Is there a link between vitamin D and depression?
Vitamin D has long been known to be essential for maintaining strong bones and boosting the immune system, but is there a link between vitamin D and depression? Although research results have been mixed, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting a possible link between low circulating levels of vitamin D in the blood and depression.
If you have depression, you are not alone. Approximately 8.4% of American adults experienced a major depressive episode in 2020. National Institute of Mental Health (opens in new tab). It can affect aspects of daily life, from social interactions to sleep.
While treatments such as talk therapy and medication are well known, the potential role of vitamin D is gaining attention. To help you better understand the link between vitamin D and depression, we’ve reviewed the latest research to bring you everything you need to know about vitamin D’s role, signs of vitamin D deficiency and depression, and practical steps to meet your vitamin D needs — including best vitamin d supplement.
However, it is important to consult a professional if you are suffering from your mental health and before making any significant changes to your eating routine.
How does vitamin D work in the body?
First, let’s get beneath the surface of how vitamin D works. When UV rays from the sun hit the skin, they stimulate the production of vitamin D. That’s why it’s called the “sun vitamin.”
According to Office of Dietary Supplements (opens in new tab), before the body can use it, vitamin D must be activated. The liver converts it to calcidiol, which in turn becomes calcitriol in the kidneys.
“Vitamin D strengthens bones, teeth and tissues by absorbing calcium and phosphorus in the body,” he says Sue-Ellen Anderson-Haynes (opens in new tab), registered dietitian nutritionist and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “It also regulates the amount of calcium in the blood.
“Vitamin D also plays a role in immune system. Research shows that low levels of vitamin D are associated with increased infection and autoimmune diseases.”
Anderson-Haynes is the founder and owner of a private practice specializing in holistic health and wellness for girls and women and is the co-founder of an app that helps connect registered dietitian nutritionists with clients based on culture. She is certified in adult weight management, a certified personal trainer, and a certified diabetes care and education specialist. Anderson-Haynes received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and her master’s degree from Andrews University.
What is the link between vitamin D and depression?
The research findings have sparked interest in the link between vitamin D and depression. “Recent studies show that low levels of vitamin D are often seen in those diagnosed with clinical depression – there’s an inverse relationship,” explains Anderson-Haynes.
One review, published in British Journal of Psychiatry (opens in new tab)examined data from over 30,000 participants and found that people with depression tend to have lower levels of vitamin D. Although we do not fully understand the nature of the link between vitamin D and depression, there are several possible explanations, although none have been proven.
One potential theory is that vitamin D deficiency causes depression. If this were the case, you would expect supplementation to alleviate symptoms. But studies show mixed results. One review, published in CNS Drugs (opens in new tab), found that vitamin D supplementation alleviated symptoms in people with depression, with the effect being more pronounced in people with major depressive disorder. However, another study in BMC Research Notes (opens in new tab) found that vitamin D had no significant difference compared to placebo.
Others review (opens in new tab) he pointed out that the relationship could work in the opposite way. People with depression may be at increased risk of vitamin D deficiency because they are more likely to withdraw from social activities and spend less time outside.
There are other theories about the link between vitamin D and depression. One review, published in Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine (opens in new tab), notes that there are many vitamin D receptors in areas of the brain known to play a role in mood. These include the prefrontal and cingulate cortex. In addition, vitamin D regulates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which affects mood.
The same review (opens in new tab) suggests another hypothesis that might be related to the immune system. Depression is associated with higher levels of chronic inflammation, which occurs when the immune response is activated unnecessarily. Meanwhile, vitamin D is known to support immunity and have anti-inflammatory effects.
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency and depression
To complicate matters, the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency and depression have a degree of overlap.
According to National Institute of Mental Health (opens in new tab)symptoms of depression include:
- A persistent sad or anxious mood
- A feeling of hopelessness
- Decreased energy and fatigue
- Pain without a clear physical cause that does not go away with treatment
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
- Thoughts of death or suicide
According to Anderson-Haynes, early signs of vitamin D deficiency are:
- Muscle weakness
The Cleveland Clinic (opens in new tab) suggests that mood changes, including depressive symptoms, may be a sign of vitamin D deficiency.
Over time, the impact on the bones and teeth can lead to rickets in children and soft bones or osteomalacia in adults.
Talk to your doctor if you are concerned about any of these symptoms.
How to prevent vitamin D deficiency
Foods rich in vitamin D are in deficit. Pay attention to the inclusion of sources in your diet. ““Depending on how much you eat, foods like orange juice, vitamin D-fortified plant-based milk, UV-treated mushrooms, sardines and egg yolks can provide you with the necessary intake,” says Anderson-Haynes.
Getting outside can raise your vitamin D levels. “Regular sun exposure is important for improving your vitamin D status,” says Anderson-Haynes. It works only on bare skin – rays cannot penetrate through glass windows. “The ones with more melanin [darker skin] longer exposure to the sun is needed because the rays have a harder time penetrating the skin.”
Experts recommend sunscreen to protect against skin cancer when you’re outside for long periods. This makes it difficult to get enough vitamin D from sunlight, especially in winter.
Note that certain groups are at greater risk of developing vitamin D deficiency Office of Dietary Supplements (opens in new tab)this includes people with darker skin, older adults, and people with limited sun exposure.
If you struggle to get enough vitamin D, supplements can increase your intake. Talk to your doctor to check your levels and determine the right dosage. Although vitamin D supplementation is generally safe, you can have too much of a good thing. “Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning that excess intake is stored in fat cells and can become toxic,” warns Anderson-Haynes.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide medical advice.
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