Recently, low vitamin D levels have been linked to drug and alcohol addiction. Vitamin D is arguably one of the most important vitamins in the body. In fact, the human body requires adequate vitamin D levels so that tissue and organs can function properly. This is something that’s been proven over and over again, but a fascinating new study suggests that a vitamin D deficiency may be linked to addiction. Furthermore, having low levels of this vitamin may not only delay the recovery process but may actually increase a person’s risk of relapse.
Drug addiction and dopamine levels are related. Scientists have determined that adequate vitamin D levels help protect and regulate the levels of dopamine and other chemicals that a healthy brain requires to function. But also it helps repair damages to DNA, regulate the immune system, assist the body with restoring depleted vitamin and mineral levels, and reduce inflammation.
Vitamin D deficiencies may lead to a higher risk of drug and alcohol addiction and serious health issues such as certain types of cancer, heart disease, liver disease, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, obesity, depression, anxiety, and the common cold.
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Who is at the Highest Risk for Vitamin D Deficiency?
Vitamin D is sometimes referred to as the “sunshine vitamin” because the body produces it when skin is subjected to sunlight. Even though the sun is present almost everywhere, it’s surprising that there are high rates of vitamin D deficiencies in countries worldwide. This phenomenon is most common among those who live further away from the equator. Still, it can be found in people anywhere, even in areas with low-latitude and climates where UVB radiation should be plentiful.
The people at the highest risk are those who spend a great deal of time indoors or those who live in dark and cold climates. This is because in these areas, the sun isn’t strong enough during autumn and winter to provide adequate levels of vitamin D. It’s also thought that the vigilant use of sunscreen can also be a contributing factor.
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Vitamin D Deficiency Study Findings
The study was led and authored by Dr. David Fisher, the director of the MGH Cancer Center’s melanoma program. He and other colleagues found that people who have inadequate vitamin D levels may possibly crave opioids, thus putting them at a higher risk of developing an addiction.
In one portion of the study, they looked at a group of vitamin D deficient mice and a group of normal mice. They found that when each group of mice was conditioned with minuscule doses of morphine, the ones with a deficiency would continue to seek the drug. However, this same behavior was much less prevalent in the normal mice. Yet, when vitamin D levels were increased in the mice, opioid responses were normal.
Following the findings, Dr. Fisher believes that vitamin D levels regulate behavioral responses to opiates, and it appears to be an “evolutionary pathway.”
Dr. Fisher’s most recent study continued his past research, which showed that exposure to natural sunlight helps create endorphins that trigger the same brain receptors as opioids. Furthermore, he thought this type of deficiency might also make the mice more sensitive to opioid effects, and his model suggests the same. In other words, if a lack of vitamin D is present, opioid responses such as dependency, pain thresholds, and withdrawal are exaggerated.
The findings suggest that soon, doctors may begin prescribing vitamin D supplements for people who are addicted to opioids because it’s a safe, easy, and cheap fix. The supplement may also be used to prevent addiction and avoid relapses. First, however, human clinical trials are needed to see if the effects are the same.
What to do for Vitamin D Deficiencies
The best way to know if your body is low on vitamin D is to speak with a medical provider and request a blood test. Though there are many inexpensive supplements available on the market, it’s not a good idea to self-diagnose because optimal levels depend on your age, skin type, air pollution, the altitude of where you live, and other factors. Too much vitamin D can be a bad thing, as it can lead to a buildup of calcium, and this can lead to kidney problems and bone pain.
The best way to naturally increase vitamin D levels in your body is through exposure to sunlight. However, this should not be overdone. Just a few minutes of sun exposure without the presence of sunscreen is enough to boost levels. There’s no need to seek a tan, and always be sure to not stay in the sun long enough for your skin to burn.
Vitamin D and Foods
Most people receive ample amounts of vitamins and minerals from the food they eat, but quantities of vitamin D in foods can be meager and not enough to make up for serious deficiencies. If you’re looking for foods to help boost your levels, here’s a list of the best sources:
- Oysters, salmon, shrimp, herring, mackerel, sardines
- Egg yolks
- Beef liver
- Canned tuna
- Cod liver oil
- Fortified orange juice
- Almond milk
- Yogurt and milk
Though there is still more research needed to determine if vitamin D deficiency in humans is linked to addiction, this is undoubtedly the case for mice. So, if you or someone you love is currently addicted to opioids, it’s worth asking a doctor for a blood test to check vitamin D levels.