Fact Checked

Does Vitamin D Reduce Anxiety?

Wendy M Yoder, Ph.D.
Does Vitamin D Reduce Anxiety?

Like air, food, and water, the sun is something most people take for granted. However, a lack of exposure to sunlight can not only make you cold - it can also cause you psychological distress due to your body's need for an essential vitamin that the sun is usually responsible for providing. That vitamin is vitamin D.

Vitamin D deficiency, usually caused by a lack of exposure to sunlight, is thought to play an essential part in a person's mental health and has been linked to disorders like seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. This article will discuss why vitamin D is so vital for our psychological well-being, and how you can ensure that you both get enough vitamin D and lower your anxiety.

Vitamin D and History

Vitamin D is not believed to affect anxiety directly. Though it may be correlated with higher anxiety levels, there are likely reasons beyond the vitamin itself - reasons that will be discussed later in this article.

Historically, seeing the sun was often a cause for celebration and happiness. Sun meant food could grow, and that warmer weather was coming. Conversely, not seeing the sun often meant food was becoming scarcer and that important members of your village, tribe, or family, not to mention yourself, were at risk of dying from the cold. People became less active, and some cultures even took to hibernating like bears during the colder seasons. It is no wonder that cultures across the world, from the ancient Egyptians to the Mayans to the Greeks, once worshipped the sun as a god.

Today, it is believed that ancestral memory - which is, in some ways, short-term evolution - may play a role in why vitamin D and spending time outdoors makes people feel better. Just as humans feel an instinctive revulsion towards bitter flavors due to our ancestral association of bitterness with poisonous foods, the human body may have an instinctive awareness of its need for sunlight.

Seasonal Affective Disorder and Anxiety - Is There a Link?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), once considered its unique disorder, has been renamed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) as a type of depression. It is now referred to as a specification only, i.e., depression with seasonal pattern.

People who experience seasonally patterned depression are known to show symptoms that include feelings of anxiety, and other symptoms that are reminiscent of those related to anxiety, such as irritability, antisocial behavior, insomnia, reduced sex drive, decreased appetite and weight loss. Some of these symptoms, like insomnia, may also contribute to the development of anxiety.

Your anxiety, therefore, can depend on how much sun you are exposed to if you are an individual who is particularly strongly affected by seasonal shifts.

Other Reasons That Low Vitamin D and Anxiety Are Linked

The other reasons that low levels of vitamin D may relate to anxiety have nothing to do with the vitamin at all. Instead, they have to do with lifestyles. There is a considerable amount of evidence that those that don't exercise are more likely to develop anxiety. A lot of exercise takes place outdoors, so those that aren't exercising will also show low vitamin D levels. It's not the vitamin D that's causing it - rather, it's the failure of the individual to adequately stay active.

Similarly, spending time with friends in a relaxing environment also affects anxiety. Many people with anxiety either don't spend time with their friends or stay indoors only and fail to get many new experiences. This may also contribute to both anxiety and vitamin d deficiency independently.

Vitamin D and Multiple Sclerosis

Finally, some people worry about vitamin D because there is some evidence that low vitamin D may be related to the development of multiple sclerosis. Some people then take vitamin D supplements and experience a reduction in their anxiety.

It may cause people to feel that perhaps vitamin D was necessary to reduce anxiety when in reality it was simply that you were less worried about MS. Vitamin D may be related to MS, but anxiety also causes MS fears and MS-like symptoms, and a few vitamin D supplements are unlikely to affect either.

How to Increase Vitamin D and Decrease Anxiety

While vitamin D itself is unlikely to be causing your anxiety, that doesn't mean it can't, and the activities that you do to help increase vitamin D are valuable for your anxiety anyway. Getting outside will help you get what vitamin D you can, although there are also nutritional supplements available. Getting more sunlight by going outside more often can reduce the symptom of anxiety associated with SAD (a.k.a. seasonally patterned depression), and it can also give you a chance to reduce your anxiety by way of activities such as the following:

Each of the above activities will help you to take in some extra vitamin D and thereby ease your ancestrally-inherited anxieties. Also, they are proactive ways of addressing multiple other potential reasons behind your anxiety, from physical stress to a perceived lack of control, and improving important areas of your life and your tan, as well.

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