Vitamin D and depression are associated…which means that maintaining adequate levels can support mental health. But there is no research indicating that vitamin D deficiency causes depression or provides treatment on its own.
In 2002, the United States NHANES study of over 15,000 people found that 75% of Americans had vitamin D blood levels below what is necessary to support optimal health. In 2010, Statistics Canada confirmed similar results after conducting blood tests on over 5,300 Canadians. But what does the research say about vitamin D and depression?
Vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin” because our bodies produce it naturally when unprotected skin is exposed to the sunlight. As the vitamin travels through our body, its first role is to maintain the blood calcium levels needed to maintain health. But as it passes through the kidneys, it also becomes a potent steroid hormone that strengthens our immune system and impacts brain function. But does the positive effect on brain function actually help to prevent depression?
RESEARCH ON VITAMIN D AND DEPRESSION
Despite broad agreement that vitamin D plays an essential role in our physical health, the interaction between vitamin D and depression is still not clear. A small study of 44 healthy people found that 800 IU of vitamin D3 enhanced the participants’ mood during the winter. And another study found that 100,000 IU of D2 improved depression scales of people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). But there has not yet been any substantial research on vitamin D and depression as opposed to milder forms of mood disorders.
As vitamin D plays such an important role in preserving our health and protecting us from disease, it is generally agreed that maintenance of optimal blood levels should be considered within a depression treatment program. The Vitamin D Council recommends a daily dosage of 5,000 IU until blood tests indicate whether this dosage should be increased or decreased.
Increasing vitamin D intake through exposure to sunlight provides the additional benefit of increasing brain serotonin…which is known to enhance feelings of well-being. As research has shown that summer sunlight increases brain serotonin levels twice as much as winter sunlight, there is some speculation that vitamin D may play a role in this improved well-being.
People who have enjoyed the benefits of light therapy for mild depression may choose to use an ultraviolet light or sunbed to gain the benefits of both the light and increased vitamin D.
It is also important to get enough magnesium and calcium to support the absorption of vitamin D. Bone building supplements provide an excellent source of these minerals while also helping to prevent osteoporosis.