Vitamin D and Depression
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VITAMIN D AND DEPRESSION
Regular readers of this column already know that Vitamin D, which functions more as a hormone than a vitamin, has been linked to multiple potential health benefits. These include a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, improved strength and balance in older men and women, and a decreased risk of certain cancers. In a newly published clinical research study, which appears in the current issue of the International Archives of Internal Medicine, increased blood levels of this hormone-like vitamin also appear to be associated with a significantly decreased level of risk for depression.
This large public health study assessed 7,970 research volunteers between the ages of 15 and 39 years in the United States. All of these young study volunteers had blood Vitamin D levels measured, and this group of nearly 8,000 adolescents and young adults was also assessed for depression using a validated mental health survey. The findings of this large clinical study were impressive: After adjusting for other factors known to be linked with depression, this very large study found that people who were deficient in Vitamin D (blood levels less than or equal to 50 nmol/L) were 85 percent more likely to be clinically depressed when compared to people with normal Vitamin D blood levels (greater than or equal to 75 nmol/L).
Although this clinical research study identified a strong and significant association between the risk of depression and levels of Vitamin D in the blood, the findings of this study cannot prove that low levels of Vitamin D in the blood directly cause depression. There could be other explanations for this finding, including decreased exposure to sunlight which is, itself, linked to depression (the majority of the Vitamin D in our bodies is manufactured in our skin, following exposure to sunlight). However, recent research has also demonstrated that cellular receptors for Vitamin D are present within the brain, including those areas of the brain that regulate mood, and which are also thought to be the areas of the brain responsible for mood disorders like depression. Therefore, it is certainly possible that Vitamin D, like multiple other hormones and neurotransmitters, may also play a direct role in the modulation of our moods.
As always, I strongly recommend that readers consult with their physician prior to taking supplements of Vitamin D, as serious health side effects can occur after taking large doses of this essential nutrient, particularly in patients with kidney or parathyroid gland disorders.
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