Depression is a serious mental condition that can make you feel like you've been run over by a truck. While a number of causes of depressive disorders exist, a lack of vitamin D, known as hypovitaminosis D, appears to play a significant role in the development of depression. Additionally, vitamin D supplementation might help ease depressive symptoms. Consult your doctor before using any dietary supplements.
Vitamin D and Hypovitaminosis D
Vitamin D is an important nutrient manufactured by your body in response to sun exposure. Additionally, vitamin D is naturally present in dietary supplements and a limited number of foods, including tuna, egg yolk and fortified foods such as milk and certain breakfast cereals, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements. Your mood can be greatly affected by a lack of vitamin D. In fact, along with playing a crucial role in calcium absorption and bone growth, vitamin D helps maintain proper cognitive functioning and assists with mood stabilization. Low levels of vitamin D, also referred to as hypovitaminosis D, can cause a depressive mood and contribute to the development of major depression and another type of depressive disorder known as seasonal affective disorder.
Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder
Major depression is a form of clinical depression that causes symptoms such as lowered mood, irritability, a lack of self-esteem and a loss of interest in activities you once found pleasurable. A number of causes contribute to depression, including genetics, trauma, medical illness, and other psychological and social factors. Certain nutritional deficiencies, such as a lack of vitamin D, can also increase your risk of developing depression. Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression that occurs mainly during winter months and is thought to be linked to a lack of vitamin D caused by limited sun exposure. Traditional treatments, such as medication and therapy, might help both types of depression. However, some studies have found that vitamin D supplementation can have a beneficial effect on symptoms of depression and seasonal affective disorder.
A significant amount of research supports the link between vitamin D deficiency and depression. A review published in 2008 in the "Journal of Midwifery and Women's Health" supports the hypothesis that low levels of vitamin D are linked to the development of depressive disorders such as major depression, premenstrual syndrome, seasonal affective disorder and nonspecified mood disorder in women. A study published in the December 2006 issue of the "American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry" found that low mood and decreased cognitive performance in older adults were positively correlated with low levels of vitamin D. Another study, published in the June 2010 issue of the "American Heart Journal" confirmed the relationship between low levels of vitamin D and depression in patients with cardiovascular disease.
Several studies have examined the effects of vitamin D supplementation on depressive symptoms. A study published in 2008 in the "Journal of Internal Medicine" found that vitamin D supplementation helped alleviate depressive symptoms in obese and overweight study participants suffering from depression. An additional study, published in 1999 in the "Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging," examined the benefits of phototherapy and vitamin D supplementation on patients suffering from seasonal affective disorder, based on the hypothesis that vitamin D deficiency plays an important role in the development of this disorder. While phototherapy did not produce any benefits in this study, participants receiving vitamin D supplementation experienced a significant improvement in depressive symptoms.
Low levels of vitamin D appear to have a strong connection with the development of depressive disorders. While vitamin D supplementation might have a beneficial impact on depression, you should not use dietary supplements as a replacement for conventional medical treatment or to self-treat any symptoms you might be experiencing. If you think you are depressed, consult your doctor. Depression can get worse if left untreated. Inform your doctor if you choose to use a vitamin D supplement.
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet -- Vitamin D
- "Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging"; "Vitamin D vs. broad spectrum phototherapy in the treatment of seasonal affective disorder"; F.M. Gloth et al.; 1999
- "American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry"; "Vitamin D deficiency is associated with low mood and worse cognitive performance in older adults"; C.H. Wilkins, et al.; December 2006
- "American Heart Journal"; "Association of vitamin D levels with incident depression among a general cardiovascular population"; H.T. May et al.; June 2010
- "Journal of Internal Medicine"; "Effects of vitamin D supplementation on symptoms of depression in overweight and obese subjects: randomized double blind trial"; R. Jorde et al.; 2008