When it comes to nutrition and mental health, one nutrient stands out and warrants an in-depth look. That nutrient is vitamin D.
Vitamin D is essential for the absorption and utilization of several other nutrients needed for overall health and mental stability. It also supports a healthy sleep cycle, which is crucial for cognitive function and mood.
It's the only vitamin that is also a hormone — a hormone needed for the proper formation and utilization of other hormones.
It’s no secret that the road to mental well-being can be pricey. The first article in this series “Nutrition and Mental Health: Where to Begin” described several small changes a person can make at little or no cost.
Then the second article “Nutrition and Mental Health: Benefits of Supplements” discussed inexpensive supplements that can give a person a boost needed to further their progress. When it comes to spending out-of-pocket money on this endeavor, a vitamin D test is both a great and inexpensive investment in your health.
Your vitamin D levels can give both you and your health care practitioners incredible insight. This test looks at 25-hydroxy vitamin D, which is science-speak for vitamin D in the form the body can utilize it.
Values are in ng/dL, which is nanograms per deciliter. That is the number of units of vitamin D in a certain amount of your blood. Standard tests may show a value of 20-30 ng/dL to be the lower cut off for "normal," but more and more practitioners view 50 ng/dL or more to be optimal for health.
Dr. James Greenblatt , a psychiatrist and author of “The Breakthrough Depression Solution,” talked about vitamin D levels in a Psychology Today article titled “Psychological Consequences of Vitamin D Deficiency.” Greenblatt likes to see levels between 50-75 ng/dL and recommends supplementation ranging from 2,000 – 10,000 IU (international units) for individuals who fall below the range.
Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin because we make this nutrient when the sun touches our skin. Once formed in our skin, vitamin D is then sent to our kidneys to be turned into the form our bodies can utilize — 25-hydroxy vitamin D.
There are many factors that can impair or negatively affect a person’s vitamin D status. Individuals with darker skin absorb less vitamin D because the melanin in their skin acts as a natural sunscreen.
Additionally, elderly individuals may be at risk for deficiency because skin thins with age, kidneys function declines, and typically spend less time outdoors. Other factors such as certain medications, obesity and stress can negatively impact a person’s vitamin D levels.
The best course of action is to have starting vitamin D levels assessed. Contact your health care provider to see if they know of a low-cost medical screening facilities, or find out what their in-house cost is for this blood test. Oftentimes there are facilities that can screen your vitamin D levels for as little as $25.
Once you have your vitamin D levels, speak with a health care expert to see what they recommend for supplementation. Currently the RDA for individuals ages 1 -70 is 600 IU daily, but if you’re rocking a deficiency and/or working through mental health issues, your personal needs may be higher.
You do not need to wait until you can make it in for blood work, nor until you get your results back, to start giving yourself one or two 5-minute vitamin D breaks a day and supplementing with at least the RDA amounts.
Don’t treat yourself as a science experiment. You don’t need to wait to start improving your health with a boost of vitamin D until you can make it to the lab for exact numbers.
If you’re deficient today, you’ll still be deficient next week when you can get in, despite starting healthy changes. These things take time to take effect and improve your well-being, and there is exactly no reason to feel awful a minute longer in life.
Depression, VitaminDCouncil.org, June 1, 2015.
Vitamin D, National Institutes of Health, June 1, 2015.
What is vitamin D?, VitaminDCouncil.org, June 3, 2015.
Drugs and Supplements: Vitamin D, MayoClinic.org, June 3, 2015.
Reviewed June 4, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith