Friends and I have had many conversations on the subject of why so many people have depression these days. I’ve also noticed that many are far more depressed than you would imagine, given their overall life circumstances.
Recently, I found I am massively deficient in Vitamin D and am now taking a course of oral doses in oil for six months to build up my levels so I won’t get brittle bones (osteoporosis). Previously I had no idea I would be deficient- it was detected by a canny shrink who ordered a pile of blood tests. Once I’m off the oil, I’ll take the same capsules you can get in the supermarket or pharmacy, which have a much lower dose but maintain a healthy level in the blood.
Looking at the wider world, there is general agreement that there are many more depressed people coming forward for help these days than you might expect from historical numbers. It’s not just that there is less stigma and more (and better) treatment available- there seem to be more individuals who are moderately to severely distressed than there ought to be along with more eating disorders. My mum would have been missed in statistics collected from doctors and hospitals when she was alive, but I realise she was depressed during most of my life. She seemed to suffer in silence and I insensitively thought she was “acting the martyr” when I was really young because she would sing these dirgey songs around the house which she ascribed to her own mother’s influence! There were obviously a dour, depressive bunch of Scots to some extent, conforming to stereotype. I suppose there was no useful treatment in those days any way, so they would have suffered like most did before Prozac.
Why are so many depressed AND Vitamin D deficient? My friends and I think it is simply lack of sunshine. The human species seems to have evolved to derive a lot of benefit from exposure to sunlight, which they were able to gain from their first forays out of caves to hunt for animals during the day time. Apparently the hairier humanoids died out in favour of our smoother-skinned ancestors who had less natural sun protection. Some races evolved dark melanised skin which allowed sufficient absorption if they lived near the Equator and most Scandinavians in the far North, with their fair hair and skin, manage to absorb enough if they spend plenty of time outdoors during summer. A few of us unfortunately have very white skin with just a few patches of melanin, ie. freckles, so we can burn in the sun before we absorb what we need. All this Slip Slop Slap that served to protect us from harmful burning & skin cancer via sunscreen, protective clothing & hats has made a heap of people (mainly Australians I think) quite deficient in Vitamin D. It would be interesting to do a genetic survey alongside a study of average sunlight exposures of people with different skin colours at different latitudes (Equator to polar circles). I know there is some scientific data around, but haven’t heard of a comprehensive inquiry into the surge in depression vs. Vit D & skin colour. Most American people with dark Negro skin derived from their Equatorial African ancestors live too far North to gain Vitamin D from the sun, even if they’re farmers or roofers. They should ALL be on Vitamin D supplements these days, with indoor occupations being the norm. Since most fair-skinned people also work indoors, they need Vitamin D as well, even though they would derive great benefit from time in the sun every day.
Now that modern living has influenced the amount of time we spend outdoors during daylight by making us work indoors on machines & computers, the human race in the form of our common gene pool, may have failed to adapt to our changed “normal” environment. Perhaps the surge in obesity recently is an evolutionary strategy by the human body to acquire more Vitamin D from food rather than from sunlight? Obviously oily foods like potato chips & bacon don’t contain much of the most suitable oil, but our genes are not intelligent, they just drive our urges and actions.
We haven’t taken much notice of a 2008 study reported first in the Harvard Women’s Health Watch and later in other publications that encouraged everyone to get extra vitamin D unless they had a largely outdoor occupation. This site explains about Vitamin D in everyday language with a sprinkling of medi-talk. It’s not intended as a substitute for consulting a qualified doctor about your individual needs, but is very clear about the huge importance of Vitamin D for a healthy life.
Recently the New York Times health blog had a good piece on Vitamin D, prompted because the writer was continually being asked for advice! There doesn’t seem to be any high-profile campaign in Australia to encourage people to get a sufficient dose of Vitamin D, just the occasional TV advertisement, conveyed with no real passion. On the other hand, there is still plenty of publicity on preventing skin cancer by using sunscreen and avoiding the hours of the day when sunlight is strongest! It’s a dilemma!