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Can Vitamin D Reduce Risk of Depression?


Research has been conducted on many aspects of major depression, including family risk factors, antidepressant effects, psychotherapeutic efficacy, and lifestyle influence. Remission and relapse rates have been dissected and scrutinized based on age, gender, comorbidity, and other significant dynamics. But little if any research has been dedicated to how specific nutritional supplements influence the symptom presence and severity in depression. Depression is a global concern. So are malnutrition, obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Dietary experts theorize that many if not all of these health conditions can be drastically reduced with proper nutrition. As the cost of health care, both physical and mental, skyrockets, there has been increased interest in finding less expensive, less invasive, and more effective alternatives to treating illnesses such as depression.

In support of these efforts, Minhtu Hoang of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas led a study that measured how vitamin D intake affected individuals with depression. For more than 4 years, Hoang looked at how levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D, or 25(OH)D, were related to symptom severity in a sample of over 12,500 adults who had received treatment for depression. The study revealed that the participants with the highest levels of 25(OH)D were the least likely to be depressed. This finding was especially significant in the participants with a history of depressive episodes.

Vitamin D is known to reduce inflammation and can positively impact brain functioning. The presence of high levels of 25(OH)D supports the idea that vitamin D could be beneficial for the prevention of depressive symptoms. Hoang added that depression may act negatively on vitamin D development as well. Individuals with depression are more likely to isolate themselves, eat poorly, and maintain sedentary lifestyles than their nondepressed peers. This reduces their access to vitamin D and could be one cause for the low levels of 25(OH)D in the participants with the highest levels of depression. Regardless of whether the relationship is bidirectional or not, Hoang believes that these findings have important clinical implications. Hoang said, “The findings suggest that patients with a history of depression could be an important population to target for screening of vitamin D levels.”

Hoang, M. T., DeFina, L. F., Willis, B. L., Leonard, D. S., Weiner, M. F. (2011). Association between low serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D and depression in a large sample of healthy adults: The Cooper Center Longitudinal Study. Mayo Clinic Proceedings 86.11, 150-155.

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