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Vitamin D and Its Link To Depression

By Piper Chan


Vitamin D, a steroid hormone precursor, is known as the “sunshine vitamin.” Telling that to a child might lead to them to think that the sunshine vitamin can make a sad person happy. Surprisingly, the statement is not far from the actual truth. Vitamin D comes from natural sunlight and is the only vitamin to be considered a hormone. A hormone is a chemical substance produced within the body that regulates the activity of certain cells or organs. When it is consumed through one’s diet or synthesized in the skin, vitamin D is transported to the liver and kidneys, where it is converted into its active hormone form. Vitamin D assists in the absorption of calcium, which is why it is well known for helping in the mineralization of strong teeth, bones, and muscles. The more unknown role of vitamin D, though, is how vitamin D activates genes that regulate the immune system and release neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which are chemicals that aid in people's sense of well-being, moods, and overall feelings. This means that the amount of vitamin D one receives not only impacts physical health, but it also affects one’s mental state.


Research by UK studies shows that low levels of vitamin D results can lead to cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disease, osteoporosis, and depression. Robin Foroutan, the spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, states, “Low levels of vitamin D are associated with both major and minor depression, as well as mood disorders and faster cognitive decline.” Just like how transported vitamin D is found in the kidney and liver, vitamin D receptors (VDR) are located in multiple areas within the regions of the brain that are connected to cognitive behavior and mood. More specifically, receptors are the link to how brain cells take in information. Once vitamin D attaches to the receptor, it enters the nucleus of the cell that houses DNA. This is where genes and cognitive traits are activated and deactivated. Therefore, a lack of vitamin D in those areas of the brain will increase the rates of impaired cognitive function and development of depression.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2006, one-fourth of the US population was deficient in vitamin D. Eight percent were at the risk for vitamin D deficiency illnesses. Researchers reviewed fourteen studies involving 31,424 participants, in which they found a strong correlation between depression and those who were vitamin D deficient. People with higher vitamin D levels showed fewer depressive symptoms than those who had lower levels. The National Institute of Health has multiple studies that remark that sunlight improves mood, which could relate to the vitamin D one receives from being in the sun. Studies done by Springer and research results by the New England Journal of Medicine and Vitamin D Council further add on to how much vitamin D positively impacts people in depressive states.


A more specific example is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a mood disorder that features depressive symptoms that often happen during darker times as well as seasons such as fall and winter. This is because fall and winter are both seasons where the sun is less visible. It is always used in contrast for research as the depressive levels vary on the sudden drops of vitamin D. A Netherlands study stated that SAD was visible in 169 individuals above the age of 65 who had recognizably low vitamin D levels. In general, older people are more likely to succumb to depression or depressive symptoms as they lose energy to go out often and gain the daily recommended amount of vitamin D. It is also because the more a person ages, the less efficient their skin becomes at absorbing vitamin D.


Although not every case of depression is caused by a lack of vitamin D, such depressive symptoms, whether caused by vitamin D deficiency or not, can still be alleviated with an increase of vitamin D. A study done by the NCBI in 2004 states that adults with vitamin D deficiency who received high doses of the vitamin saw improvements in their mood and depressed mental state after an average of two months. In another research fund, the doctors set out a smaller study with nine vitamin D deficient and efficient women. All women found that a daily dose of 5,000 IU of vitamin D significantly improved their depression symptoms. Both studies prove that regardless of one’s deficient or efficient vitamin D intake, additional vitamin D intake can support mental health drastically.


To conclude, if you, or someone you know, are experiencing depressive symptoms or feel emotionally under the weather, set aside some time to go outdoors. A good vitamin D intake can also be achieved by eating foods that contain high levels of it, such as: mushrooms, egg yolks, salmon and other fish, milk, yogurt, and orange juice. Vitamin D supplements are also a viable choice. It is very critical to bring awareness to how important going outside actually is and how the “sunshine vitamin” has a tighter grasp on your emotional well-being than one may think, especially in the present time where quarantine has greatly impacted everyone's lives.


References

1. Shiffer, Emily J. “Vitamin D and depression: How Vitamin D may affect your mood.” MSN, May 5, 2020, https://www.msn.com/en-us/health/nutrition/vitamin-d-and-depression-how-vitamin-d-may-affect-your-mood/ar-BB13B5hQ


2. Archer M.D., Dale “Vitamin D Deficiency and Depression.” Psychology Today, June 11, 2013, “https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/reading-between-the-headlines/201307/vitamin-d-deficiency-and-depression


3. Scaccia, Annamarya, “Is a Vitamin D Deficiency Causing Your Depression?” Healthline, August 26, 2020, https://www.healthline.com/health/depression-and-vitamin-d


4. Greenblatt M.D., James M “Psychological Consequences of Vitamin D Deficiency.” Psychology Today, November 14, 2011, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-breakthrough-depression-solution/201111/psychological-consequences-vitamin-d-deficiency

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