Faculty Spotlight: Sunshine and Mood: Does Vitamin D Boost Mood?

Summer is a great time to get outdoors and enjoy the sunshine. People tend to have elevations in mood during the summer, too. In fact, getting sun exposure has been linked to reductions in anxiety, depression, and seasonal affective disorder. Urban lore suggests that Vitamin D is the active ingredient in the relationship between sun exposure and elevated mood. Many researchers have investigated this connection and here’s what they found:

 

  • Vitamin D and mental health problems: Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to depression, seasonal affective disorder, and schizophrenia.
    • Vitamin D may improve your brain’s ability to produce serotonin, which has been implicated in a number of different mental health conditions, including mood disorders.
  • Vitamin D and sunlight: Sunlight produces both UVA and UVB radiation and is a natural source of Vitamin D. Specifically, the skin is able to synthesize Vitamin D in response to UVB radiation exposure. Due to the risk of skin cancer, many people where sunscreen, which blocks UVB radiation from the skin. This prevents the skin from being able to produce Vitamin D.
    • The World Health Organization recommends 5-15 minutes of sunlight, two to three times a week in order to keep your Vitamin D levels up.
    • Others prefer to take Vitamin D supplements, which can be found at local grocery stores.
  • Does increasing Vitamin D lead to decreases in mental health problems? Research shows mixed results about the relationship between Vitamin D and mood disorders.
    • Some studies show that people with mood disorders have benefited from taking Vitamin D supplements, while others found no evidence of a connection between Vitamin D levels and depression symptoms.
    • Others have shown that taking Vitamin D supplements is more effective in alleviating seasonal affective disorder than increasing light exposure.
    • The Mayo Clinic gave the evidence supporting Vitamin D supplements as a treatment for depression a “C” grade, indicating that the scientific evidence supporting this use is unclear.
    • Aside from Vitamin D’s effect on mental health problems, it serves important functions in your body, like maintaining normal levels of calcium and promoting strong bones.

 

Should I be focusing on increasing my Vitamin D levels by being out in the sun?  Maybe.  Increasing your Vitamin D level won’t help everyone. For some people helping your body produce Vitamin D will help boost mood. For other people, being outside and being active through sports, hiking, or exercise will likely help boost your mood through other means, such as generating endorphins.  As you enjoy the rest of summer, make sure you keep track of how much time you spend in the sun, and wear sunscreen if you’re out for more than 5-15 minutes to protect against the risks of skin cancer.

 

Vitamin D