The Link Between Vitamin D and Depression
Two years ago, I spent nine months with sinus infections. I had one after another, and if I didn’t go to the doctor and get antibiotics, I got so sick that I would throw up. None of the doctors I saw could figure out why all of a sudden I was so prone to sinus infections. I saw an ear, nose and throat doctor and an infectious diseases doctor, as well as seeing almost every doctor and nurse practitioner at my GP’s practice. I had every test you can imagine. And no one could figure out what the problem was.
Finally, when I was on one of my (by now) bi-weekly visits to my GP to get a prescription for antibiotics to fight the most recent infection, the nurse practitioner said, “Why don’t we check your Vitamin D level.” Sure enough, I was extremely deficient. The standard range is 32-100 ng/mL. Mine was 20. I was put on prescription Vitamin D and voila No more sinus infections.
I have fairly severe allergies, so what probably happened is that the Vitamin D was somehow helping my immune system in keeping the basic stuffiness from turning into sinus infections. Once the Vitamin D level was inadequate, there was nothing keeping the sinus infections at bay.
Vitamin D is actually a hormone, not a vitamin, that is produced by our bodies when we are exposed to sunlight. We’re able to get some Vitamin D from our food, but it occurs naturally in only a few foods like some fish, some dairy products, egg yolks and mushrooms that have been exposed to ultraviolet light. Some foods like cereal or orange juice are fortified with Vitamin D, but you can see why it can be difficult to get enough Vitamin D from food. Given that I rarely eat cereal or eggs, can’t have orange juice due to acid reflux, and am not crazy about fish, it’s clear to me that I wasn’t getting enough Vitamin D from my diet.
Since I finally kicked the sinus infections, I’ve been careful to take Vitamin D supplements on days when I can’t get enough sun naturally. I live in Northern California, which is great for getting sunlight in the spring, summer and early fall, but really bad for allergies, since there are more plants than you could every hope to count, and a lot of them are flowering.
I had my bout with Vitamin D deficiency just about the same time that Vitamin D deficiency and the importance of Vitamin D started making news in the medical community. Many doctors and researchers believe that not only do we not get sufficient Vitamin D, but that it might be essential for more than just preventing bone loss and rickets. In recent years, articles and studies have linked Vitamin D deficiency to everything from cancer to multiple sclerosis to depression.
Regarding depression specifically, there has been one study that demonstrates a possible link between intake of Vitamin D from food and supplements and a reduction of depressive symptoms in post-menopausal women.
And there is definitely a case to be made for depression symptoms causing or contributing to a Vitamin D deficiency. After all, depression can result in poor nutrition and less exposure to sunlight.
So does depression cause or contribute to Vitamin D deficiency, or does Vitamin D deficiency cause or contribute to depression? It could be one, both or neither of the two. At this point, we don’t know. But if you are suffering from depression, you might want to have your Vitamin D levels checked. Whether Vitamin D or lack thereof has a direct link to depression, there’s no question that poor physical health can leave you vulnerable to depression.
Low Vitamin D tied to Depression in Older People
High Does of Vitamin D Does Not Prevent Depression
Vitamin D: Vital Role in Your Health
The Vitamin D Dilemma
Institute of Medicine Raises Recommended Level of Vitamin D
Vitamin D and Calcium Ward Off Melanoma in High Risk Women
Deborah Gray wrote about depression as a Patient Expert for HealthCentral. She lived with undiagnosed clinical depression, both major episodes and dysthymia, from childhood through young adulthood. She was finally diagnosed at age 27, and since that time, her depression has been successfully managed with medication and psychotherapy.