Let the Light Shine – A Scientific Look at Light, Vitamin D, and Mood

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Think back to the last time that you felt the sunshine beaming down on you.  You may have closed your eyes, felt the warmth and light on your face, and took your time to soak in the moment.  While it's still very important to protect your skin with sunscreen, it's also important to get enough exposure to sunlight to ensure you're getting the right amount of Vitamin D.  This may be easier during the summer months, as we typically spend more time outside when the weather is nicer, which also makes it difficult to get enough Vitamin D in the winter, when we spend more time indoors.   

Sufficient levels of Vitamin D have been linked to physical and mental health benefits, and not surprisingly, deficiencies in Vitamin D have been linked to physical illness, as well as mood issues, such as depression.  Let’s take a deeper look at the effects of Vitamin D, and ways to enhance your Vitamin D levels if you aren’t getting enough through natural sunlight.  


The Science behind Vitamin D and Health Benefits

Vitamin D has been looked at scientifically as an important factor in health/mood benefits, as well as in the prevention of chronic illnesses (Penckofer, Kouba, Byrn, and Estwing Ferrans, 2010).  It seems as though many individuals are low in Vitamin D, and deficiencies in Vitamin D may play a role in diseases such as cancer, osteoporosis, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, as well as depression (Penckofer, Kouba, Byrn, and Estwing Ferrans, 2010).  To demonstrate this, Wilkins et al (2006) studied the relationship between Vitamin D levels in an elderly population and concluded that Vitamin D deficiency was linked with low mood and impairment in cognitive performance.  On the alternate side, various studies have explored the connection between enhancing Vitamin D levels, and the effect this has on mood and health.  This can be in the form of increasing access to natural sunlight, incorporating light therapy, or taking Vitamin D supplements (Penckofer, Kouba, Byrn, and Estwing Ferrans, 2010).  All of these strategies have been shown to increase positive mood.  For example, because many individuals experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (a form of Depression where someone experiences low mood during times of the year when the daylight is limited) studies have examined the effects of light therapy on depressed moods (Penckofer, Kouba, Byrn, and Estwing Ferrans, 2010).  In 1996, Partonen, Vakkuri, Lamberg-Allardt and Lonnqvist studied the relationship between light therapy and depression.   Participants of this study were exposed to either one hour or 15 minutes of light therapy per day for two weeks during the winter.  Those participants that were exposed to one hour of light therapy experienced a significant decrease in depressed symptoms compared to the group that experienced 15 minutes per day.  These studies indicate that increasing Vitamin D levels to ensure optimal levels are being received through various methods can enhance moods and lower stress levels.


Tips for Getting the Optimal Amount of Vitamin D

 Knowing the mood benefits of Vitamin D may peak your interest in learning how to add Vitamin D to your life, or learn more about the amount that you’re getting already.  If you’re interested in making sure you’re getting the right amount of Vitamin D to enhance your mood and overall health, take a look at the strategies we’ve put together for you! 

 Get outside – try getting outside each day for at least 10 minutes.  We know this can be challenging at certain times of the year, especially when it may be -30 outside in the winter!  But, the effects of natural light can truly have a big impact on your mood and health, especially if you notice yourself feeling more down in the winter months.

 Take up an outdoor hobby or sport – if you find it difficult to get outside each day, why not try a new hobby or sport that can be done outside?  Activities like going for a walk, and gardening can be great during many months of the year.  Other activities such as skiing and snowboarding in the winter time might help keep you motivated to be outside during the winter months.

 Try a UV lamp during the winter – if it’s nearly impossible for you to get outside during the winter months, it may be beneficial to try a UV light that gives you the amount of light you need per day to reap the health and mood benefits of Vitamin D.

 Speak with your doctor about Vitamin D supplements – if you’ve tried the strategies listed above, but still wonder if you’re not getting enough Vitamin D, it may be helpful to speak with your doctor about adding Vitamin D supplements into your daily routine.  Remember – it’s always best to speak with your doctor first before implementing a new routine to ensure that this strategy is right for you.

Thanks for taking the time to learn more about Vitamin D, exposure to light, and how it can enhance your mood and overall health.  We hope it’s been a learning experience for you.  Remember “it is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light” – Aristotle.

Live life lighter,

Carolyn and Steph


References

 Partonen, T., Vakkuri, O., Lamberg-Allardt, C., Lonnqvist, J. (1996). Effects of bright light on sleepiness, melatonin, and 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 in winter seasonal affective disorder. Biological Psychiatry, 39, 865-872.

 Penckofer, S., Kouba, J., Byrn, M., Estwing Ferrans, C. (2010). Vitamin D and depression: where is all the sunshine?

 Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 31 (6), 385-393.

 Wilkins, C. H., Sheline, Y. I., Roe, C. M., Birge, S. J., Morris, J. C. (2006). Vitamin D deficiency is associated with low mood and worse cognitive performance in older adults. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 14 (12), 1032-1040.


Sam Cooper