Vitamin D can do no wrong at the moment. It’s beneficial qualities have become associated with diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis and of course depression, to name just a few.
To get our levels of vitamin D to where they should be requires a combination of adequate diet and exposure to sunlight. Of course vitamin D supplements can help if low levels are known or suspected, but how many people actually set out to test whether they are vitamin deficient? Not many, I suspect, and it certainly isn't a routine test for those presenting with symptoms of depression.
Older adults seem especially vulnerable to dietary deficiencies. When coupled with mobility issues that may result in inadequate time outdoors the scene is set for mental health problems. A study conducted in the Netherlands looked at the mental health status of 1,282 community residents age between 65 and 95 and measured blood levels of vitamin D and parathyroid hormone. Of these, 26 were found to have severe depression and 169 had minor depression. Blood vitamin D levels were 14 percent lower in people with minor and severe depression. Additionally, parathyroid levels were an average of 5 percent higher in those with minor depression and 33 percent higher in those with severe depression. Both low blood level vitamin D and high parathyroid hormone levels can be treated with vitamin D supplements or calcium and increased sunlight.
More recently, Sonal Pathak, MD, reported that women with moderate to severe depression showed substantial improvement in their symptoms after they received treatment for vitamin D deficiency. Women in the study did not change their antidepressant medications or other environmental factors that might account for a lifting in mood. The change therefore has been attributed to vitamin D.
In this small study, Pathak used vitamin D replacement therapy over a period of 8 to 12 weeks. The patients all reported significant improvement in their mood.
What should we make of this and similar information? At one level it seems clear that any imbalance in the body is likely to have some consequences, so it stands to reason that improvements will be made if these problems are identified and resolved. As to whether vitamin D is helpful for depression in non-deficient people isn’t clear.
The exact relationship between vitamin D and depression isn’t known. Does low vitamin D contribute to depression or does depression itself contribute to lower vitamin D levels? Vitamin D levels are accepted as risk factors for a number of diseases including certain neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Vitamin D screening is not routinely conducted on people with depression but the weight of evidence beginning to build suggests this day may not (hopefully) be too far off.
* JAMA and Archives Journals (2008, May 5). Low Blood Levels Of Vitamin D May Be Associated With Depression In Older Adults. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 4, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2008/05/080505162841.htm