Click here to print page

Good mental health and Vitamin D

Dr Derrick Aarons

Sunday, January 06, 2019

AS we begin 2019, many of us will make resolutions regarding many matters, including our health. Our health is not only our wealth (a source of happiness), but
also our means to procuring a good quality of life as well as a possibly long
life.


So, if you have not been focusing on good health before, you should dedicate 2019 to achieving good health, making a major investment in your health and well-being, which should include not onlyyour physical health but also your mental
health.
One of the most widely neglected areas of health in Jamaica, as well as in the wider Caribbean, is mental health. We frequently focus on physical health and the consequences or outcomes of poor physical health, while not enough focus or emphasis is placed on mental health and the maintenance of good mental health. Even more unfortunate, unlike physical conditions like heart failure or liver disease, much stigma is attached to poor mental health and people with poor mental health often suffer discrimination within our society.


IMPROVING MENTAL HEALTH


Yet, almost daily, nearly all individuals in our society are subjected to many
challenges to their mental health. Some of these are of genetic origin, but many challenges are as a result of our environment. While we may not be able to provide quick solutions to some of these challenges, there are many simple steps we all could take to mitigate their effects and improve our own mental health.
In making choices, we could choose the path of least stress each day, go to bed
earlier each night, and strive to achieve a good work/life balance of eight hours sleep; eight hours work; and eight hours of recreation. We should also be aiming
to do 20-30 minutes of physical exercise every day (which helps our mental wellbeing), and to have a balanced healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables.
Our diet in Jamaica often consists of too much carbohydrates and too little protein and vegetables. As a result, we feel overly full after eating without obtaining all the nutritional elements necessary for good physical and mental health.
After a while, the lack of these important nutrients take their toll on our health and well-being, and we begin to manifest signs and symptoms of various deficiencies, sometimes with long-term, very harmful consequences.


DEPRESSION


More than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression, and itis the number one cause of people losing years of work due to disability. Depression is a major mental health disorder that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and the way you act. It causes feelings of sadness, and a lack of interest in activities previously enjoyed by individuals. Fortunately, however, depression is treatable.


Scientific research recently found an association between Vitamin D and depression. While no study has been done for its prevalence in Jamaica, in the USA the overall prevalence of vitamin D deficiency is approximately 42 per cent, with the highest rate being present in people of African descent. A systematic review and metaanalysis
of five randomised control research trials over a period of five years, which examined the effects of vitamin D supplementation (versus no supplementation) on depressive
symptoms, indicated that adding vitamin D to one's diet may help to reduce symptoms of depression. People who were simultaneously vitamin D deficient and depressed responded better to supplementation, and there was also some evidence that vitamin D supplementation improved depressive symptoms in people who had normal levels of vitamin D.


Further, anecdotally,some doctors in theUSA reported thata lot of depressed
patients had very low levels of vitamin D, however, when vitamin D supplements were given, symptoms of depression, including fatigue and low energy levels, noticeably
improved.


VITAMIN D IS ESSENTIAL


Consequent to the meta-analysis conducted by the Department of Psychiatry in the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, recommendations were made that doctors should check vitamin D levels and supplement patients when needed. There was reportedly no harm in supplementing vitamin D, since more people than not have low levels of vitamin D.


Vitamin D is also essential for good bone structure and related health benefits. So even if a person has severe depression and therefore needs powerful anti-depressants as their primary treatment, vitamin D may be used to augment their treatment. The findings of this research was presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in May 2018.


So, for 2019, let us be resolved to give greater prominence to mental health, talk
more about mental health issues and the consequences of poor mental health
all across Jamaica, and make every effort to improve our own health.