Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Vitamin D - A Natural Mood Booster

I just got home from a weekend in Los Angeles, where McKenzie and I restored our Vitamin D while we talked shop. Now, that’s what I call a business meeting!

A whopping 45 to 75 percent of Americans are deficient in Vitamin D, especially in the Pacific Northwest, where we don’t see much sunshine for at least half of the year. And Vitamin D is essential to our good health, not only for its claim to fame—strengthening bones—but also for reducing our risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and more.

Another reason to boost your D—Vitamin D deficiency is associated with low mood and depression, especially during these dark, winter months. Vitamin D helps in the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that can help you feel calm, relaxed and happy, helping you avoid those winter blues.

Vitamin D is like nature's antidepressant.

Vitamin D is a vitamin, but it is also a hormone that your body makes from the sun. It’s fat-soluble, so your body builds reserves of Vitamin D in your fat tissues, keeping it for when you need it. But, if your body hasn’t stored enough Vitamin D, that may be why you're feeling blue. Not having enough stored Vitamin D also puts you at risk for other chronic illnesses.

Your body makes Vitamin D from sunlight, but it can be hard to get enough from the sun if you don’t spend much time outdoors or you live in a gray climate. Also, wearing sunscreen and long-sleeved clothing reduces the amount of Vitamin D your body can produce from the sun.

This is what Bellingham looks like this morning, so you can see what we're up against.

You can also get Vitamin D from foods, both from foods with naturally-occurring Vitamin D (like fish oils, cold-water fish, eggs and mushrooms) and foods that are fortified with Vitamin D (like milk, orange juice and cereals).

The recommended daily allowances for Vitamin D were set at a level to protect bone health—600 IU for children and adults and 800 IU for older adults, above age 70. However, many new studies suggest you need at least 1,000 to 2,000 IU a day to get the mood-boosting effect and to provide protection from chronic disease. The Institute of Medicine has established 4,000 IU as the maximum amount that is safe to consume daily.

The best way to determine whether or not you are Vitamin D deficient is to get a blood test from your doctor, which measures the amount of 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] in your blood. Most labs use a reference range of about 20– 55 ng/ml to indicate adequate Vitamin D levels. This level has been established as the amount needed for good bone health, and research suggests that levels for optimal overall health are actually about 40– 65 ng/ml, or even higher.

Here are some references for the amount of Vitamin D in foods, from the National Institutes of Health:

IUs per serving*
Percent DV**
Cod liver oil, 1 tablespoon
Swordfish, cooked, 3 ounces
Salmon (sockeye), cooked, 3 ounces
Tuna fish, canned in water, drained, 3 ounces
Orange juice fortified with vitamin D, 1 cup (check product labels, as amount of added vitamin D varies)
Milk, nonfat, reduced fat, and whole, vitamin D-fortified, 1 cup
Yogurt, fortified with 20% of the DV for vitamin D, 6 ounces (more heavily fortified yogurts provide more of the DV)
Sardines, canned in oil, drained, 2 sardines
Liver, beef, cooked, 3 ounces
Egg, 1 large (vitamin D is found in yolk)
Ready-to-eat cereal, fortified with 10% of the DV for vitamin D, 0.75-1 cup (more heavily fortified cereals might provide more of the DV)
Cheese, Swiss, 1 ounce

* IUs = International Units.
** DV = Daily Value

If you choose to take a supplement, make sure you take vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), which is the most active form of Vitamin D (instead of D2). And be sure to talk with your doctor or Registered Dietitian about the level of supplementation that is right for you.

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