The Vitamin Deficiency That is Linked to Depression in Young Women

The Vitamin Deficiency That is Linked to Depression in Young Women

Depression is a confusing, debilitating illness. Increasingly, researchers are looking at the way certain lifestyle factors may contribute to its symptoms. According to research, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 8 men will experience depression. Only about a third will access treatment. Increasingly, researchers are looking at the way certain lifestyle factors may contribute to, and ease, its symptoms.

A new study, published in the journal Psychiatry Research, has found that people with low levels of vitamin D are more likely to have depression. The connection between vitamin D deficiency and depression is particularly significant for young women. 

The effect of the vitamin D deficiency on depression still stood, even when other potential contributing factors were taken into account, such as time of year, race/ethnicity, diet, BMI, exercise, and time spent outside.

The body loves Vitamin D for all sorts of reasons, and the mind also needs its share. As well as being important for mental health, adequate levels of vitamin D are also needed to maintain bone health, muscle function and immune function. Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with some types of cancer and cardiovascular disease. 

Let’s talk about the research.

The study involved 185 college students. All were women aged between 18-25 and they took part in the study at different times during the year.

Interestingly, although many of the women had low levels of vitamin D, the rates of vitamin D deficiency were particularly high for women of colour, with tests showing that 61% had insufficient vitamin D for good health. This was compared to 35% of other women. More than a third of the people who participated in the study reported clinically significant depression symptoms each week for the duration of the study.

‘It may surprise people that so many apparently healthy young women are experiencing these health risks’ – David Kerr, lead author, associate professor in the School of Psychological Science, Oregon State University.

So vitamin D … How do I get it? 

People make their own vitamin D when their skin is exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D is also found in some foods, including milk that has been fortified with it, and it is also available through a supplement.

Because exposure to sunlight tends to fluctuate with the different seasons, vitamin D levels can change depending on the time of year. In the study, levels dropped during Autumn and were lowest during winter. Vitamin D levels tended to rise again during spring.

The link between vitamin D and depression is something that needs further study. The researchers encourage those who might be at risk of having a vitamin D deficiency to speak with their doctor about the potential benefits of taking a supplement. They also caution that Vitamin D supplements, though inexpensive, readily available and good for general health, should not be used as a replacement for treatments that are known to be effective against depression.

And finally …

Increasing vitamin D is just one way that can help manage the symptoms, but the researchers warn that taking vitamin D supplements isn’t a cure. Depression is best managed with a multi-faceted approach that includes things like exercise, meditation, diet, sleep, and social connection. If medication is being taken, it is vital that there are no changes made to this consulting closely with a doctor. 

4 Comments

Dawn

Is this not cause and effect? In recent years the cosmetic industry has been pressing women to wear suncream 365 to prevent ‘light damage’ (sold to us ladies as: cancer and wrinkles). Tey have created and pushed products such as everyday moisturiser etc with SPF. They have been encouraging its wear even in winter when light is low! Coincidence?

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

This is a great question. According to the research, sunscreen doesn’t tend to make a difference. This is mainly because people don’t use sunscreen every day all over their body. So, although many people might use sunscreen daily on their face, they might not use it on their hands, for example. If you live somewhere with hard winters where people have to rug up to keep warm, it’s more likely that clothes rather than sunscreen will be getting in the way, which may contribute to higher rates of depression or seasonal affective disorder in winter. This is where supplements might come in handy if someone is struggling with the symptoms of depression in winter. This would be something to chat to a doctor about.

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Sheri Romer

I was happy to read this as I have had various degrees of depression for many years. I don’t remember why I started talking vitamin D3. One day my husband remarked that I seemed happier. My Dr also asked why and I didn’t really didn’t know. Eventually I put everything together & discovered that it had to be the vitamin D3 as nothing else had been changed. After several years my Dr said “well if it works keep taking it” I am no longer taking most of the depression & anxiety meds that I no longer need.
For me the sunscreen is not an issue as I have never been good at remembering to use it & I live in TX and have lived in several different places that had very short seasons of sunshine.
I am totally convinced that my health has been greatly affected by my experience with vitamin D3.

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Anxiety has a way of demanding ALL of the attention. It shifts the focus to what feels scary, or too big, or impossible, or what needs to be avoided, or what feels bad, or what our kiddos can’t do. As the grown ups who love them, we know they are capable of greatness, even if that greatness is made up of lots of tiny steps, (as great things tend to be).
Physical activity is the natural end to the fight or flight response (which is where the physical feelings of an anxiety attack come from). Walking will help to burn the adrenalin and neurochemicals that have surged the body to prepare it for flight or fight, and which are causing the physical symptoms (racy heart, feeling sick, sweaty, short breaths, dry mouth, trembly or tense in the limbs etc). As well as this, the rhythm of walking will help to calm their anxious amygdala. Brains love rhythm, and walking is a way to give them this. 
⠀⠀
Try to help your young one access their steady breaths while walking, but it is very likely that they will only be able to do this if they’ve practised outside of an anxiety attack. During anxiety, the brain is too busy to try anything unfamiliar. Practising will help to create neural pathways that will make breathing an easier, more accessible response during anxiety. If they aren't able to access strong steady breaths, you might need to do it for them. This will be just as powerful - in the same way they can catch your anxiety, they will also be able to catch your calm. When you are able to assume a strong, calm, steady presence, this will clear the way for your brave ones to do the same.
The more your young one is able to verbalise what their anxiety feels like, the more capacity they will have to identify it, acknowledge it and act more deliberately in response to it. With this level of self-awareness comes an increased ability to manage the feeling when it happens, and less likelihood that the anxiety will hijack their behaviour. 

Now - let’s give their awareness some muscle. If they are experts at what their anxiety feels like, they are also experts at what it takes to be brave. They’ve felt anxiety and they’ve moved through it, maybe not every time - none of us do it every time - maybe not even most times, but enough times to know what it takes and how it feels when they do. Maybe it was that time they walked into school when everything in them was wanting to walk away. Maybe that time they went in for goal, or down the water slide, or did the presentation in front of the class. Maybe that time they spoke their own order at the restaurant, or did the driving test, or told you there would be alcohol at the party. Those times matter, because they show them they can move through anxiety towards brave. They might also taken for granted by your young one, or written off as not counting as brave - but they do count. They count for everything. They are evidence that they can do hard things, even when those things feel bigger than them. 

So let’s expand those times with them and for them. Let’s expand the wisdom that comes with that, and bring their brave into the light as well. ‘What helped you do that?’ ‘What was it like when you did?’ ‘I know everything in you wanted to walk away, but you didn’t. Being brave isn’t about doing things easily. It’s about doing those hard things even when they feel bigger than us. I see you doing that all the time. It doesn’t matter that you don’t do them every time -none of us are brave every time- but you have so much courage in you my love, even when anxiety is making you feel otherwise.’

Let them also know that you feel like this too sometimes. It will help them see that anxiety happens to all of us, and that even though it tells a deficiency story, it is just a story and one they can change the ending of.
During adolescence, our teens are more likely to pay attention to the positives of a situation over the negatives. This can be a great thing. The courage that comes from this will help them try new things, explore their independence, and learn the things they need to learn to be happy, healthy adults. But it can also land them in bucketloads of trouble. 

Here’s the thing. Our teens don’t want to do the wrong thing and they don’t want to go behind our backs, but they also don’t want to be controlled by us, or have any sense that we might be stifling their way towards independence. The cold truth of it all is that if they want something badly enough, and if they feel as though we are intruding or that we are making arbitrary decisions just because we can, or that we don’t get how important something is to them, they have the will, the smarts and the means to do it with or without or approval. 

So what do we do? Of course we don’t want to say ‘yes’ to everything, so our job becomes one of influence over control. To keep them as safe as we can, rather than saying ‘no’ (which they might ignore anyway) we want to engage their prefrontal cortex (thinking brain) so they can be more considered in their decision making. 

Our teens are very capable of making good decisions, but because the rational, logical, thinking prefrontal cortex won’t be fully online until their 20s (closer to 30 in boys), we need to wake it up and bring it to the decision party whenever we can. 

Do this by first softening the landing:
‘I can see how important this is for you. You really want to be with your friends. I absolutely get that.’
Then, gently bring that thinking brain to the table:
‘It sounds as though there’s so much to love in this for you. I don’t want to get in your way but I need to know you’ve thought about the risks and planned for them. What are some things that could go wrong?’
Then, we really make the prefrontal cortex kick up a gear by engaging its problem solving capacities:
‘What’s the plan if that happens.’
Remember, during adolescence we switch from managers to consultants. Assume a leadership presence, but in a way that is warm, loving, and collaborative.♥️
Big feelings and big behaviour are a call for us to come closer. They won’t always feel like that, but they are. Not ‘closer’ in an intrusive ‘I need you to stop this’ way, but closer in a ‘I’ve got you, I can handle all of you’ kind of way - no judgement, no need for you to be different - I’m just going to make space for this feeling to find its way through. 

Our kids and teens are no different to us. When we have feelings that fill us to overloaded, the last thing we need is someone telling us that it’s not the way to behave, or to calm down, or that we’re unbearable when we’re like this. Nup. What we need, and what they need, is a safe place to find our out breath, to let the energy connected to that feeling move through us and out of us so we can rest. 
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But how? First, don’t take big feelings personally. They aren’t a reflection on you, your parenting, or your child. Big feelings have wisdom contained in them about what’s needed more, or less, or what feels intolerable right now. Sometimes it might be as basic as a sleep or food. Maybe more power, influence, independence, or connection with you. Maybe there’s too much stress and it’s hitting their ceiling and ricocheting off their edges. Like all wisdom, it doesn’t always find a gentle way through. That’s okay, that will come. Our kids can’t learn to manage big feelings, or respect the wisdom embodied in those big feelings if they don’t have experience with big feelings. 
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We also need to make sure we are responding to them in the moment, not a fear or an inherited ‘should’ of our own. These are the messages we swallowed whole at some point - ‘happy kids should never get sad or angry’, ‘kids should always behave,’ ‘I should be able to protect my kids from feeling bad,’ ‘big feelings are bad feelings’, ‘bad behaviour means bad kids, which means bad parents.’ All these shoulds are feisty show ponies that assume more ‘rightness’ than they deserve. They are usually historic, and when we really examine them, they’re also irrelevant.
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Finally, try not to let the symptoms of big feelings disrupt the connection. Then, when calm comes, we will have the influence we need for the conversations that matter.

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