Vitamin D deficiency: Warning signs that it is more than the winter blues

This Morning: Dr Michael Mosley discusses vitamin D dosage

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Some people may suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) once we are plunged into the depths of winter. One telling sign is feeling a bit blue, but could this side effect really be a sign of a vitamin D deficiency? Speaking exclusively to is Dr Ioannis Liakas, who cautioned that a vitamin D deficiency in the UK “is not a rarity”. “It is no secret that the weather in the UK makes our chances of forming active vitamin D from sunlight quite slim,” said Dr Liakas.

Insufficient vitamin D levels can result in extreme fatigue and more susceptibility to viruses, such as Covid.

“If left untreated for an extended period of time, low vitamin levels can lead to further complications including hair loss, osteoporosis and even a predisposition to diabetes,” said Dr Liakas.

“Clinical symptoms and manifestations of vitamin D deficiency can take a long time to become apparent,” she warned.

Research has shown that low levels of vitamin D may increase the risk of depression.

Dr Liakas said: “As per Government advice, everybody in the UK is advised to consume a daily vitamin D supplement of 10mg (400IU) per day during the winter months.”

A vitamin D deficiency is classified as 50nmols/litre, which can be checked via a blood test.

“Depending on the severity of vitamin D deficiency, treatment time can take anywhere between four to six weeks, and up to several months,” said Dr Liakas.

Dr Liakas recommends vitamin D injections to address a deficiency to correct the health issue in a “relatively fast and efficient” manner.

“Many oral supplements are available over the counter too, however, much of the product can be lost through the body’s natural digestive process or broken down by the stomach acid,” Dr Liakas pointed out.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

The NHS explained: “Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern.”

The symptoms of SAD include:

  • A persistent low mood
  • A loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
  • Feeling lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day
  • Sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning
  • Craving carbohydrates and gaining weight.

Anybody struggling to cope with symptoms of SAD are encouraged to book an appointment with their doctor.

SAD, akin to a vitamin D deficiency, is linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the winter.

Current medical thinking argues that a lack of sunlight “might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus [from] working properly”.

Due to SAD, the disruption of the hypothalamus is said to affect the production of melatonin, serotonin, and the circadian rhythm.

To expand, the NHS said: “Melatonin is a hormone that makes you feel sleepy; in people with SAD, the body may produce it in higher than normal levels.

“Serotonin is a hormone that affects your mood, appetite and sleep; a lack of sunlight may lead to lower serotonin levels, which is linked to feelings of depression.”

The health body added: “Your body uses sunlight to time various important functions, such as when you wake up, so lower light levels during the winter may disrupt your body clock and lead to symptoms of SAD.”

Treatments include light therapy, getting out into sunshine as much as possible, and participating in talking therapies.

Dr Ioannis Liakas – at Vie Aesthetics – is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians (FRCP), an Honorary Senior Lecturer at Queen Mary Medical School, and a Member of the British College of Aesthetic Medicine.

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