First Responders, Holiday Blues and Vitamin D
That first whiff of fresh cut pine; the overabundance of pumpkin-spiced everything; a gentle glow of candle flame and the infectious giddiness of a child’s anticipation—the holiday season can certainly be a joyous time! However, for those in public safety and shift work, late October to mid-January is not all greeting cards and the Hallmark Channel specials. This time of year often means missing family, dealing with estranged loved ones and a dramatic rise in seasonal depression and anxiety.
Protecting your mental health is challenging when the holidays can conspire against it. Feeling left out and tense is more common than not for those in police, fire, corrections and emergency medicine. What can be done to give a spirit boost in the season of cheer?
Vitamin D may be a part—even a big part—of the answer.
The Basics of Vitamin D
Vitamin D has been a in the news a lot lately. This is mostly because it has shown some promise as a prophylactic and treatment for COVID-19. Vitamin D, you may be surprised to discover, is more than a simple vitamin. . It’s a fat-soluble hormone produced in the kidneys in conjunction with direct sun exposure and/or vitamin D-rich foods, and it plays a direct role immune function and anxiety reduction. We have all seen the milk ads about strong bones; but did you know that low levels of vitamin D also correlate to fatigue, muscle weakness, hair loss and mood regulation?
Aside from our corrections brethren, most in public safety believe they are outside enough year-round to get a healthy dose of vitamin D from sun exposure. This is a myth if you live in the United States above the San Diego to Atlanta latitudes, i.e., the majority of the country. Even if you were spending your days in shorts and shirtless, the angle of the sun at these latitudes is insufficient to provide your kidneys what they require to produce your daily recommended allowance of vitamin D. Since it’s fat-soluble, the body does store this precious resource when it receives a surplus. But if you live in North America, any surplus you build up is likely not enough to get you through our dark and cold winter months. And this assumes you received enough during the summer months to begin with.
How to Get More?
There are ways to boost your natural stores of vitamin D. Many foods contain vitamin D in a form the body can use, and there are two subtypes. Fatty fish, such as salmon; artificial-light-grown mushrooms; and egg yolks contain vitamin D naturally. Other foods, such as cereal, cheese and milk, are often fortified with vitamin D. One approach for ensuring you’re getting enough is to use a specialized red-light therapy (basically, artificial sunlight) that assists the body in making vitamin D. But perhaps the easiest way is an over-the-counter supplement.
I mentioned above subtypes of this essential hormone. Vitamin D2 is derived from plant sources and is therefore preferrable to vegetarians, whereas D3 is animal-derived. Vitamin D2 can be prescribed by a physician and therefore may be covered by your health insurance. Vitamin D3 is over the counter and thus more costly. In relation to immunity boosting, D3 seems to edge out D2, making it the media darling in the wake of a pandemic.
Supplementing and dosage is best left to the professionals. If you have questions about your vitamin D levels, chat with your physician about it. A simple blood test can give you a fuller picture of your status. It is possible to get too much of a good thing, and vitamin D is no exception. There are also risks of drug interactions if you are already on certain medications, such as antacids and laxatives.
The Bottom Line
Winter blues are real. Public safety professionals can be even more at risk due to our schedules and lifestyles. We aren’t exactly famous for our healthy eating habits. Add to this high stress, followed by utter boredom, then chased by pure adrenaline each shift—it can quickly take a toll on your relationships, immunity and overall health. Any help we can get to naturally shift our mood into a more positive direction is something we can all get behind. That vitamin D is essential to nutrient absorption and improves our immune system only bolster the case. Until next time, watch your six and be well.