Vitamin D Health Depression

You know you need vitamin D for healthy bones. But could the “sunshine vitamin” also help fight depression?

You can get your daily dose of vitamin D through both foods and supplements, but one of the main sources of vitamin D for humans is the sun. Vitamin D is produced when your skin is exposed to the sun’s UV rays. Some researchers speculate that low levels of sun exposure, which often result in a vitamin D deficiency, could also be connected to depression. While there is no clear evidence that low vitamin D causes depression, the nutrient does appear to be associated with several mood disorders.

Does Low Vitamin D Cause Depression?

The results of several studies indicate that there might be an association between major depression, seasonal affective disorder, premenstrual syndrome and vitamin D. However, at least one study has found that vitamin D plays no direct role in depression.

Vitamin D appears to increase levels of serotonin in the brain, which may impact depressive symptoms. Some researchers have also speculated that there may be a link between vitamin D receptors, glucocorticoids and mood disorders.

Vitamin D and Other Mood Disorders

There is some evidence that low vitamin D levels may be connected to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), particularly since SAD is common when many people have low levels of vitamin D in their body. One study (which involved a small number of patients) found that vitamin D was most effective than light therapy in treating SAD. (The light boxes currently used to treat SAD do not emit the UV rays your body needs to produce vitamin D.)

Another study found that individuals with heart disease and low levels of vitamin D were more likely to be depressed than heart disease patients who had adequate levels of the vitamin. A 2006 study also linked vitamin D deficiency with mood disorders in older adults.

In addition, some research has found that the children of mothers who did not get much sun while pregnant were more likely to develop schizophrenia later in life. Doctors speculate that a lack of sunlight may lead to vitamin D deficiency in mothers, which might play a role in their children eventually developing schizophrenia. However, there is no clear cause-and-effect relationship between low vitamin D levels and schizophrenia.

Should I Take Vitamin D Supplements?

The relationship between depression, vitamin D and the sun is not completely clear. However, many adults don’t get enough vitamin D, and vitamin D deficiency symptoms aren’t always apparent. While most people can get the vitamin D they need through a combination of sun exposure or dietary sources, some aren’t able to get enough vitamin D this way. In these individuals, supplements can help correct a vitamin deficiency.

Vitamin D supplements are usually safe, but you should talk to your doctor before adding them to your diet. That’s because very high levels of vitamin D can be toxic, particularly in people with certain health conditions, such as kidney disease.

Resources

BBC. (2001). Schizophrenia linked to lack of sun. Retrieved December 18, 2009 from the BBC website: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/1446968.stm.

Gloth, F. (1999). Vitamin D vs broad spectrum phototherapy in the treatment of seasonal affective disorder. Retrieved December 18, 2009 from the PubMed website: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10888476.

Humphries, C. (2009). Vitamin D and seasonal affective disorder. Retrieved December 18, 2009 from the Boston.com website: http://www.boston.com/news/health/articles/2009/12/14/
vitamin_d_and_seasonal_affective_disorder/.

Mann, D. (2009). Heart patients lacking vitamin D more likely to be depressed. Retrieved December 18, 2009 from the CNN website: http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/11/16/moh.healthmag.vitamind.heart.depression/index.html.

Mayo Clinic. (2009). Vitamin D: Evidence. Retrieved December 18, 2009 from the Mayo Clinic website: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/vitamin-d/NS_patient-vitamind/DSECTION=evidence.

Murphy, P. (2009). Vitamin D and mood disorders among women: An integrative review. Retrieved December 18, 2009 from the Medscape website: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/579946.

National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. (2009). Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin D. Retrieved December 18, 2009 from the National Institutes of Health website: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/vitamind.asp.

Schneider, B. (2000). Vitamin D in schizophrenia, major depression and alcoholism. Retrieved December 18, 2009 from the PubMed website: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11005548.

Wilkin, C. (2006). Vitamin D deficiency is associated with low mood and worse cognitive performance in older adults. Retrieved December 19, 2009 from the PubMed website: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17138809.