this can cause bones and teeth to become brittle, and if untreated this could lead to osteoporosis (II).
Research has also shown links between vitamin D and depression. One review of 13 studies consisting of 31,000 participants found that those with low vitamin D had an increase in depression when compared to those with higher levels of vitamin D (III). Symptoms can include tiredness, loss of motivation and heightened anxiety.
Now, this is not to say low vitamin D causes depression. However, studies correlate low vitamin D to an increase in symptoms of depression. Some online testimonials also highlight people’s personal experience with this.
Interestingly, SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is something that affects people during the winter months when the days are shorter and darker. Low levels of vitamin D have been found present in people suffering with SAD. There is not enough research done to establish a definitive link between SAD and vitamin D deficiency, however notably one form of therapy allocated for SAD is light therapy (V). This consists of sitting in front of a light box daily in order to replicate sunlight.
So, how can we increase our vitamin D?
As I previously mentioned, vitamin D is found in fat within our food, so one way to naturally increase our vitamin D is to consume more of this, whether it be through dairy or seafood. However, if this isn’t a viable option for you due to dietary restrictions, and if you’re unfortunate enough to be a British citizen so natural sunlight isn’t consistent, there are a few things you can do to increase your vitamin D levels.
Interestingly enough, mushrooms are the only plant-based source of vitamin D, with shiitake mushrooms generating the most in the fungi family (VI). This is because mushrooms make their own vitamin D from UV rays which is then absorbed into our bodies. Why not experiment the next time you cook and add some mushrooms to your favourite meals?
Using a lamp that emits UV-B radiation can mimic the rays from the sun, allowing your skin to create its own vitamin D. This is a good option for those struggling to get sunlight naturally. However, it’s important to note that prolonged exposure to the lamp can damage your skin, so it’s important to be safe and use it for 10/15 minutes at a time.
The fortifying process consists of vitamin D being added to foods in order to increase their nutrition value. This can include foods such as dairy alternative milk, cereals, yoghurts and tofu. However, it’s always best to check the labels to be sure.
Vitamin supplements are something we’re all familiar with. This is a for sure way of making sure you hit your vitamin D intake every day. The key is to look for a good quality one with a dosage in line with what’s required. As a benchmark, the Vitamin D council have recommended adults take 2,000IU a day, which can be adjusted depending on how much/little sun you get (VII).
Just because you can't pack up and jet off to live in Hawaii to soak up some of that natural vitamin D, doesn't mean you can't find ways to to regulate your vitamin D intake! If you are concerned with your vitamin D levels, it’s always best to consult a doctor to get an official diagnosis on vitamin deficiency. In the coming winter months, if you suffer from SAD, depression, or struggle with your mental health, if you need extra support, it's important to reach out. Whether this be to local charities, friends and family or seeking medical advice, you are never alone:
If you want to speak to someone anonymously or feel you have no-one to talk too, some charities you can contact are listed below:
Black dog: https://www.myblackdog.co/