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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How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.
When things feel hard or the world feels big, children will be looking to their important adults for signs of safety. They will be asking, ‘Do you think I'm safe?' 'Do you think I can do this?' With everything in us, we have to send the message, ‘Yes! Yes love, this is hard and you are safe. You can do hard things.'

Even if we believe they are up to the challenge, it can be difficult to communicate this with absolute confidence. We love them, and when they're distressed, we're going to feel it. Inadvertently, we can align with their fear and send signals of danger, especially through nonverbals. 

What they need is for us to align with their 'brave' - that part of them that wants to do hard things and has the courage to do them. It might be small but it will be there. Like a muscle, courage strengthens with use - little by little, but the potential is always there.

First, let them feel you inside their world, not outside of it. This lets their anxious brain know that support is here - that you see what they see and you get it. This happens through validation. It doesn't mean you agree. It means that you see what they see, and feel what they feel. Meet the intensity of their emotion, so they can feel you with them. It can come off as insincere if your nonverbals are overly calm in the face of their distress. (Think a zen-like low, monotone voice and neutral face - both can be read as threat by an anxious brain). Try:

'This is big for you isn't it!' 
'It's awful having to do things you haven't done before. What you are feeling makes so much sense. I'd feel the same!

Once they really feel you there with them, then they can trust what comes next, which is your felt belief that they will be safe, and that they can do hard things. 

Even if things don't go to plan, you know they will cope. This can be hard, especially because it is so easy to 'catch' their anxiety. When it feels like anxiety is drawing you both in, take a moment, breathe, and ask, 'Do I believe in them, or their anxiety?' Let your answer guide you, because you know your young one was built for big, beautiful things. It's in them. Anxiety is part of their move towards brave, not the end of it.

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