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 is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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