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Vitamin D: the Anti-Anxiety Vitamin

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Vitamin D: the Anti-Anxiety Vitamin

This is a guest post by Dr. Jessica Corbeille, ND. 

Most people agree—they feel happier on a sunny day than a gloomy day.

Why is this?

There is a definite relationship between the sunlight and our mood.

Many people know humans get vitamin D from the sun.

Is it perhaps this vitamin D that makes us happy? If so, what else can Vitamin D do for you?

Vitamin D Myths or Truths

Myth or Truth #1: People in sunny climates usually have normal or above average vitamin D.

Answer: MYTH

The truth is, no matter where you live, you are likely to have a deficiency in vitamin D. What's more, even if you aren't frankly "deficient", you are likely to have sub-optimal levels.

Although vitamin D is made in the skin when the skin comes in contact with sunlight, most of the time we aren't getting the right type of sun rays or getting the right part of our body exposed to sunlight in order to make the vitamin D.

Myth or Truth #2: I probably get enough vitamin D from my food since I eat a well-balanced diet.

Answer: MYTH

Unless you eat mushroom-covered cod steak with cups of fortified milk all day long, you most likely are not getting enough vitamin D from your diet.

Unlike most other vitamins, vitamin D is not readily found in fruits and vegetables. For that reason, most people need to supplement with vitamin D.

Myth or Truth #3: Vitamin D is toxic at high doses.

Answer: Partially MYTH, Kernel of TRUTH

It is possible to overdo vitamin D supplementation.

The concern about supplementing vitamin D is that it is a fat-soluble vitamin—meaning that it stores in your fat cells. (Most vitamins are water-soluble. If you take too much, your body releases the excess in your urine. )

However, the talk of toxic vitamin D supplementation is largely over-reactive hype based on the fat-soluble kernel of truth. In reality, too little vitamin D is what most people need to be concerned about.

There is a simple blood test to check your vitamin D level. If your level is very low, your doctor may prescribe short-term high doses of the vitamin and long-term moderate dosages.

Myth or Truth #4: My vitamin D is within normal limits; I don't need to supplement.

Answer: Partially MYTH, Kernel of TRUTH

The truth is, the normal reference range for vitamin D is quite wide: for most labs it's 35 - 100 ng/ml.

What I've seen in most of my patients is that they feel the best when their vitamin D levels are as close to 100 as possible.

So, unless your vitamin D is already very close to 100 ng/ml, you might feel even better with more vitamin D.

High normal vitamin D status tends to optimize immune function, decrease pain, decrease allergies, and support healthy cognitive function.

Ok, so maybe I need to take vitamin D . . . now . . . what can it do for my anxiety?

One thing we do know is that vitamin D acts in the body a bit more like a hormone than like a true vitamin. That is to say, vitamin D is responsible for signaling certain chemicals and molecules in the body to do their job more than it is used as a cofactor for different processes to occur. (Most other vitamins participate in body chemical reactions as cofactors.)

Many are aware of the relationship between vitamin D and mood issues like depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Most people aren't aware of the connection between vitamin D and the frustrating feeling of anxiety.

It may make sense that if vitamin D can send a signal to your brain that it is happy (i.e. not depressed), then it may also be able to signal to the brain that it is content (i.e. not anxious).

In fact, that's exactly what happens.

Vitamin D and Neurotransmitters

Just as a lack in the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin may contribute to depression, an overall imbalance in the neurotransmitters may contribute to anxiety.

One of the roles of vitamin D in the body is to assist in the release of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.

Although the exact mechanism of vitamin D deficiency triggering anxiety is not well understood, it seems to be most related to this effect of the vitamin D in signaling appropriate release and metabolism of the neurotransmitters.

An anxious teenager

A high school freshman came to see me with chief complaints of chest pain and tightness and anxiety.

Chest pain and/or tightness are pretty rare symptoms in my practice for a 15-year-old. The teen and his mother were concerned about cardiac causes for the chest pain and tightness, but what they didn’t realize is the correlation between chest tightness and anxiety.

The young man was not athletic (which makes cardiac complications less likely at his age), preferred technical work over anything outdoors, and lived in the US Pacific Northwest (where it rains and is cloudy about 6 months of the year).

We checked his vitamin D levels at the first office visit. It came back at the lowest I had ever seen . . . 9 ng/ml!!!(Remember “normal” is 35-100 ng/ml, and, from my perspective, “healthy” is close to 100.)

I couldn't believe it!

We started oral doses of 20,000 IU daily + a weekly dose of 100,000 IU to help raise his vitamin D levels.

After a month of oral supplementation, he reported less chest pain/tightness, moderately reduced anxiety, and his sleep improved.

Even though the teen still reported some anxiety, from the physician perspective, the vitamin D supplementation proved its value by greatly reducing the physical manifestations of the anxiety and reducing his anxious “feeling” to some degree.

His treatment plan also includes looking at other imbalances that could be contributing to his symptoms (I'll talk about those more in an upcoming post), and counseling for the psychological aspects of his anxiety.

How much vitamin D is recommended daily?

If you ask the FDA, the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for vitamin D is 400 IU - yes four HUNDRED.

Every doctor has his/her own opinion about the best daily dose of vitamin D, but in general, most doctors recommend at least 2,000 IU daily for adults. This dosing can be much more liberal if a full health assessment has been made.

All vitamin D is not created equal

Vitamin D supplements are available as D2 or D3.

D3 is the form that your body creates from sunlight.

D3 is better absorbed by the body and is better utilized by the body. Most naturopaths, including myself, prefer D3 for supplementation.

One last thing…

There is usually more than one thing contributing to a person's anxiety. Most of the treatment plans I put together for people have a few items geared towards physically modulating anxiety. Almost always, though, vitamin D is the first thing on the list.

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Written by Dr. Jessica Corbeille, a naturopathic physician at Mt. Rainier Clinic in Gig Harbor, WA. Dr. Corbeille is a graduate from Bastyr University, WA . She specializes in anxiety, genomics, mold detox, and pain management. Contact Dr. Corbeille for a free 15 minute "meet-and-greet" phone call or to set up a new patient visit.

Mt. Rainier Clinic is an integrative naturopathic clinic with a focus in Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, IV nutrient therapy and chelation, colon hydrotherapy, pain management, chiropractic care, acupuncture, and family practice (pediatrics to geriatrics). They have a range of medical professionals including several naturopathic physicians, a medical doctor, chiropractors, an acupuncturist, colon hydrotherapists, and a massage therapist.  

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