Vitamin D, which is also known as the “sunshine” nutrient (since sunlight is its main source), plays a huge role in your health status.
Vitamin D not only aids calcium absorption in the body, leading to good bone density and health, but also helps reduce inflammation, improves cell growth, neuromuscular and immune function according to the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Over the last 20 years or so, vitamin D has also been linked to mental health disorders by scientists from around the world. As a study published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry in 2008 indicates, people who suffer from mental health disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) noticeably have lifestyle habits that lead to nutritional deficiencies of essential vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants.
Therefore, linking vitamin D deficiency with depression was never really a stretch.
The link between Vitamin D and depression
It was research from about two decades ago, particularly a study published in the Journal of Neural Transmission in 2000, that started establishing the probable link between vitamin D and depression. This study found that vitamin D receptors are spread all over the human brain, and low vitamin D status might be involved in the development of depression and other mood disorders.
Further epidemiological studies conducted in different populations across the world also showed that vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of depression by 8 to 14 percent. More and more studies indicated that those with vitamin D deficiency, specifically low levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D, have symptoms of depressive disorders and may suffer from severe depression later in life.
However, these studies were based on those with vitamin insufficiency or deficiency, not on patients who already suffered from depression. This indicates a huge gap in the link between depression and vitamin D deficiency, because there was very little research to support the fact that adding more vitamin D supplements to the diet of depression patients can improve or even “cure” their condition.
What recent studies show
Some studies have attempted to bridge this gap over the last two years. A 2019 research published in BMC Research Notes examined whether vitamin supplementation in patients with depression could change their symptoms of depression, systolic blood pressure, and waist circumference.
This was a small study with 23 patients aged between 18 and 65 and used the Hamilton D-17 depression score to observe any changes before and after supplementation. This study found that vitamin D supplementation for three years (2010 to 2013) did not reduce the symptom score of patients with depression.
A much larger study published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) on 4 August, 2020, seems to concur with the findings of the 2019 study. This study recruited 18,353 individuals aged 50 years and above between 2011 and 2014, and either vitamin D3 supplements or a placebo were given to them until 2017. The researchers then observed the risks and symptoms of depression among the participants as per the Patient Health Questionnaire depression scale (PHQ-8).
This study found that neither the risk of depression nor the clinical symptoms of depression was significantly different between those who were given vitamin D3 supplementation and those who weren’t. Supplementation brought no significant changes in the incidence or recurrence of depression among the subjects, indicating that the supplementation with vitamin D3 does not reduce the risk of depression or mood changes.
Going by the findings of these studies, it’s clear that more research is needed to establish whether or not vitamin D supplementation can help those who already suffer from depression, mood disorders and mental health issues.
However, it cannot be doubted that your overall health does depend on the availability of this essential vitamin.
So, whether you have depression, are at risk or not, don’t forget to soak in the sunlight every now and again.
For more information, read our article on Depression.
Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.