The link between vitamin D and alcohol was somewhat murky until recently. Long regarded as the “bone health” vitamin that we can get from the sun, vitamin D turns out to be crucial for mental health as well.
This article will explore why we need vitamin D, why alcohol addiction almost invariably leads to deficiency, and how you can proactively repair this deficiency to optimize your mental health.
Why Do We Need Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that our bodies convert into pro-hormones. The human body will produce vitamin D in response to direct sunlight.
While there are multiple forms of vitamin D, the form that we need most in order to create these important pro-hormones is vitamin D3.
Vitamin D3 is necessary for the following bodily processes:
- Absorption of magnesium, calcium, and phosphate
- Hormonal balance
- Immune system regulation
- Inflammation reduction
- Gene expression (for over 1,000 genes)
- DNA repair
- Serotonin production in the brain
Vitamin D production is triggered by sunlight that reaches the eyes. Generally, 15 minutes of sun per day is recommended to maintain adequate levels of this vitamin. Research has shown that the vast majority of Americans do not have enough D3, which may partially explain the prevalence of chronic disease and depression.
Does vitamin D make serotonin?
Vitamin D has long been neglected as an alcohol-depleted nutrient, with much of the attention going to important minerals like magnesium and B-vitamins like thiamine. In part, this is because old research only connected the dots between vitamin D and bone health.
More recent research has shown that this vitamin is necessary for MANY reasons that go far beyond strong bones.
Specifically, the connection between vitamin D and serotonin production was not made until recently. One of my favorite researchers and podcasters, Dr. Rhonda Patrick, synthesized existing research to show how vitamin D regulates the synthesis and action of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter required for feelings of confidence and relaxation, as well as for sleep.
Because heavy drinking depletes serotonin levels over time, vitamin D is required to help alcoholics restore healthy levels of this neurotransmitter. Many symptoms of protracted alcohol withdrawal – especially depression – can be traced to a deficiency in serotonin.
Does alcohol cause vitamin D deficiency?
Heavy drinking causes nutrient deficiencies in 6 main ways, all of which deplete levels of vitamin D:
- Diuretic effect – Alcohol leaches water and nutrients out of your system.
- Damaged gut lining – Alcohol directly damages the lining of the stomach and intestines, making it harder to absorb nutrients
- Damaged gut microbiome – Good bacteria that help break down food are damaged by alcohol exposure, while harmful strains like candida yeast thrive from alcohol and sugar
- Foregone calories – Alcoholics tend to make room for alcohol, rather than quality foods
- Overworked liver and pancreas – Many nutrients are made available to the body by the liver, but the organ cannot process vitamins and minerals when it is preoccupied with detoxifying alcohol (which it only does at about 1 drink per hour).
- Acetaldehyde – This is the most common toxic byproduct from alcohol, causing hangover symptoms, inflammation, and DNA damage that can lead to cancer. Antioxidants like vitamin D are depleted by constantly mopping up this toxin.
Vitamin D3 cannot be used by the body until it is activated by enzymes in the liver and kidneys. Alcohol addiction throws a wrench into this process by damaging these crucial organs.
Before I quit drinking, I often felt a dull pain and swelling under the right side of my ribcage. The pain became worse after prolonged binges. I later learned that this was a symptom of pancreas inflammation, and that if my pancreas was inflamed, then my liver wasn’t healthy either!
Symptoms Of Vitamin D Deficiency
Did you know that 70% of Americans don’t meet the requirements for adequate vitamin D levels?! (source)
Here is a chart showing the percentages of people meeting the estimated average requirements (EARs) for some very important nutrients:
We’ve already gone over the numerous ways in which alcohol depletes vitamin D. Given the chart above, you can take a guess at what percentage of alcoholics are deficient in this crucial nutrient!
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include:
- Depleted serotonin (brain chemical required for relaxation and confidence)
- Depleted oxytocin (the “trust and bonding” hormone)
- Faster aging
- Impaired immune system
- Weak bones
- Increased cancer risk
- Reduced brain cell growth
- Impulsive behavior
Working with a large number of private coaching clients has made me realize that deficiency in vitamin D and alcohol addiction go hand in hand. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve watched someone’s mood improve almost overnight after beginning a vitamin D3 supplement.
Recently, a former client of mine wrote to me and told me that his fiancee, who had not struggled with alcohol addiction, had finally beaten depression simply by taking vitamin D3 and omega-3 fatty acids!
I personally experienced a boost in my mood as soon as I started vitamin D3 supplementation after I quit drinking. I did not know why this was the case at the time.
How To Supplement With Vitamin D
Food sources generally do not contain enough vitamin D3 to satisfy our requirements. Eggs, salmon, and tuna contain some vitamin D, as do milk and grains that are fortified with this vitamin.
We evolved to obtain vitamin D primarily from the sun, but in modern society and in northern climates, getting sufficient levels is often not possible. Vitamin D3 deficiencies can be easily fixed through supplementation.
The RDA for vitamin D3 is currently set at 600 IU, but recent research has found that supplementation with about 4,000 IU per day is required to bring adults up to “adequate” levels. (source)
While people who are deficient in vitamin D3 typically feel better after beginning supplementation, it can take months (or up to a year) for adequate levels to be achieved.
After I quit drinking, I took around 5,000 IU per day for many months. I then moved to a new city with a beach nearby; since then, I have only taken extra vitamin D3 during the winter or after long periods of rainy days.
I am a fan of the following supplements, all of which contain vitamin D3:
I’ve mentioned these options because not all vitamin D supplements are optimal choices. Vitamin D2 is available in supplement form and often added to milk and cereals. Unfortunately, our bodies are inefficient at converting vitamin D2 into vitamin D3.
I have not seen any supplements for alcohol withdrawal that contain vitamin D, perhaps because the link between vitamin D and alcohol addiction has long been overlooked. If you already take Calm Support, which is a fantastic product for many other reasons, then you could easily add in any of the above to reap the benefits of vitamin D.
Vitamin D toxicity can begin at 10,000 IU depending on your biochemistry. Do not try to megadose vitamin D!
Many studies have demonstrated that vitamin D is necessary for bodily health, with more recent ones focusing on the link between vitamin D and alcohol addiction. Recent research has led to some relevant conclusions:
- Low levels of vitamin D are associated with depression, psychotic symptoms, and more recently, alcohol use disorders (source)
- Vitamin D3 and omega-3 fatty acids may improve depression, reduce impulsive behavior, and modulate the severity of psychiatric disorders by making more serotonin available (source)
- Vitamin D deficiency caused by alcohol contributes to alcohol-related muscle weakness (source)
- Vitamin D improves mental function in people with cognitive impairment (source)
I suspect that we will see even more research on the links between deficiency in vitamin D and alcohol addiction in the years to come.
Unfortunately, most research money goes to studying prescription drugs instead of basic nutrients that we need to function properly, yet which cannot be patented.
What vitamins do heavy drinkers need?
I hope you’ve learned something from this article about the links between deficiency in vitamin D and alcohol addiction. If you’re a heavy drinker or recovering from a heavy drinking lifestyle, repairing your vitamin D deficiency is just the tip of the iceberg. Be sure to check out my broader article on vitamins for alcohol withdrawal.
With nutritional repair and natural remedies, trial and error is the best approach. I’ve never had a bad reaction to vitamins or natural supplements. Some have simply worked much better than others. The best ones have worked so well that they’ve seriously changed my life.
Basic (high quality) supplements are much safer than prescription drugs that mask the symptoms of underlying nutrient deficiencies. As a case in point, it makes little sense to take an antidepressant for depression caused by a vitamin D deficiency. Doing so might even be detrimental, because untreated nutrient deficiencies can cause much more serious complications down the road.
If you have any questions about vitamin D and alcohol, please post them in the comment box below.