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Guide: How Sunlight Affects Your Mental Health

 One factor that has an impact on mental health is sunlight. That’s the conclusion of a recent study which looked at the links between weather and depression.  Mental health data from more than 16,000 Brigham Young University students was used whereby assessments had been filled out several times by each person over the course of six years. The assessments were then matched to local weather data. 
 
 
lack of sunlight
Within the study, 19 different environmental factors including solar irradiance (the amount of sunlight that reaches the Earth), cloud cover, rain, wind chill, barometric pressure and smog levels were accounted for.  However, it was discovered that what mattered most was the amount of time between sunrise and sunset. The other factors didn’t seem to have a significant association with emotional distress, provided that there was enough sunlight.
The results shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s been estimated that as many as 20% of Americans are affected by SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) each winter, suffering from the blues, fatigue and in some cases, depression. 
Another noteworthy benefit of sun exposure is Vitamin D. But when we talk about sun exposure to optimize vitamin D production, we’re really only looking at a small portion of the action spectrum of light, because ultraviolet B radiation is the only portion able to photosynthesize vitamin D in your skin. 
Furthermore, according to a paper published in the journal Dermato-Endocrinology, sunlight has the ability to influence your mood. Consider this example: Your body uses the near infrared light spectrum to produce mitochondrial energy and maintain systemic equilibrium. Near infrared also primes the cells in your retina for repair and regeneration.  With near-infrared playing such an important role in your body’s energy production, conclusions have been made that if you’re running low on adenosine triphosphate (ATP) due to insufficient amounts of sunlight exposure, you may feel sluggish and tired, and possibly depressed. 
It is a known fact that when it’s dark your melatonin levels increase which is why you may feel tired when the sun starts to set. During the winter months this may be as early as 4pm. In addition to this, research has also determined that UV light also stimulates epidermal cells known as keratinocytes to make beta-endorphins, which have a mood-boosting effect.
Also, it is a well-known fact that serotonin is released in response to sunlight – a hormone which helps elevate your mood and your energy. UVA generates nitric oxide (NO) in your skin, which has a number of beneficial effects on your body. In fact, it stimulates up to 60% of your blood to flow to your skin capillaries where they absorb this energy and infrared radiation. UVA also helps kill any infections in your blood while the infrared recharges your cellular battery.
 
lack of sunlight
Vitamin D Deficiency Predisposes You to Depression
Vitamin D appears to improve depression, possibly due to the fact that it’s a potent anti-inflammatory. Moreover, there’s ample evidence to suggest that vitamin D plays an important role in mental health. So, if you tend to feel blue over the fall and winter months, you’d be wise to get your levels of vitamin D checked out. If results show that your vitamin D levels are below 40 ng/mL, a vitamin D supplement will be advisable. 
In a 2006 study, seniors with vitamin D levels below 20 ng/ml were found to be more prone to depression than those with higher levels. Furthermore, a 2007 study suggested that vitamin D deficiency is responsible for symptoms of depression and anxiety in patients with fibromyalgia. Adding to this, vitamin D deficiency is also a well-recognized cause in SAD. In fact, in a 2011 study, the authors pointed out that ‘effective detection and treatment of inadequate vitamin D levels in persons with depression and other mental disorders may be an easy and cost-effective therapy which could improve patients' long-term health outcomes as well as their quality of life. 
It has been discovered that the optimal range for general physical and mental health appears to be between 40 and 70 ng/ml. So if you’re feeling depressed, get your vitamin D levels checked. 
One other noteworthy point to keep in mind is that when taking a vitamin D supplement, you also need to take vitamin K2 and magnesium as these nutrients work in tandem. And since vitamin D is fat-soluble, taking it with some form of healthy fat will help optimize absorption. 
lack of sunlight
Tips for Beating the Winter Blues
As mentioned above, light is a major factor in overcoming SAD and depression, as insufficient vitamin D levels. However, you can also help boost your mood naturally during the dark, cold winter with these tips: 
1. Exercising: Exercise has been found to work better than antidepressant drugs. It works by normalizing your insulin levels while simultaneously boosting the ‘feel good’ hormones in your brain. 
2. Going to sleep early: There is a link between depression and lack of sleep. Statistics show that of the approximately 18 million Americans with depression, more than half of them struggle with insomnia. While it was believed that insomnia was a symptom of depression, it now seems that insomnia may precede depression in some cases. As a general rule, aim for about 8 hours of sleep per night. You may also want to use a sleep tracker to help motivate you to get to bed earlier. 
3. Avoiding processed foods: Your diet should not be a factor that is overlooked. Foods can have an immense impact on your mood. So opt for a diet that consists of fresh, whole foods to support your mental health. 
4. Optimize your gut health: Fermented foods play an important role in optimal mental health and are vital for optimizing gut health. It’s important as your gut actually produces more mood-regulating serotonin than your brain does. 
5. Increase high quality and animal-based omega-3 fats: This may be the most important nutrient for optimal brain function. In addition, vitamin B12 deficiency may also contribute to depression, so it is worth getting checked out.
The Role of Vitamin D in Disease Prevention
Vitamin D plays a crucial role in disease prevention and maintaining optimal health. There are about 30,000 genes in the body, 3000 of which are affected by vitamin D. In one large-scale study it was found that optimal vitamin D can slash your risk of cancer by as much as 60%. So keeping your levels opitimized can help prevent at least 16 different types of cancer, including pancreatic, lung, ovarian, prostate and skin cancers. 
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