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One Dangerous Side Effect of Not Getting Enough Vitamin D, Says New Study

Here's one more reason to take this supplement daily.
FACT CHECKED BY Cheyenne Buckingham

There are already plenty of reasons to be mindful of your vitamin D intake. The vitamin's benefits include boosting your mental health and supporting your immune system, while not getting enough of it can lead to a loss of bone density. Now, researchers speculate that people who aren't getting enough of the vitamin may be at higher risk of opioid addiction.

Findings from a new animal study published in the journal Science Advances, suggest that not getting enough of the vitamin may cause people to crave endorphins—the mood-boosting chemical people can get from sun exposure (ultraviolet rays) and exercise. Opioids can mimic a similar effect to neurotransmitters like endorphins, by relieving pain and producing a feeling of euphoria. And according to researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, human health records indicate that people who are deficient in vitamin D are more likely to use and misuse opioids.

RELATED: 50 Foods That Boost Your Mood

"We observed that vitamin D deficiency elevates behavioral responses to opioid drugs like morphine, especially addiction-related responses," the study's corresponding author David E. Fisher MD, Ph.D., told Eat This, Not That! in an interview. "Experimental data in the laboratory suggest that correction of vitamin D deficiency may be an inexpensive and effective means to offer clinical benefit to avoid or treat opiate addiction."

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While the results from this study are promising, it doesn't mean that taking vitamin D supplements would in any way replace existing addiction prevention and treatment methods. For one thing, the research is still in its early stages.

"Further controlled clinical trials are warranted to determine whether vitamin D supplementation is beneficial in opioid addiction," Lajos Kemeny, MD, Ph.D., lead study author tells Eat This, Not That!

However, there is one thing that the researchers found that vitamin D supplements can help you with right now.

"Vitamin D deficiency promotes sun-seeking behavior," Kemeny says. So, by not getting enough of the vitamin, you may experience an urge to get endorphins through UV rays via tanning beds or from spending numerous hours out in the sun each day. These behaviors can then, in part, increase your risk of skin cancer. The bright side, as Kemeny notes, is a healthy vitamin D-rich diet and vitamin D supplementation may help prevent this urge.

If you're looking to enjoy the benefits of the vitamin and avoid dangerous UV exposure, consider working some vitamin D-rich foods into your diet. You can start with white mushrooms, sockeye salmon, and vitamin D-fortified dairy products. It also may be worth going straight to the source and picking up a bottle of vitamin D supplements to give your diet a boost.

Of course, everything is better in moderation, including vitamins. To learn more about smart supplementing, you may want to check out What Happens to Your Body When You Take Too Much Vitamin D.

Clara Olshansky
Clara Olshansky (they/she) is a Brooklyn-based writer and comic whose web content has appeared in Food & Wine, Harper’s Magazine, Men's Health, and Reductress. Read more