Melissa Biscardi

Jun 29

How Does Vitamin D Affect Brain Health?

Summer sun shining on your face, warming your skin, and making you feel like falling in love.

A much-studied topic and widely published in teen magazines, summer is a good time to fall in love and to catch the eye of the one you have had your eye on. It has been said that it is easier to fall in love in the summer; we are more carefree, feel less stress, and generally more social.

Is it less clothing and the carefree energy of summer? Or is it the replenishment of our vitamin D that makes us ready for a match made in heaven? Or could it be a bit of both?!

It is critical for us to receive sunlight daily, and melanin, our natural skin pigment, melanin, helps us do that.

Fun fact — the retinas have 40% more melanin than anywhere else in the body, which is what makes sun gazing so powerful. The eyes, optic nerve, and the brain itself have the highest concentration of melanin compared to the rest of the body.

Our eyes absorb sunlight with photosensitive ganglion cells in the retinas. Then, the light travels through the optic nerve to the midbrain and the suprachiasmatic nuclei, or the master clock of the body. Receiving natural light everyday is important for our circadian rhythms.

In case you haven’t heard, sun exposure and the summer months give you access to a cost-free version of the much-needed vitamin D. If you are in the North Pole aka Canada or the northern/non-sunshine states, chances are you do not get enough vitamin D naturally for most of the year, and may be at a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency. Yet, vitamin D is not only important for our bones and pearly whites, but also for our brain function.

Some cities that are known for colder and drearier days may have options for people to receive sunlight, although it may be artificial. The Tropical Butterfly House in Seattle, Washington, for example, provides a place where people can receive their vitamin D while walking through the exhibit, during the cold and rainy winter months.

Why does sunlight affect mood? Low levels of vitamin D are often in tandem with various levels of symptoms of depression and mental disorders. It has also been found that this nutrient aids in cognitive function and brain health. This works side by side with the ganglion cells we mentioned earlier and regulates our circadian rhythm. Ultimately what this means, is that sunlight reaching the brain affects our emotions, rewards system, and even our decision making.

Recent research has suggested that the sunshine vitamin has neuroprotective effects and that deficiency in vitamin D is linked to symptoms of impaired cognition. One study deprived healthy adult mice of dietary vitamin D for 20 weeks, after which they used tests to compare them with a group of control mice. Cognitive tests revealed that the mice that had low vitamin D levels were less able to learn and remember new things compared with the mice in the control group. Also among the findings was that there was a reduction in the number and strength of connections in the hippocampus.

The hippocampus is a sea horse shaped part of our brain found deep inside our temporal lobe. The hippocampus is important for storing memories. If you imagine being a skier and skiing over the same spot over and over again, this would be strong connections in the brain. A weak connection would be if it snowed on top or the path was all over the place.

So what does this mean? It means if you want to remember your summer flings and summer loves make sure to do things to keep your brain healthy like getting sun, sleep, and of course, downloading brain friendly apps like the Nuro app by Nurosene!

What is the best way to get vitamin D?

  • In the morning look in the direction of the sun; this also helps to regulate your sleep wake cycle. Your brain needs to know when the sun is rising so it knows when to wake up. At the same time, looking outside at sundown helps tell our brains that the day is ending and soon will be bedtime.
  • Eat a diet rich in vitamin D. Foods such as salmon, cod, and tuna (the fatty fish) are great sources of vitamin D. Egg yolks, milk, mushrooms, yogurt, orange juice, fortified cereals, and milk are also high on the list and can help you up your dietary intake of vitamin D.
  • If indicated, supplement with vitamin D3. Get a vitamin D test from your GP or ND to make sure vitamin D supplementation is appropriate. If your vitamin D blood levels are extremely low, supplementation may be recommended. It may also be helpful to take vitamin K alongside vitamin D, thanks to synergistic effects between these two essential nutrients.

Now, you can have too much of a good thing. So if you are supplementing with vitamin D, make sure to circle around with your trusted health professional. Too much love though? Never heard of that!

Why Is Sunlight Vital?

It plays a big role in our bone health and allows us to absorb calcium. Without it, the body is unable to absorb the amount of calcium it normally could with the sunlights’ help. Yet in fact, this nutrient affects the entire musculoskeletal system — our tissues, muscles, tendons, ligaments and cartilage, not just our bones.

Did you know the respiratory system also needs vitamin D to function properly? Sunlight assists the respiratory system to support and help protect it against infection, it can help regenerate the cells that help protect the blood and lymphatic system, and it can also assist to regulate our inflammatory response. In short, sunlight actually does a lot when it comes to protecting the lungs.

Sunlight and Immune Support

New research has shown that the sun energizes the T cells that are responsible for fighting infections. Therefore, being in the sun supports the immune system.

We have two different kinds of T cells and they both need movement in order to perform properly. They receive this movement through sunlight and the light inside the body transforms into hydrogen peroxide.

Our immune system needs hydrogen peroxide, as it allows the T cells to get to the area of the body that needs to be healed.

In Conclusion

The sun’s rays can actually be very healing, when we are in tune with the magic that it can bring into our life. If you live in an area that does not have much sunlight for the majority of the year, do your best to be proactive about getting optimal levels of vitamin D — whether it be with food, finding places near you that offer artificial sunlight or even taking the bulk of your vacations during that time to get you to sunnier places.

Take a look and see if it is something you could use more of (most Americans do). Your body will thank you for it!