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Vitamin D - The Sunshiny, Happy Vitamin

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If you suffer from the winter blues, increasing the vitamin D in your diet may be the answer to your blahs.

Your skin makes vitamin D when it is exposed to sunshine. In the winter, when the days are short and most of us are stuck inside (and covered in heavy clothing when we do venture outdoors), it’s hard to get enough sun exposure to make adequate amounts of vitamin D. So it stands to reason that low vitamin D levels might play a role in Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Recent studies have found lower vitamin D levels in depressed [1] and obese individuals [2], suggesting a direct relationship with SAD. Low vitamin D has also been linked to immune system dysfunction and inflammation [3]. There is hope, vitamin D supplements have been shown to play a therapeutic role in obesity-associated inflammation and weight loss. [4] Scientists are just beginning to understand the interrelationship between the immune system, inflammation and depression [5-8]. For instance, illness can lead to inflammation, which can lead to depression—and what’s worse, the cycle can work in any direction, causing a rapid downward spiral.

For example, a little case of the winter blahs, left untreated, can turn into a physical illness that keeps you inside. Being stuck inside means you get less exercise, less vitamin D and less human interaction, further compounding depression, weight gain and inflammation. So it’s best to take measures to curb depression early on, before you get caught in a whirlpool.

With vitamin D, as with almost all vitamins, natural food sources are the best. In fact, this is especially true of vitamin D. Supplements made from plant- or yeast-based vitamin D2 differ from the vitamin D3 made naturally in your skin. Studies have shown that D2 converts to the active form in your body much more slowly than does vitamin D3. Natural sources of vitamin D3 include eggs, fish, beef liver and mushrooms. In the United States, most fortified consumer products, such as tofu, orange juice and cereals, contain vitamin D2.

Mushrooms, both sun-dried and fresh UV irradiated, are a healthy source of vitamin D2 and D3. Interestingly, mushrooms make vitamin D3 when they’re exposed to the UV rays of the sun, just as humans and other animals do but in addition they make D2 and D4. So placing mushrooms outdoors to grow or to dry for a several hours will actually boost their vitamin D levels [9, 10]. A recent study has shown sundried mushrooms can be an important part of a vegan diet in maintaining healthy levels of vitamin D [11].

Here at Everything Mushrooms, we supply  mushroom logs and plugs for growing mushrooms outdoors, along with  kits for the very freshest mushrooms. Drying these mushrooms outdoors will increase their umami flavor and their vitamin D3 levels. Vitamin D is fat soluble, so don’t be afraid to cook mushrooms (which don’t have any natural fat or cholesterol) in olive oil or a little butter.

We still need more research to fully understand vitamin D and its uses [12]. Right now, there isn’t even a reliable test to find out if your vitamin D levels are low [13]. But what we do know about vitamin D indicates that simply eating more mushrooms could make you happier and healthier.

True, this simple fix hasn’t received much attention from researchers, since it won’t yield a new, expensive product for a pharmaceutical company to peddle. But even without the hard data, it’s worth a try. After all, when is the last time you were given an option to treat depression with something that has no side effects and could benefit your health?

Sun-drying Mushrooms for increased vitamin D:

  1. Check the weather. Ideally, you want a warm to hot forecast of sunny, mostly sunny or partly cloudy with no chance of rain for a couple days.
  2. Gather and dust off mushrooms for drying. Pictured here are log grown shiitake and wild lobster mushrooms. Any fleshy mushroom will work well. Mushrooms that are high in water content like oysters will work but you won't be left with much after the drying process.
  3. Slice mushrooms about 1/4 inch thick.
  4. Lay mushrooms on baking sheets or racks with or without parchment paper, don't overlap.
  5. Place in sun during daylight hours. Cover mushrooms or bring them inside overnight. Two days in the sun is enough to boost vitamin D but not usually enough to completely dry mushrooms. Mushrooms should snap when bent, if mushrooms are even slightly rubbery finish in oven or dehydrator.
  6. Finish drying mushrooms in a dehydrator or an oven on low. A sun oven works great for dehydrating, leave the door slightly ajar so the moisture can escape. Set a conventional oven at 200°F for one hour, leave the mushrooms in the warm oven overnight to continue drying.
  7. Store in an airtight container. Dried mushrooms will retain vitamin D and flavor for about a year.
  8. Re-hydrate by soaking in water and enjoy in your favorite mushroom recipes.

Stay tuned for a winter hardy dried shiitake and lobster mushroom recipe!

1. Kerr, D.C.R., et al., Associations between vitamin D levels and depressive symptoms in healthy young adult women. Psychiatry Research, 2015. 227(1): p. 46-51.

2. Grace, C., R.P. Vincent, and S.J. Aylwin, High prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency in a United Kingdom urban morbidly obese population: Implications for testing and treatment. Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases, 2014. 10(2): p. 355-360.

3. Kroner, J.D., A. Sommer, and M. Fabri, Vitamin D Every Day to Keep the Infection Away? Nutrients, 2015. 7(6): p. 4170-4188.

4. Slusher, A.L., M.J. McAllister, and C.J. Huang, A therapeutic role for vitamin D on obesity-associated inflammation and weight-loss intervention. Inflammation Research, 2015. 64(8): p. 565-575.

5. Furtado, M. and M.A. Katzman, Examining the role of neuroinflammation in major depression. Psychiatry Research, 2015. 229(1-2): p. 27-36.

6. Louati, K. and F. Berenbaum, Fatigue in chronic inflammation - a link to pain pathways. Arthritis Research & Therapy, 2015. 17.

7. Allison, D.J. and D.S. Ditor, The common inflammatory etiology of depression and cognitive impairment: a therapeutic target. Journal of Neuroinflammation, 2014. 11.

8. Berk, M., et al., So depression is an inflammatory disease, but where does the inflammation come from? Bmc Medicine, 2013. 11.

9. Williams, J., Z.R. Lu, and M.F. Holick, Mushrooms not only Produce Vitamin D2 but can also Produce Vitamin D3 and Vitamin D4. Faseb Journal, 2013. 27.

10. Keegan, R.-J.H., et al., Photobiology of vitamin D in mushrooms and its bioavailability in humans. Dermato-endocrinology, 2013. 5(1): p. 165-76.

11. Schwarz, J., et al., The influence of a whole food vegan diet with Nori algae and wild mushrooms on selected blood parameters. Clin Lab, 2014. 60(12): p. 2039-50.

12. Parker, G. and H. Brotchie, 'D' for depression: any role for vitamin D? 'Food for Thought' II. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 2011. 124(4): p. 243-249.

13. Picciano, M.F., Vitamin D Status and Health. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 2010. 50: p. 24-25.