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Vitamin D and me

13 May 2018

With the pinch of a needle and the printing of a prescription I was informed, by my doctor, of the deficiency in my blood. Sitting there, I felt increasingly tentative as he reeled off a list of organs and functions the blood could detect problems with. I let out a deep breath when I learned, luckily, it turned out that an otherwise healthy sample was marred by the fact that I had a significant lowering of Vitamin D. Despite my daily intake of vegan blended supplements, the news of my deficiency was certainly eyebrow-raising, but I wasn’t surprised. I’d briefly heard some throwaway facts about the vitamin previously and I knew it was only a simple matter of fact that I’d had a deficiency.

 The most I’d ever heard about the importance of the vitamin, was that people with darker skin, people like myself, needed more. This turned out not to be the case (people of any skin tone need the same recommended dose) but one thing I never banked on was how taking Vitamin D in its purest supplemental form, once a week, would soon have a profound effect on my energy and mental state. I didn’t need more, I just needed the right dose. But what exactly is Vitamin D and how does the body use it?

“One thing I never banked on was how taking Vitamin D in its purest supplemental form, once a week, would soon have a profound effect on my energy and mental state”

 A study by the London-based Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) says that: “Vitamin D is required for regulation of calcium and phosphorus metabolism and is therefore important for musculoskeletal health. It is synthesised in the skin upon exposure to sunlight containing sufficient ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation and this is the main source for most people. It can also be obtained from foods or dietary supplements.” Notably, the lack of Vitamin D in the body is followed by poor bone health, which can lead to the development of osteomalacia (softening of the bones). The deficiency in my body wasn’t nearly as severe as this, but it’s certainly an unnerving actuality that my bone health could suffer in this way.

 The diagnosis came at a very pivotal moment; I had already been informed that more than one in five of the British population have low levels of Vitamin D. Armed with this information, I started exploring online for more details until I realised that what I really wanted to know was what crucial effect, if any, this essential giver of vitality had on my mental health.

 To say the least, suffering from generalised existential anxiety day-to-day is overwhelming. Physically, I’m not as active as I’d like to be but I’m in okay shape. I balance my eating habits and I have a job that constantly keeps me nimble.

 There have been many studies examining the links between depression and severe Vitamin D deficiency, although most come back with inconclusive data or homogeneous findings. It is possible that low levels of the vitamin can contribute to conditions such as Seasonal Affective Disorder, but that could be because when one is depressed, getting out of the house to get some sun is a difficult task. Dr Peter Selby, a Manchester University professor and physician that has studied Vitamin D in depth says, “If you are depressed, you are less likely to get out and about, you’re less likely to see the sun. It’s difficult to tell which is the chicken and which is the egg.”

“There’s just not enough sun to support the healthy rendering of indispensable chemicals and nutrients we need to keep us in top mental shape”

 One thing is for certain – in this country, getting the boosting effects of sunlight is no mean feat. Those sacred rays, in daily moderate exposures arm in arm with that all important SPF sunscreen, are responsible in part for the production of serotonin (an important neurotransmitter responsible for mood regulation) in the brain. There’s just not enough sun, especially in the winter months, to support the healthy rendering of indispensable chemicals and nutrients we need to keep us in top mental shape. It could be, then, that a full mixture of what is absorbed by the skin from the sun contributes to the healthy functioning of the mind as opposed to just one element.

That’s one of the reasons why, seeing those two unassuming little pills in my hand, I knew that I was only putting goodness into my body. A few hours after taking them, something in my spirit seemed to liven up. It was like I had more and more vitality as time went on and I felt…happier. I felt calmer. I may have been experiencing a platitudinous desire for something good to come of the experience but I found I was able to just do more. I wanted to get out of the house and didn’t feel so lethargic whilst doing it.

 Taking all the medical research into account, it’s probably best that I listen to the experts as well as my own body and its needs. Dr Anton Alexandroff, Consultant Dermatologist & British Skin Foundation spokesperson says: “…less ultraviolet (UV) is absorbed by darker skin tones, therefore people of colour in Europe and North America are much more often Vitamin D deficient and are more likely to require supplements.” Vitamin D is certainly essential for physical and general health, and just because it’s participated in rewiring my detrimental thoughts and has given me vitality in this moment in my life, is not to say that will happen to everyone. The jury is still out on the links between mental health and Vitamin D. The fundamental aspect is that deficiencies are real, we all need a regular top up and you could, perhaps, benefit from this essential vitamin in more ways than one.