Get your daily dose of of sun­shine vi­ta­min

Re­search has con­firmed the link be­tween de­pres­sion and a lack of vi­ta­min D, and it is vi­tal to eat foods that con­tain it, finds Mar­garet Jen­nings

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Ageing With Attitude -

FEEL­ING the win­ter blues? It may not be just those long dreary grey days that are drag­ging you down, but the lack of ac­tual sun­light too, or more im­por­tantly the ‘sun­shine vi­ta­min’ D.

A re­cent study by Trin­ity Col­lege Dublin showed for the first time in Ire­land, that a de­fi­ciency in vi­ta­min D was as­so­ci­ated with a sub­stan­tially in­creased risk of de­pres­sion among older peo­ple here.

While small stud­ies have pre­vi­ously found links be­tween vi­ta­min D and de­pres­sion, few have fol­lowed up with the same af­fected peo­ple, in this case over four years, or other re­searchers in this field may not have taken into ac­count ad­di­tional fac­tors that can also af­fect de­pres­sion, such as de­pres­sive symp­toms, chronic dis­ease bur­den, phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, and car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease.

Tak­ing all this into con­sid­er­a­tion, the Tilda study found that the risk of de­pres­sion grows by 75% in some­one who does not have enough vi­ta­min D over a four-year fol­lowup pe­riod.

These find­ings, pub­lished in The Jour­nal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine are im­por­tant, as the Tilda team had pre­vi­ously re­ported that one in eight older adults are de­fi­cient in vi­ta­min D.

And while de­pres­sive symp­toms as we age may also be in­flu­enced by lots of other fac­tors, the au­thors do point out that our vi­ta­min D lev­els are rel­a­tively easy and in­ex­pen­sive to mod­ify through sup­ple­men­ta­tion or for­ti­fi­ca­tion.

How­ever, In Ire­land, for­ti­fi­ca­tion of food prod­ucts with vi­ta­min D is vol­un­tary and few man­u­fac­tur­ers do so and this is com­pounded by the lack of any vi­ta­min D guide­lines from the Govern­ment.

In a small study car­ried out here last Oc­to­ber, it’s in­ter­est­ing to note that 29% of par­tic­i­pants aged over 55 said they re­lied on sun­light for their daily vi­ta­min D re­quire­ments, while 26% said they used vi­ta­min sup­ple­ments, and 21% vi­ta­min-rich foods.

This re­search was car­ried out to co­in­cide with the launch of a for­ti­fied food —– a new range of white mush­rooms from The Mighty Mush­room Co, called Im­mune closed cup mush­rooms. These mush­rooms are grown in se­le­nium-rich soil and ex­posed to ad­di­tional light, thereby naturally pro­duc­ing vi­ta­min D.

Di­eti­tian Sarah Keogh of Eatwell in Dublin, who worked with the Mush­room to Im­prove cam­paign linked to this launch, stresses the im­por­tance of older peo­ple be­com­ing more ed­u­cated about eat­ing for­ti­fied food to meet our im­mu­nity needs through­out the win­ter.

“Our re­search found that 52% of 55+ adults worry about their health and im­mune sys­tem more in win­ter,” she says. “Yet the ma­jor­ity of them re­lied on sun­light for get­ting vi­ta­min D.”

A 100g por­tion of the Im­mune closed cup mush­rooms, avail­able in Dunnes Stores out­lets, pro­vides over half, 54%, rec­om­mended di­etary al­lowance of vi­ta­min D, con­tribut­ing to a healthy func­tion­ing im­mune sys­tem, she tells Feel­good.

“The sun that hits Ire­land from Oc­to­ber to March is too weak for us to make any vi­ta­min D even on sunny days. As a re­sult, we need to eat foods that are a good source of vi­ta­min D to make up for this lack of sun­light. But the 2011 Na­tional Adult Nu­tri­tion Sur­vey found that over half of peo­ple aged over 65 here, do not eat enough vi­ta­min D.”

Foods that naturally have good amounts of vi­ta­min D which we should in­clude in our diet are oil-rich fish like salmon, mack­erel and sar­dines, as well as a small amount in eggs, says the di­eti­cian.

The im­por­tance of high­light­ing and ex­plor­ing the risks as­so­ci­ated with re­duced vi­ta­min D in­take among the pop­u­la­tion could well be traced to re­search car­ried out at UCC in 2005.

Back then, Mairead Kiely, who is now pro­fes­sor of Hu­man Nu­tri­tion at UCC, and her col­league Kevin Cash­man, now UCC pro­fes­sor of Food and Health, car­ried out ev­i­dence-based re­search within the Cork Cen­tre for Vi­ta­min D and Nu­tri­tion Re­search group.

They chal­lenged the ex­ist­ing aca­demic dogma that sug­gested we do store enough vi­ta­min D in our bod­ies from sun ex­po­sure in the sum­mer, to carry us through our long win­ter months. Their ran­domised con­trolled stud­ies and in­ter­ven­tions found this was not the case and that in fact, we ac­tu­ally need 10 mi­cro­grams a day — rec­om­men­da­tions that have now been adopted at a global level.

Mean­while, the au­thors of the TCD study sug­gest the link with in­creased de­pres­sion among study par­tic­i­pants could be due to the po­ten­tial di­rect ef­fect of vi­ta­min D on the brain.

Given the struc­tural and func­tional brain changes seen in late-life de­pres­sion, vi­ta­min D may have a pro­tec­tive ef­fect in at­ten­u­at­ing these changes, they say. All older peo­ple should be boost­ing their im­mune sys­tem which af­fects all as­pects of our health, says Ms Keogh.

“Al­though vi­ta­min D is a key nu­tri­ent we re­ally do need a lit­tle of ev­ery­thing when it comes to nu­tri­tion for our im­mune sys­tems, so a healthy, bal­anced diet is es­sen­tial.”

“Wher­ever you go, you take your­self with you — Au­thor Neil Gaiman

Pic­ture: iStock

Vi­ta­min D seeker: There is not enough sun­shine in a typ­i­cal Ir­ish win­ter to give you the re­quired amount of vi­ta­min D.

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