The sun brings happiness

This post is also available in Dutch.

Spring has arrived. The terraces are filling up and people are happily enjoying themselves, because: the sun is shining! So how does the sun make us happy?

A woman happily enjoys a sunny day. Photo from pexels.com.

The days are longer, the temperature is milder, the crocuses are blooming and the birds are singing. It is spring. I feel pleasant and energetic. I want to go outside and do something fun. The cold winter is finally over, and with it also those somber days of melancholy.

Not only in nature do we see the changes that are brought about through the spring and increasing hours of sunlight.

The power of vitamin D
Plants are not the only ones that make good use of the sun’s rays. People use sunlight to make vitamin D! Vitamin D protects our bones, works to prevent cancers (with the exception of skin cancer), autoimmune and cardiovascular diseases. In addition to all these protective effects, vitamin D plays a stimulating role in the production of a ‘happy’ substance in your brain called serotonin. This substance makes us feel good.

A serotonin trigger
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (a transfer agent for the communication between brain cells) that also plays an important role in regulating mood and emotions. A shortage of serotonin results in melancholy or sadness, depression and anxiety (read more in a previous blog). 

Research on Vitamin D
A study showed that there is connection between vitamin D and serotonin production. Whenever someone had more vitamin D, they were more likely to be in a better mood.

How did researchers discover this? During the study, participants had to drink a mixture with all kinds of amino acids in it with the exception of tryptophan. Tryptophan, like all other amino acids, is an organic compound we take into our bodies through what we eat. It is the necessary building block through which our bodies can produce serotonin. Being that this drink mixture lacked this nutrient, participants developed a temporary shortage in serotonin, and this would lead to a somber and depressed mood.

Participants’ moods worsened when they sat in a dark room, as was predicted. However, this did not happen when they sat in a lighted room! The bright light imitated that of sunlight, which normally carries out the production of vitamin D. Having enough vitamin D raises serotonin levels in the brain and can improve one’s mood. This study therefore shows that problems with mood may sometimes be improved by sunbathing. This has even been shown to help people who suffer from depression.

How do you get enough vitamin D?
How sunlight effects mood is even more important for more northern countries, such as the Netherlands, or even more north such as Sweden and Denmark where the amount of sunlight is even less (read a previous blog on winter depression). Pregnant women, elderly, young children, those who do not go outside often enough, and those with darker skin color all have a higher chance of a getting a vitamin D shortage. But you can prevent a shortage by doing the following:

  1. Watch what you eat: apparently, fatty fish seems to be good resource of vitamin D. This is also the case when eating small amounts of meat and eggs.
  2. Do outdoor activities. It has been recommended to expose the arms and legs, or hands, arms and face for about 5 to 10 minutes for 2 to 3 times a week in sunlight.
  3. Take vitamin D supplements.

Read more about vitamin D here. Hopefully, this blog will help you take more enjoyment out of the sun this spring, perhaps outside on a terrace or out in a park. Don’t forget your sunscreen ;-).

Written by Mahur. Edited by Annelies. Translated by Marpessa.

 

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