The place to find holistic information about your health

Vitamin D: Key To Beating Postpartum Depression

One of my biggest concerns as a new mom was post-partum depression. It’s a scary condition that hits you at your most vulnerable time. You can be filled with love for your newborn but at the same time devastatingly depressed.  Baby Elvis was born in the winter and I was nesting indoors not getting much sun exposure. I was already living skin-to-skin with my baby like it was my full time job, since this releases oxytocin and helps reduce new mother anxiety. But then I stumbled upon the idea of a Vitamin D “sweet spot.” One study found that women with higher levels of vitamin D after giving birth had a 20% reduced risk of postpartum depression.

I was willing to try anything to help me stay present with my baby. When I looked further, I found that there’s oh-so-much-more to this crucial vitamin. It can affect everything, right down to the speed at which we age, and even how long we live. The bottom line: Vitamin D turns on over 1000 different enzymatic processes in our bodies. Let’s dive in!

Our primary, primal source: straight-up UVB radiation from the sun. Fun fact: mushrooms have the same reaction as we do. So sun-exposed mushrooms are actually a great source of vitamin D.

Factors that affect our ability to produce and use vitamin D:

• Sunscreen. We’re told over and over to use the stuff, but the fact is, it does what it’s supposed to: it blocks out UVB radiation, and vitamin D with it.

• Melanin. The darker your skin, the more natural protection you have from the sun. But this also makes it harder to get vitamin D. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that only 30% of light-skinned Americans have optimum levels of vitamin D, and dark-skinned Americans are worse off.

• Age. As we age, our body is less efficient at doing lots of things, and producing vitamin D is no exception. A 70-year-old produces 4x less vitamin D than a 20-year-old.

• Body fat. Vitamin D is fat-soluble. This means that the more fat you have, the more vitamin D there is stored in it, and the less there is being released into your bloodstream.

How to increase your levels:

While there are tons of vitamin D supplements out there to peruse, the healthiest compliment to sun exposure is good food! And the richest sources out there are fish and fish oil. Here is a really helpful list of vitamin D rich foods.

Elixir of youth?

While there is absolutely no magic elixir out there to halt natural aging, vitamin D has been shown to regulate the process. Ever heard of telomeres? They’re tiny caps at the end of your chromosomes that protect your DNA from damage. Every year they get shorter until they are no more. Telomere length is a biological marker for aging.

Studies actually show that people with the lowest levels of vitamin D also have the shortest telomeres. This telomere shortening corresponds to 5 years of biological aging! The anti-inflammatory properties of vitamin D are thought to be partly responsible for delaying the wear-down of our precious telomeres.

If a lack of vitamin D can lead to premature aging, it only stands to reason that it can also affect life span, right? Right. As it happens, individuals with the highest vitamin D levels actually live a longer life too.

Sweet Spot

Like most good things, too much can be just as bad as too little. While a vitamin D deficiency can lead to depression, digestive issues, premature aging, and more, vitamin D overkill can cause an abnormally high blood calcium level, leading to a host of other issues. The National Institute of Medicine has set the tolerable upper intake of vitamin D at 4000 international units (IU) a day. An optimal vitamin D blood level is between 60 to 80 ng per ml.

Get tested

We like to have our patient’s vitamin D levels routinely tested (and this definitely goes for pregnant women) to help prescribe the proper amount, achieve that sweet spot, and reap the very real benefits of optimal vitamin D levels. Not only will you be in a better mood. Your telomeres will thank you!

Curious about your own vitamin D levels? Get assessed at Urban Wellness Clinic by our nutritionist, Dr Kaitlyn Clarke. To set up an appointment, call 212-355-0445, or contact us at

Best in health,

Dr Emily Kiberd