The Impact of Sun Avoidance and Vitamin D on Anxiety Among College Women
Have you ever heard that sunshine is the best medicine? Well, it might be medicine for your mental health. A study published in Nutrients suggests that sun avoidance and lower vitamin D intake are associated with higher levels of anxiety.
Vitamin D is an important vitamin that people can get through sun exposure and certain types of food. It has been linked to positive health benefits including calcium metabolism, immune modulation, and nervous system health. Many people are vitamin D deficient due to a myriad of factors such as sun avoidance and diet.
A lack of vitamin D has been linked to increased likelihood of diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. It has also been believed to indirectly affect mood regulation and worsen symptoms of mental illness. Prior research has been conflicted on vitamin D affecting mental health, and this study seeks to add to the body of research.
For their study, Fatme Al Anouti and colleagues utilized 386 female university students in the United Arab Emirates to serve as their sample. They recruited participants from two main universities in Abu Dhabi. All participants needed to be healthy adults who were enrolled in university.
Participants completed a self-report measure recalling their intake of vitamin-D rich food over the last 4 weeks, a self-report measure assessing sun avoidance attitudes and behaviors, and a generalized anxiety measure. Participants were also asked to indicate if they had recently been diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency or if they were taking vitamin D supplements.
Results showed that sun avoidance behavior was associated with elevated levels of generalized anxiety disorder. There was a high level of vitamin D deficiency and significant levels of sun avoidance reported by UAE female college students. As expected, sun avoidance and lower ingestion of vitamin D rich foods were associated with vitamin D deficiencies.
In turn, vitamin D deficiency was associated with a greater risk of generalized anxiety disorder. Additionally, sun avoidance itself was a significant predictor for anxiety in female college students. This is consistent with previous research suggesting that vitamin D deficiency could be linked to anxiety disorders.
This study took important steps to contribute to the body of research surrounding vitamin deficiency and mental health outcomes. Despite this, there are limitations to note. One limitation is that the sample was confined in gender, age, and geography, which could limit generalizability.
Due to its intense climate, the UAE has a high level of sun avoidance that is not typical of the world at large, and a comparison study may be helpful going forward. Additionally, the measures utilized were all self-report, which could lead to bias.
“This study used vitamin D dietary and supplement intake and sun avoidance as determinants to establish vitamin D status among a vulnerable sample of young adult females from universities in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, and examined associations with generalized anxiety,” the researchers concluded.
“The findings demonstrated a prominent association between sun avoidance and a low intake of vitamin D-rich foods and supplements on the one hand and anxiety on the other. This suggests that rectifying vitamin D levels may be a convenient, cost-effective, and low-risk method to improve anxiety and mental health status in general.