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The Link Between Vitamin D Deficiency and Depression

written by: EmilyRose • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 1/26/2011

Vitamin D is essential for healthy bodily function and perhaps also for the mind as research suggests there may be a link between vitamin D deficiency and depression.

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    What is Vitamin D?

    Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin essential for healthy bodily functions such as the formation of bones and enhancing the activity of the immune system. Vitamin D is produced in the skin in reaction to the ultraviolet radiation that is generated by natural sunlight.

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    What are the Benefits of Vitamin D?

    Vitamin D helps prevent osteoporosis, prostate cancer and some types of breast cancer. Individuals with deficiencies in vitamin D have a higher susceptibility to heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and severe asthma. Lack of vitamin D may also exacerbate the symptoms of and increase the likelihood of developing depression. Depression is a chronic and disabling mental illness that is characterized by a sustained and severe low mood that impairs life functioning.

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    Vitamin D and Depression

    A randomized double blind study conducted by Jorde and colleagues and published in the Journal of Internal Medicine assessed the link between vitamin D and depression. Four hundred and forty one participants received 20,000IU or 40,000IU (International Units) of vitamin D or a placebo over the course of one year. Depressive symptoms were reported less frequently by participants receiving vitamin D as opposed to those receiving a placebo.

    Research conducted by Dr. Ferucci and colleagues at the National Institute of Aging indicated a correlation between low levels of vitamin D and depression in elderly adults. Seventy-two percent of participants meeting the criteria for clinical depression also had a vitamin D deficiency. Women with vitamin D deficiency also displayed a higher proportion of depressive symptoms and were more than twice as likely to become depressed over the course of the 6-year study. These patterns were also replicated in male participants, although the association was not as strong.

    A meta-analysis of research on the link between vitamin D and mood disorders was conducted by Murphy and Wagner for The Journal of Midwifery and Women's Health. They found an association between low levels of vitamin D and mood disorders such as major depressive disorder in four of the six studies they reviewed.

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    Conclusion

    Taken together, these findings suggest a link between depression and vitamin D deficiency. An important caveat exists in establishing causality, however. Vitamin D deficiency does not cause depression, and it may be the case that individuals with vitamin D deficiencies may have characteristics that predispose them to developing depression. Although more research must be conducted into the link between depression and vitamin D deficiency, preliminary support has indicated the two may at least be related.

    Fortunately, vitamin D deficiency is easily remedied through increasing exposure to the sun. During summer months obtaining an adequate dose of vitamin D can be achieved in about 10 minutes of outdoor time. This amount varies depending on your skin type, location in relation to the equator and time of year. In the absence of sunshine, vitamins and products such as sun lamps can also remedy vitamin D deficiencies.