Vitamin D likely to help treat depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health problems

Our bodies make vitamin D after exposure to sunlightLow vitamin D has long been linked to depression. Experts now believe a lack of vitamin D might also contribute to other mental health problems such as personality disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

Does vitamin D help treat major depression?
Why do we need vitamin D?
How do we get vitamin D?
Who is most at risk of vitamin D deficiency?
How can we know if we lack vitamin D?

A study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal Of Psychiatry found 53 patients in a psychiatric clinic in Australia, with bipolar disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or schizo-affective disorder, had vitamin D levels about 29% lower than a group with no mental illness. The findings prompted researchers to question whether vitamin D supplements could reduce mental illness.

Vitamin D deficiency might also badly affect senior citizens. In May 2010
Reuters Health
reported new research showing that older people with lower levels of vitamin D in their blood are more prone to depression than people with sufficient levels of this vitamin.

Reuters noted that many studies recently highlighted the potential health benefits of vitamin D, and the potential risks of deficiency. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and asthma.

Lack of vitamin D is common in senior citizens. It has been linked to fractures, worse physical function, greater frailty, and many chronic illnesses.

In the current study, Dr. Luigi Ferrucci of the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore and colleagues looked at whether there’s a link between low vitamin D levels and depression in older people. They followed 531 women and 423 men aged 65 and older over six years in the InCHIANTI Study.

Furrucci’s research found that women with low vitamin D, who weren’t depressed at the beginning of the study, were twice as likely to become depressed over the next six years as the women who had sufficient levels of the nutrient. Similar patterns were seen for men, but the link wasn’t as strong, and in some cases might have been due to chance.

Women who lacked vitamin D showed a worse decline in mood compared to women with adequate vitamin D. This decline could have tipped the scale into a diagnosis of depression.

Furrucci and colleagues noted that the study does not prove that low vitamin D levels cause depression. People with low levels of the nutrient might have other characteristics that make them more likely to become depressed.

Still, the authors’ suggest that preventing

“vitamin D deficiency in the elderly may become in the future a strategy to prevent the development of depressive mood in the elderly and avoid its deleterious consequences on health. In addition, normalization of vitamin D levels may be part of any depression treatment plans in older patients.”

Does vitamin D help treat major depression?

According to John Jacob Cannell M.D., Executive Director of the Vitamin D Council,:

“Major depression is associated with low vitamin D levels and that depression has increased in the last century as vitamin D levels have surely fallen.

…Depression is associated with heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer and low bone mineral density, all illnesses thought to be caused, in part, by vitamin D deficiency.

…Vitamin D has profound effects on the brain including the neurotransmitters involved in major depression.

…Vitamin D may help major depression. It is too early to say.”

The Vitamin D Council predicts that monitoring vitamin D and calcium levels in the blood, along with treatment with vitamin D3, will become routine and will help vitamin D deficiency-associated diseases such as: autism, autoimmune illness, cancer, chronic pain, depression, diabetes, heart disease, hyperparathyroidism, hypertension, influenza, myopathy (neuromuscular disorders), and osteoporosis.

Why do we need vitamin D?

Vitamin D is needed for:

  • absorbing calcium
  • strong and healthy bones and teeth
  • preventing osteoporosis (brittle bones)
  • adequate phosphorous levels
  • a healthy immune system
  • brain and nervous system health

How do we get vitamin D?

Our bodies make vitamin D after we are exposed to sunlight.

Natural sources of vitamin D include oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna, and fish liver oils, eggs and beef liver.

Vitamin D is often added to foods, including milk, yoghurt, fruit juice, margarine, bread, breakfast cereals and pastries.

Who is most at risk of vitamin D deficiency?

People most in danger of low levels of vitamin D:

  • have naturally dark skin. This is because the pigment in the skin (melanin) filters ultra violet B (UVB) radiation, which reduces the amount of vitamin D the body makes.
  • avoid sunlight because, for example, they are aware of the health risks of getting too much sunlight
  • have an indoor job/lifestyle
  • take medication that interferes with vitamin D metabolism
  • have malabsorption syndromes
  • are in hospital for a long time
  • are in nursing homes
  • live in areas with low sunlight
  • wear clothing that exposes little skin
  • often wear sunscreen on exposed skin
  • are housebound

Remember that too much sunlight can cause skin cancer, so find a balance between getting too little and too much sunlight.

How can we know if we lack vitamin D?

A simple blood test can find out our vitamin D level in the blood. John Jacob Cannell, from the Vitamin D Council, says that if you have depression, get your 25(OH)D level checked, and if it is lower than 35 ng/mL (87 nM/L), you are vitamin D deficient and should begin treatment.

If you are not depressed, get your 25(OH)D level checked anyway. If it is lower than 35 ng/mL (87 nM/L), you are vitamin D deficient and should begin treatment.

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8 Responses to “Vitamin D likely to help treat depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health problems”

  1. Claire says:

    I have been taking extra vitamin D supp for over a month now -I feel much happier and almost like my mood has lifted.

    I have suffered from depression over the last couple of years and have felt very down and negative about my life, however since taking the Vit D my outlook is very positive.

    I actually started taking it for my bones as I started in POF in 2007 so, I got a very suprising result.

  2. Fiona says:

    Me too, not only have my problems gone away (blues, legathy, anxiety, fear etc etc) it seems to have helped my fertility with only 12 weeks to go before we expect our baby. Vitamin D has been the easy fix for me and I’m loving the improvement I am seeing in my life and my families life everyday. I wish someone would of told me about this years ago, so I am telling EVERYONE ! Get your levels checked today and get out into the sun WITHOUT (OMG) sunscreen for at least 15 to 20 minutes everyday, more if your dark skinned.

  3. Michele says:

    I was just told I have low vitamin d , level is at 19. Starting taking supplements, 1000 everyday , is that enough? What else should I do to bring it up? Having low levels mean you have a disease or cancer or taking supplements going to prevent it ? Like to hear back … Thanks

  4. Nyomi says:

    Hello Michele,

    Thanks for your comment and questions.

    Adequate vitamin D levels can help prevent some diseases. Having low levels of vitamin D, however, doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer or another disease.

    Get some further medical tests done if, for example, you continue to feel unwell (if you currently feel unwell) and/or want a second (or third…) opinion.

    WebMD has information about vitamin D that might be helpful for you. Click on the heading “Dosing”, for plenty of information about how much vitamin D is recommended. Here’s the link:

    Here’s an excerpt from the above webpage, under the heading “Overview”: “Sun exposure is an easy, reliable way for most people to get vitamin D. Exposure of the hands, face, arms, and legs to sunlight two to three times a week for about one-fourth of the time it would take to develop a mild sunburn will cause the skin to produce enough vitamin D. The necessary exposure time varies with age, skin type, season, time of day, etc.

    It’s amazing how quickly adequate levels of vitamin D can be restored by sunlight. Just 6 days of casual sunlight exposure without sunscreen can make up for 49 days of no sunlight exposure. Body fat acts like a kind of storage battery for vitamin D. During periods of sunlight, vitamin D is stored in fatty fat and then released when sunlight is gone.”

    The following website also has information that might be useful to you, even if you don’t live in Australia: The website is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Scroll down to the information under the heading “Treat moderate to severe deficiency with supplements” (about half-way down the page). Remember, do not take toxic doses of vitamin D. Scroll down to the heading “Toxicity and adverse effects are uncommon”, to find out more about this.

    I hope this helps.

    All the best

    Kind regards,

  5. chass says:

    Is true that vitamin d can help treat depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health problems? Does anyone here have been depressed and by optimizing your vitamin d levels brings you back to normal? I’m really depress right now. So many problems we had and I feel like it’s killing me. Please help me. Thanks.

  6. Nyomi says:

    Hi Chass,

    I’m sorry to hear you are very depressed. Don’t give up; things can get better.

    Yes, low levels of vitamin D in the body have been linked to various mental health problems. Increasing the vitamin D level of people low in this vitamin can improve their mental health. Check out, for example, Claire and Fiona’s comments above.

    Plants are complex; they need various things to be healthy, such as water, fertilizer and sunlight, and good quality soil. If just one of these is lacking, plants can get sick and die.

    People, like plants, are complex. People also need lots of things to be healthy. They also need a range of things to be happy – not just one thing. And if just one vital thing is lacking, we can get sick, and feel unhappy. Health and happiness are intertwined.

    Some key things we need for health and happiness include:

    *Healthy eating habits that supply enough vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fat etc

    *Regular exercise. Did you know that exercise can be better than antidepressants for treating depression? Check out my blog posts on exercise:

    *Enough sleep. My article on sleep might be helpful for you:

    *Fun and recreation

    *Regular time for relaxation. Check out my blog post on meditation being very good for depression:

    *Good quality relationships with others

    *Having a purpose in life (something to live for)

    Like I recommended to another person who commented on my website recently, visit your doctor to get your vitamin and mineral levels tested, if you haven’t already done so. Test your levels of vitamins B, C, D and E, and magnesium and zinc, for example. Low levels of these, among other nutrients, are linked to mental health problems.

    Your doctor can also find out if there are any health problems that you might be unaware of, which might be causing/contributing to your depression.

    Tell your doctor, for example,:
    *any drugs/supplements you’re taking/have recently been taking, plus any side effects you’ve had/are experiencing from these
    *any health problems you have and
    *the symptoms you’re suffering from

    Here are some nutrients I’ve written blog posts about that might be worthwhile for you:
    Omega-3 fat: and
    Vitamin B:
    Vitamin C:
    Vitamin D:
    Vitamin E:

    Thanks for commenting on my website, Chass. I really hope you feel better soon. I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my favorite books The Path to Success is Paved with Positive Thinking, by Wally Amos and Stu Glauberman. They say that: “If you can find at least one positive outcome in each instance of adversity and focus on the positive, before long, from the bitterness will come sweetness.”

    Best wishes and all the best,

  7. Heidi says:

    Hi, I have been reading up on the effects of vitamin D since I was told that I have a deficiency. So far I am so excited because since I have been taking it this last week I and feeling little moments here and there where I feel like my old self again and not so depressed. I was on Prozac for years and all they did was increase my dose and I never felt awake and like myself. I have hope that through my lifestyle changes and adequate nutrition I might feel like I did 10 years ago!!! Such an eye opening experience!

  8. Nyomi says:

    Hi Heidi,

    That’s great news that things are on the up and the up for you. Thanks for sharing your experience on my website. I hope things continue to improve for you.

    All the best

    Best wishes,

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