Depression - the canary in the body 
By Walter Sorochan Doctor of Health Á Safety; Emeritus Professor San Diego State University

Posted February 10, 2019; Updated October 2021.  Disclaimer  The information presented here is for informative and educational purposes only and is not intended as curative or prescriptive advice.

Everyone gets depressed at one time or another. This is the 'mind' canary in the human body telling us how we feel. We feel good when we are successful and sad when we fail. Feeling depressed is your body telling you that something is wrong with your body and/or lifestyle! Depression is a symptom more so than a disorder or disease. This article helps you get acquainted with the possible causes of depression and how to prevent it.

Depression is referred to as feeling sad, lonely and is often accompanied by a sense of hopelessness, fatigue, lack of interest, low self-esteem and in some cases, thoughts of suicide. It is normal, at one time or anther, to felt 'blue' for a day or two when having a bad day or experience.  But it is being sad and lonely for a long time, or chronic depression, that becomes unhealthy.  [25]

Chronic depression is different from normal sadness — like when you lose a loved one, experience a relationship breakup, or get laid off from work — as it usually consumes a person in their day-to-day living. It doesn’t stop after just a day or two — it can continue for weeks on end, interfering with the person’s work or school, their relationships with others, and their ability to just enjoy life and have fun. As one can surmise from this short view of depression, it indeed is difficult to judge when a depression is a normal part of the ups and downs of daily life, a disorder; and especially if we do not know what caused it in the first place.

Most recently, the numerous depression-suicides of professional football players have ignited attention about depression in general [1] [3] and mental illness And concussions have alerted all of us that American football players, as well as all body contact sports, including boxing, soccer, and basketball, are prone to concussion and brain damage. But depression is not just a football or sport issue. War veterans, suffering from battlefield mine explosions, experienced brain damage and depression similar to those of football players.

Additional reports indicate that depression among the general population is linked to a major depressive disorder, or chronic depression, and that depression is characterized by a combination of symptoms that interfere with a person's ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy once-pleasurable activities. [4]

While football player brain concussion is linked to later retirement depression, explaining what happens to the brain in concussion over time is somewhat controversial at this time. Although biological, psychological and environmental theories have been advanced, the underlying patho-physiology of depression remains unknown and it is probable that several different mechanisms are involved. [5] [6] One thing for sure, the autopsy brains of those suffering from chronic depression undergo change.

Depression symptoms:[8]

  • Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day.
  • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities.
  • Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much [hypersomnia] nearly every day.
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation nearly every day.
  • Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt.
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness.
  • Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.

Causes of Depression

Although there is no agreement among medical researchers as to what causes depression in most persons, this author proposes six basic causes:

  • lack of sunshine and hormone D [vitamin D-3]
  • deficiency of magnesium
  • poor diet
  • lack exercise
  • bad lifestyle
  • Lack of socialization

The medical profession seems to overlook these as primary causes of depression.

sun D There is strong research that lack of adequate exposure to sunshine causes depression! It is sunshine that stimulates the skin to synthesize hormone D, that in turn, helps to prevent depression.  [10] The real problem of depression, being linked to hormone D, is really a lifestyle that lacks of exposure to sunlight.It is lifestyle related.

One aspect of lifestyle that most of us cannot control is where we live. Where you live affects the amount of sunshine you can get.

Research about sunshine, where one lives, hormone D and depression

We have very good research that where one lives determines the amount of sunshine exposure, potential for synthesizing hormone D [vitamin D] and becoming depressed.

One aspect of lifestyle that most cannot control is where they live. As the days grow shorter and colder in winter, we spend more time indoors, having less sunshine exposure. Thus, the body may be unable to produce adequate amounts of hormone D. Individuals living in colder climates where the daylight hours significantly shorten .... including those in the Northern United States, Canada, and Northern Europe, are most at risk for hormone D deficiency and the possible "winter season depression." There is ample research to support these claims:

Vitamin D-3 supplement, when administered in late winter, produces a positive effect on mood in just five days. Clinical research shows that taking extra vitamin D-3 supplement during the winter can improve mood and ward off the wintertime blues. In one double-blind trial, people received 400-800 IU of vitamin D-3 or placebo for five days during late winter. Those taking vitamin D-3 experienced a significant enhancement in positive mood compared to those taking placebo. Particularly notable was the unusually rapid response produced by vitamin D-3 supplementation. Individuals felt better after taking vitamin D-3 for only five days. [11]

There is also a link between winter when people stay indoors and hormone D. But lack of sunshine exposure is not just a winter problem. A great many persons in a warm sunshine climate now work indoors and seldom go outside to get sunshine exposure. So depression and lack of sunshine exposure is really a lifestyle issue.

Persons suffering from depression have low levels of hormone D. [12] A 20-year study in Iowa found that for people with major depressive disorder, there was a slight increase in depressive symptoms in the winter months, peaking in March. However, new episodes were highest from October through January, peaking in January. [13]

One theory for indoors and winter link is that hormone D stimulates the brain to produce more serotonin. In a wintertime experiment, serum hormone D-3 levels doubled in six months through supplementation and dramatically increased scores on a wellbeing assessment. Two groups were given either 1,000 IU or 4,000 IU of vitamin D-3 daily. And although both groups improved, the higher dose produced better results. [12] [13]

In another investigation, researchers studied the association between hormone D levels and the risk of mood disorders in the elderly. The results were impressive. Those whose hormone D levels were deficient—defined as less than 20 ug/ml—had 11.7 times the incidence of depression when compared to those whose hormone D levels were highest. Usually an association is considered meaningful when a measured factor correlates to a 50 percent increase or decrease. In this case, the correlation between hormone D deficiency and risk of mood disorders was a staggering 1,169 percent! In addition, the researchers measured cognitive ability [mental capabilities]. In two of four tests, those with hormone D deficiency exhibited cognitive performances that were 5.22 times and 3.22 times poorer than those who were not deficient. [12]

Research has also demonstrated that the peak concentration achieved from sunshine in young adults is 4 times higher and the decline more gradual than in elderly persons receiving the same amount of sun exposure. Essentially, as persons age, it is more difficult for them to acquire adequate vitamin D from UVB radiation. Generally, less than 25 percent of a dose of vitamin D2 or D3 entering the body – from synthesis in the skin, or dietary intake including from fortified foods, and nutritional supplements – is actually utilized. In the case of food or supplement sources, bile is essential for adequate intestinal absorption of vitamin D, and this process is impaired in persons with hepatic or biliary dysfunction. Unused vitamin D-3 is excreted into the bile or otherwise removed within several days.

Depression and hormone D have an impact on other health issues Research shows a link between low levels of hormone D in the blood and brain and symptoms of depression, [6]  11] [15]  but this linkage is unclear and controversial.

Over two-thirds of the populations of the USA and Canada have suboptimal levels of hormone D.  [14] Lower levels of serum hormone D have been associated with cardiovascular disease, hypertension, neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and cancers. Recently, interest in the potential role of hormone D in mental health has increased, and it has been suggested that depression is dependent on hormone D status. This is because hormone D receptors are widely distributed in areas of the human brain that are involved in depression. Hormone D deficiency was also correlated with the symptoms of depression in stroke patients. [16]  Obviously, hormone D deficiency is linked to significant disability, mortality and health problems.

What is conclusive about depression is that sunshine, where one lives, hormone D and depression are inseparable.

For more information about sunshine go to: Sunshine

For more information about hormone D go to: Hormone D

Who is susceptible to depression linked hormone D deficiency?:

  • persons living near the USA-Canada border [less outdoors and less sunshine exposure in winter months].
  • those working indoors, like computer programmers.
  • obese persons - because fat in body steals hormone D from being available to body cells.
  • seniors -Dr. Ellen Hughes, internist and integrative medicine specialist at UCSF's for Integrative Medicine, points out that, when exposed to the same amount of sunlight, elderly individuals produce only 20 percent of the vitamin-D young adults do.  Hormone D is linked to hip fractures.
  • those with chronic diseases like lupus, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
  • dehydrated persons. [18]
  • migraine headaches.
  • major life changes like divorce.
  • osteoarthritis.
  • joint pain.
  • persons who cannot sleep; have insomnia.
  • persons taking medications or recovering from surgery.

Skeptics may argue that sunshine exposure is dangerous because it can cause cancer. Or that over-exposure to hormone D can be dangerous. But both are scare tactics and not true!

Safe exposure to sunshine: Dosage or the safe amount varies with different ages and bio-chemistry of people.  [12]  "There has never been a report of any reader deaths from medical school-induced hypervitaminosis."  [12]  body stops making hormone D when the dosage amount per day reaches 10,000IU [ 250 μg ]. Mega-doses of 50,000 IU and more IU per week or month have been medically administered with no ill effects. Hormone D is safe; but you should be under the guidance of a medical doctor when taking mega-doses. With long exposure to UVB rays, an equilibrium is achieved in the skin, and excess vitamin D simply degrades as fast as it is generated. So you need exposure to sunshine hormone D every day.

Government recommended dietary intakes [RDI] of 200 to 600 IU/day are too low, according to clinical evidence. Government "tolerable" or "safe upper intake levels" (UL) of 1,000 to 2,000 IU/day are likewise also too low, and largely unsupported by toxicological evidence. An optimum health recommendation is minimal 4,000 to 5000 IU/day.

suntan ALERT: When is it enough sunshine? Although the body may no longer make raw pre-hormone vitamin D from UVB, the body can get sunburned from excess UVA radiation. Body sensors monitor exposure to sunlight and send warning signals: after 15 to 20 minutes of sun exposure, your light colored skin may start to itch and start turning a pink or reddish color; letting you know that you need to stop "frying your skin." It is continuous over-exposure of your skin many times over many years to UltraViolet A [not UVB] rays that causes extreme sunburn damages to the skin and can eventuate in skin cancer. This can be avoided! Prevent getting sunburn: Get out of the sun after half an hour, or put sun-cream on exposed parts of body and wear clothing.

Vitamin D test: To determine whether you need to supplement with vitamin D, you should test your vitamin D level by doing the 25-hydroxy D lab test, which measures 25(OH)D. Ask your medical doctor for this test.

Magnesium Deficiency:

Researchers have found that persons deficiencnt in magnesium [Mg]were predisposed to depression. Majority of persons in United States are deficient in magnesium. Taking Mg supplements without companion helper vitamins and minerals may not help the body to utilize magnesium well.

However, there is a study that people can benefit from MG supplements. In one study, patients with schizophrenia were studied for magnesium benefits. "Schizophrenic patients were found to have low erythrocyte magnesium levels." Inadequate magnesium levels can contribute to insomnia, seizures, anxiety, pain, and other neuropsychiatric problems. [8]   Eby and Eby have found that depressed persons treated with adequate doses of magnesium recover rapidly in about five days. [21] Dietary sources high in magnesium include dark-green leafy lettuce, spinach, sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts, and sesame seeds.


Having supporting friends and family is a survival need. It is this survival need that helps prevent falling into a chronic depression. Friends can fill that vacuum of loneliness and defuse the sense of feeling sad and alone. One needs to build a support social network to brighten the blue days. This should be common sense but many lack such an understanding and how to build the social circle of friends.

Preventing depression with lifestyle changes! What you can do?

1. Get more exposure to sunshine throughout the year. You need, depending on your age and skin color, about 15 to 30 minutes of sunshine exposure each day on about 30 or more percent of your body. Sunshine releases serotonin .... the feeling good hormone. This is the best way to get adequate amount of sunshine that activates hormone D synthesize in your body.

Dark skinned persons need more sun exposure than light skinned persons. As we get older [especially after age 60] the skin gets thinner and loses much of its ability to absorb ultraviolet B that stimulates fat cells in the skin to synthesize hormone D. This explains why the elderly are more prone to vitamin deficiency.

2.Hormone D supplementation: Get the right kind --- vitamin D-3. Avoid D-2. If you go to your doctor, there’s about a 75 percent chance he is going to prescribe you an antidepressant drug. And there could be an almost a 90 percent chance you don’t need it. [22] 

3. Foods: Most foods do not have hormone D. Ocean plants like spirulina and chlorella have good amounts of vitamin D while ocean salmon and sardines have very little vitamin D. Fish cannot synthesize vitamin D. Fish get theirs early in the food chain from planktonic algae, little fish eat plankton plants and big fish eat little fish, and if we eat them, we get a very small amount of vitamin D-2. -[12]

Many therapists have recognized diet playing a significant role in brain health. Foods high in refined sugars and carbohydrates contribute to depressive symptoms while organic fruits and vegetables alleviate them.

4. Get exercise in the sun: Physical exertion increases circulation to your brain, giving you fresh blood and oxygen, reinvigorating your mood. Exertion also releases serotonin – the “feel good hormone” – in your brain. Exercise and going outdoors are two of the best ways to avoid becoming depressed. The feel-good effect is multiplied if you can exercise outside.

5. Get adequate amount of magnesium.

6. Take supplement vitamin B6 [Pyridoxine]: Many people who are depressed are deficient in vitamin B6 and probably B-complex vitamins. And the more vitamin B6 and B-complex vitamins you have, the less likely you are to be depressed. Especially for men. B6 is vital to regulation of mental function and mood. Two of the best food sources are chickpeas and chestnuts. Other foods rich in B6 include bananas, tuna, turkey, eggs and spinach. [22]

7. Co-factors help hormone D work:  How well hormone D works depends on the amount of other vitamins and minerals that are present in your body. You need to ingest other vitamins, minerals and amino acids, as helpers, in your total diet in order to help hormone D work. e.g. magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, B-complex vitamins, organic sulfur, zinc, boron, vitamin C, vitamin A. So ingesting vitamin-mineral supplements by themselves will not keep one optimally well when helper nutrient are ignored.

8. Depression linked to colon bacteria: Lower levels of hormone D [sunshine] changes the bacteria in our intestine. This results in fewer good colon bacteria to synthesize the 8 B-Complex vitamins; in turn, making one more susceptible to depression.

What one eats has been linked to colon bacteria and in turn, the degree of depression. A new Belgian research reveals a link between specific types of gut bacteria and depression.  [26]  The findings, published in the journal Nature Microbiology, compared fecal microbiome data with general practitioner diagnoses of depression from 1,054 individuals. Researchers studied the genomes of more than 500 bacteria isolated from the human gastrointestinal tract and identified two bacterial genera, Coprococcus and Dialister, that were consistently depleted in people with depression, regardless of antidepressant treatment. Unfortunately, the study is flawed as the researchers did not account for two well known factors causing depression .... foods eaten and the degree of exposure to sunshine to account for hormone D [vitamin D].

9.Socialize - Friends are your warm blanket against depression. Join a dance club, a sports club or other support organization where you can make friends. Surround yourself with those who have a positive outlook on life as they can infect you with their outlook. Get 10 hugs a day!

10. Find something to do that gives your life meaning and purpose. Depressed persons often feel empty inside and need to give meaning to their life. It should be more than just raising a family or having a job or watching TV. It could be doing philathropic work where you can feel good about yourself and also meet others.

You can minimize and avoid depression by changing your lifestyle! Free sunshine may be your best medicine.

Anti-depressant medications prescribed by doctors do not work. There is new evidence that such medications may cause Alzheimer's disease.


1 "Concussion May Lead to High Depression Rate in Retired NFL Players," Neurology Reviews. 2013 June; 21(6):1, 32.  NFL Player concussions 2013

2 Didehbani N, Munro Cullum C, Mansinghani S, et al. "Depressive symptoms and concussions in aging retired NFL players,"Arch Clin Neuropsychology 3, 2013.  Didehbani: NFL football concusions 2013

3 Hart J Jr, Kraut MA, Womack KB, et al., "Neuroimaging of cognitive dysfunction and depression in aging retired National Football League players: a cross-sectional study," JAMA Neurol. 2013;70(3):326-335.  Hart: NFL Brain neuroimaging 2013

4 National Institutes of Health, "Depression,", 2014.   NIH: Depression 2014

5 Rebecca E. and others, "Vitamin D deficiency and depression in adults: systematic review and meta-analysis," The British Journal of Psychiatry, February 2013, 202 (2) 100-107.   Rebecca: Vit D & depression

6 Eyles DW.,and others, "Distribution of the vitamin D receptor and 1 alpha-hydroxylase in human brain," J Chem Neuroanat 2005 29 21 30.   Eyles:Vit D & brain 2005

7 Virtanen J., et la., "Low serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D is associated with higher risk of frequent headache in middle-aged and older men," Scientific Reports, 2016. Article no longer active

8 Eby Ga and Eby KL., "Rapid recovery from major depression using magnesium treatment," 2006;67(2):362-70.   Eby: Mg treatment recovery 2006

9 Lopez Juan F., "The neruobiology of depression," Depression, March 1, 2000.   Lopez: Neruobiology of depression 2000

10 Rogers Sherry, “Magnesium has solved more ‘incurable’ and mysterious symptoms than any other mineral I have observed in 31 years.”- Depression Cured at Last”  Article no longer active

11 Lansdowne, A. et al. Vitamin D3 enhances mood in healthy subjects during winter. Psychopharmacology 1998;135:319-23.   Article no longer active.

12 Saul Andrew W., “VITAMIN D: Deficiency, Diversity and Dosage, ”Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine, 2003; Vol. 18, Numbers 3 and 4, p. 194-204.   Saul: 2003 Vit D

13 Holick M., "Environmental factors that influence the cutaneous production of vitamin D". Am J Clin Nutr61 (3 Suppl): 1995, 638S–645S.  Holick: Vit D production 1995

14 Leavitt Stewart B., "Vitamin D – A Neglected ‘Analgesic’ for Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain," Pain treatment Topics, June 2008. Article no longer active

15 Kjaergaard M and others, "Effect of vitamin D supplement on depression scores in people with low levels of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D: nested case-control study and randomised clinical trial," British Journal of Psychiatry, November 20, 2012, 201(5):360-8.   Kjaergaard: Vit D clinical trial 2012

16 Kim Sang-Hyun, Hyun Seok and Dong Suk Kim, "Relationship Between Serum Vitamin D Levels and Symptoms of Depression in Stroke Patients," Ann Rehabil Med, February 2016, 40(1), 120-125. Retrieved from  Kim: Vit D & symptoms 2016

17 Hughes Ellen," Nutrition in a bottle," Video First Aired: 9/21/2009,88 minutes." June 09, 2009.  Article no longer active

18 Batmanghelidj F., "UCD: A New Medical Discovery,"Clinical The Water cure; [ Natural Miracle Cure Program (CDs)] Retrieved from   Batmanghelidj: Water cure

19 Mauskop Alexander and Jasmine Varughese, "Why all migraine patients should be treated with magnesium." Journal of Neural Transmission, March 2012, 119(5), 575-579.   Mauskop: Migraines treated with Mg 2012

20 Vitamin D Council, "Depression," December 22, 2015.  Article no long active.

21 Bartlik Barbara, Vanessa Bijlani and Denisa Music, "Magnesium: An Essential Supplement for Psychiatric Patients," Psychiatry Advisor, July 22, 2014.  Bartlick: Mg for Pychiatric patients 2014

22 Sears Al, "Canary In The Coal Mine for Depression," 2016.  Sears: Depression as symptom 2016

23 Gominak Stasha, "Using vitamin D and the B vitamins to improve your health," Vitamin D Hormone, January 2016.  Article no longer active

24 DeMichele Thomas, "Thoughts Can “Rewire” Your Brain," Fact/Myth, February 27, 2017.  DeMichele: Thoughts review brain 2017

25 Grohol John M., "Depression," PsychCentral, January 24, 2019.  Grohol: Defining depresion 2019

26 Pedersen Traci, "Scientists Link Specific Gut Bacteria to Depression," PsychCentral, February 6, 2019.   Article no longer active