A Melbourne University study has shown a link between depression and a lack of vitamin D, which is derived from exposure to sunlight. Exposure to sunlight is the most efficient way for the body to produce vitamin D, as little is found in food. A few minutes’ exposure each day during the summer and two to three hours per week during winter, is enough to maintain most people’s vitamin D levels.
Ray of sunshine gives brighter future with mental health
Sun-shy Australians might be saving themselves from skin cancer at the expense of their mental health.
A Melbourne University study has shown a link between depression and a lack of vitamin D, which is derived from exposure to sunlight.
It found high rates of vitamin D deficiency among psychiatric patients, most of whom suffered depression.
The study blamed sedentary lifestyles, a tendency to stay indoors and heightened fears about skin cancer and ageing for alarming vitamin D deficiency rates.
The study’s author, Prof Michael Berk, of Barwon Health and The Geelong Clinic, said while too much sun was dangerous, too little sun was also harmful and education campaigns needed to reflect this.
“We have very strong public health messages which tell people to slip, slop, slap, and to stay out of the sun,” he said.
“And there is no doubt that excessive sun exposure is bad for the skin, but to have no sun exposure is bad for your bones and may be bad for your mental health.”
Prof Berk said education campaigns should promote moderation rather than absolute avoidance of the sun.
Manager of Cancer Council Victoria’s SunSmart program, Sue Heward, said the importance of vitamin D had been recognised in its advice for several years.
“UV radiation is a major cause of skin cancer but also the best source of vitamin D, so a balance is vital,” she said.
The study of 53 patients in a private psychiatric hospital found 58 per cent were vitamin D deficient and 11 per cent moderately deficient.
This compared with 30 per cent of a healthy control group from Geelong who were deficient and 7 per cent who were moderately deficient.
Prof Berk said the study, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, suggested low vitamin D levels led to depression and other psychiatric disorders.
However, low levels might instead be a symptom — not a cause — of mental illness.
The role of vitamin D in bone health had also been established in past studies, Prof Berk said.
Exposure to sunlight is the most efficient way for the body to produce vitamin D, as little is found in food.
Ms Heward said a few minutes’ exposure each day from September to August, and two to three hours per week during winter, was enough to maintain most people’s vitamin D levels.
Dark-skinned people, those who covered their skin for cultural or religious reasons, the elderly and housebound were at higher risk and should get medical advice.
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