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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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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