Is vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, an answer for a pill popping nation?

Friday 10th Aug 2012

  • Are the scientists too hasty to leap to conclusions about vitamins?
  • Discover the science behind the research data of Vitamin D
  • Find out the shocking truth about prescriptions for depression in the UK

Last Friday I wrote a piece about how the sheer joy of a few trips out in the sunshine helped lift my spirits.

Judging by the e-mails I received I know that many of you share my love of the outdoors, and know how a little sun on our skins can make a real difference to our health and happiness.

Several correspondents drew my attention to a number of recent articles and surveys concerning the role vitamin D plays in reducing depression and lowering levels of anxiety, and I am very grateful for those of you who did.

In the majority of cases and circumstances I wholeheartedly agree with the findings of the studies carried out, however we need to be careful about how we deal with information such as this.

You see there is a very easy trap to fall into in respect of the use of vitamin D.

To consider this essential compound as a cure-all that will address many of our ills is over simplifying the nature of how the vitamin works and how our bodies deal with it.

Supplementation with a daily dose of 'sunshine in capsule form', as one vitamin formulation claims, isn't always the answer.

Let me explain.

The story so far...

The latest information about how vitamin D affects the body was presented in June this year at The Endocrine Societies Annual Meeting in Houston, Texas by a researcher called Dr Pathak.

In her research she found that women with moderate to severe depression had substantial improvement in their symptoms after they received treatment for their vitamin D deficiency.

Because the women did not change their antidepressant medications or other environmental factors that relate to depression, Dr Pathak's team concluded that correction of the patients' underlying shortage of vitamin D might be responsible for the beneficial effect on depression.

"Vitamin D may have an as-yet-unproven effect on mood, and its deficiency may exacerbate depression," Dr Pathak said. "If this association is confirmed, it may improve how we treat depression."

Dr Pathak presented the research findings in three women, who ranged in age from 42 to 66. All had previously diagnosed major depressive disorder, also called clinical depression, and were receiving antidepressant therapy. The patients also were being treated for either Type 2 diabetes or an under active thyroid (hypothyroidism).

It is worthy of note that this research identifies that depression may be as a result of a vitamin D DEFICIENCY because in many areas of the popular press this was picked up and reported as simply the fact that vitamin D cured depression.

Also of note is the fact that the there were other significant health problems in evidence.

Within the meeting this was only one of several papers concerning vitamin D, showing that the interest in balanced nutrition and its effects on biochemical maintenance is of growing importance.

Of course, not all of the studies were showing positive benefits from dietary supplementation with this key vitamin. 

In another piece of key research a lot of interest was generated from the fact that vitamin D deficiency has been strongly linked to the development of Type 2 diabetes, and was also cited as a key presentation for teenagers who presented for weight loss surgery.

Once again the media storm was brewing.

You could almost see the headlines being written in the room..."Vitamin D cures obesity".

This was right up until the researchers said that there was no proven or accurate way to test for vitamin D deficiency!

It's true they showed that the two common tests used were characterized by high degrees of random variability and failed to meet even a minimum quality standard for analytical accuracy.

So, if we can't truly prove a deficiency, how can a link be made?

Are we really a nation of pill poppers?

So, my concern is that there is so much information being published about the benefits of vitamin D...or more importantly the effects of a deficiency, that possibly there is a risk that the truth might be missed.

I am firmly of the belief that any imbalance in vital nutrition will have significant consequences on health.

I also feel that the link between vitamin D and states of emotional stress has been proven, and that is why we need to ensure we get enough of this good stuff.

The simple truth is that we get a daily dose from being out in the sun, and from a diet including oily fish and egg yolks. Taking supplementary vitamin D will help keep enough of this vital compound in our bodies, but it is not the universal cure-all some would have us believe.

Of course, the common approach to depression doesn’t involve anything quite as natural as looking for vitamin imbalances.

Several national dailies were reporting newly released figures from the NHS’s Health and Social Care Information Centre which showed that 46.7 million prescriptions for anti-depressants were issued in England alone last year.

46.7 million! There are only 65 million of us living in England, why is this number of pills acceptable as a way to deal with the effects of modern life?

I feel a comment from Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, might just have hit the nail on the head. He said,”Doctors may just be relying on antidepressant prescribing rather than offering patients alternative evidence-based interventions such as psychological therapies or exercise prescriptions.”

Or, just maybe Dr McCulloch, the right levels of sunshine, fresh air and a healthy diet?

Just a thought!

Yours, as always









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