The idea for this particular post is derived from a spam comment received on this blog. I suppose spam is useful after all. At least, spam comments that don’t all have to so with selling Viagra online. Anyhow, the concept here is vitamin D and the role it plays in bipolar/depression symptoms and the intensity thereof.
Supplement to Success?
Unfortunately, just as with medications used for bipolar disorder it’s not realistic to think that a supplement or two is going to rid you of all your troubles. I’ve had some experience in the past with supplements 5-HTP (precursor to serotonin) and l-tyrosine (eventually converted into dopamine and norepinephrine) having the greatest affect but these were still mild in terms of easing symptoms. This was also before I flipped the switch into bipolar 1 type out of plain depression. In retrospect, these supplements had an affect on my state of mind though it was mild.
With this said, I do believe that certain supplements should play a role in treatment and recovery if only to deal with the side effects of bipolar drugs. More than a few of the drugs used for bipolar deprive the body of certain vitamins. For example, Depakote deprives the body of vitamin D as well as folic acid and calcium. This is the reason you should discuss any potential supplementation you should be doing if it’s going to be improving your overall well being, psychologically and physically.
In addition to spam being the inspiration for vitamin D taking the spotlight in this post there is also my experience with the natural changes of vitamin D exposure. It’s pretty common knowledge that sunlight provides us with vitamin D. It’s also pretty common knowledge that getting out in the sun makes people happier generally speaking (for whatever reason the sun can also act to the effect of seasonal affective disorder). And from my personal experience I know that getting out in the sun often, a common side effect of the summer months, lifts my mood.
On the contrary, I’ve learned that a lack of sunlight leads to more depressive symptoms. It’s now summer time but I am not getting as much sun as I usually do and I definitely notice an increase in depressive symptoms as a result. It isn’t as bad as the colder months (vitamin D deficiency is thought to be connected with seasonal affective disorder) but it is noticeable.
There is a difference as to which type of vitamin D is better at combating depression symptoms, vitamin D2 vs vitamin D3, vitamin D3 being better. Milk and sunlight are both natural sources of vitamin D3. Regardless, vitamin D plays a definite role in combating both unipolar and bipolar depression for some individuals.
Science of Vitamin D and Bipolar Symptoms
How could a lack of vitamin D make your bipolar situation worse? It’s more a matter of the role vitamin D plays in our bodies. It isn’t just a case of take more of vitamin X and see these results. You could look at it in this manner but there’s more behind the curtain.
Vitamin D plays a large role in our physical well being but it’s the effect it has on our mental health that matters most in the case of the vitamin D/bipolar relationship for obvious reasons. Vitamin D is obviously doing something for our brains if many of us are more depressed during the winter months (a case of seasonal affective disorder). There is less sunlight and we are generally exposed to less sunlight so therefor we aren’t getting an ample amount of natural vitamin D.
This can’t be said for all cases and it isn’t the only reason people are more depressed during the winter months but there is certainly a connection. Where does it start? First of all, it is a proven fact that there are vitamin D receptors in the brain. This receptor is known as the 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 receptor or VDR and 1α-hydroxylase is the enzyme responsible for the formation of active vitamin D. This means that vitamin D has some kind of effect on brain function in all humans, not just the mentally ill.
The fact that there are actual vitamin D receptors in the brain is fascinating, at least in my opinion, because it proves the physiological interplay vitamin D has within the brain. It’s not insanely profound but it shows us that it’s doing something. The fact that it’s doing anything at all and has even the tiniest effect on our psyche is interesting in itself, putting anything related to bipolar disorder symptoms aside. However, when you dig further into what vitamin D does for our brains things really take off in terms of this relationship.
More specifically, vitamin D plays a role in activating genes that release neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, according to this article on Psychology Today. There is a whole lot to the topic of neurotransmitters but the basic idea is that they play a huge role in our mood and cognition. In the case of bipolar disorder it is proven that there is dysfunction associated with neurotransmitter systems in the brain and the medications we take in order to cope with this illness address some of this dysfunction. It is also proven that low levels of serotonin is associated with depression. Low levels of dopamine also lead to depressive symptoms such as anhedonia and high levels are associated with psychotic symptoms.
Again, in the case of bipolar disorder and depression it’s not quite as simple as lacking serotonin, dopamine, or norepinephrine. The dysfunction is much more complex within these systems of the brain. The way these neurotransmitters, and others, function within the brain plays a large role in determining what kind of symptoms we suffer from whether you are bipolar or have unipolar depression. It’s the connection that vitamin D has to our brain that makes it worth investigating, not a void of sorts to be filled (only part of the story).
Vitamin D the Answer to Your Symptoms?
If you’re reading this your first impression shouldn’t to be to go about and buy a vitamin D supplement at the local CVS. Think you are low on vitamin D and suffering because of it? If this is what’s on your mind and you’d like to get on top of things immediately then start by going the natural route by consuming foods with high levels of vitamin D and getting more sunlight. Don’t jump into supplements without first consulting your doctor.
The point of this post is simply awareness. If you have bipolar disorder or depression then you should be aware that optimizing your vitamin D levels could help with depressive symptoms or offset deficiencies caused by medications you might be taking. Essentially, talk to your doctor about checking your vitamin D levels via a blood test if you are concerned that you levels are too low and/or are curious if it could help.
This vitamin is known to provide a wealth of health benefits and is just now getting more attention for it’s ability to potentially ease symptoms of depression/mental illness (take this very recent story for example). You definitely shouldn’t freak out over nothing and automatically assume that you’re blood levels are dangerously low but it’s worth investigating with a professional. There are plenty of studies demonstrating vitamin D’s beneficial effect on mental illness to warrant this.
Supplementing with vitamin D isn’t going to erase your bipolar/unipolar depression symptoms but it could make your situation a little bit better. That’s the way to view this topic in my opinion. And if you suffer from mental illness then you know that anything that’ll help is worth a shot given that treatment usually consists of a fair bit of mixing and matching anyhow. I know I’ll be discussing this with my psychiatrist.
To sum things up:
- Don’t obsess over vitamin D being the “answer”
- Don’t jump into taking supplements without talking to your doctor first
- Discuss the topic of vitamin D with your doctor if you think it’s relevant to you (lack of natural exposure, medications causing deficiency, etc)
Lastly, remember that this is for informational purposes only. I am not a health care professional I only have bipolar 1 disorder. Thank you very much for taking the time to read.