“By the proper intakes of vitamins and other nutrients…you can, I believe, extend your life and years of well-being by twenty-five or even thirty-five years,” said Nobel Prize winning scientist Linus Pauling.
This is especially true concerning Vitamin D, as research has discovered an essential link between it and depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental health issues.
Why Vitamin D Impacts Your Depression
Vitamin D was discovered a century ago by biochemist Elmer McCollum after a series of events. He and fellow researcher Marguerite Davis had identified Vitamin A in 1913 as they were involved in a long-term study to develop the perfect food for livestock.
Building on their study, British physician Edward Mellanby began conducting nutrition experiments aimed at treating rickets. He discovered that cod-liver oil cured rickets in laboratory animals, and theorized that Vitamin A might be the curative agent.
McCollum set out to test Mellanby’s theory in 1922. He fed cod-liver oil that was free of Vitamin A to dogs with rickets and found that the animals recovered. This proved that another substance in the oil was responsible for the cure. McCollum called it Vitamin D.
Scientists eventually discovered that humans could get Vitamin D in more than one way. It is not only gained through diet. It can also be formed by the human body when the skin is exposed to sunlight.
More study of the vitamin revealed its essential role in the body. It helps the body build strong bones, regulates the level of phosphate and calcium, promotes cell growth, is involved in the neuromuscular system, and enhances the immune system. It also reduces inflammation in the body.
Recent research has found that Vitamin D deficiency may be associated with several health problems. Low levels of the vitamin in the elderly have been found to increase the risk of death. Low bone mineral density is found in people with a low Vitamin D level.
Some studies indicate that the risk of developing certain types of cancers may be connected with a deficiency in the vitamin.
Vitamin D may also affect a person’s mental health. A review of 14 studies by Canadian scientists found a link between depression and Vitamin D levels. “The lower the Vitamin D level, the greater the chance of depression,” reports Dale Archer, MD in Psychology Today. A study by the National Institute of Health also seems to support this link.
In research on Seasonal Affective Disorder, subjects’ mood improved when they received increased amounts of sunlight. In 2012, a group of researchers reviewed 37 studies of cognitive function and found a connection with Vitamin D levels. “These results suggest that lower vitamin D concentrations are associated with poorer cognitive function and a higher risk of AD,” they concluded.
There are many reasons that Vitamin D may influence a person’s mental health. First, vitamin D plays a vital role in brain chemistry. It affects the production and activity of many important brain chemicals that influence cognitive function, emotions, memory, and more. A deficiency of vitamin D can reduce beneficial chemical levels in the brain, which may lead to depression.
Second, Vitamin D is vital in relaying brain communications and directing cell activities. This is accomplished through vitamin D receptors on the cell’s surface and internally. Receptors enable cells to receive messages in the brain. There are several receptors of vitamin D in the brain, especially in the area associated with depression. When vitamin D interacts with these receptors, it regulates neurological functions in the brain cells.
How Can Vitamin D Deficiency Lead to Depression?
A vitamin D deficiency can potentially lead to depression in a few critical ways. First, vitamin D can inhibit specific proteins associated with emotional health issues. These proteins are called cytokines and are involved in cell-to-cell communication in the body.
A 2014 study in Sweden discovered that people who have attempted suicide had high levels of these pro-inflammatory cytokines. Vitamin D is known to reduce the level of these cytokines. Some researchers believe that by maintaining healthy levels of these proteins, Vitamin D may prevent depression from progressing to suicidal thoughts.
Second, serotonin levels are affected by Vitamin D. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps brain cells relay messages to each other. Serotonin is involved in the regulation of mood, sleep, appetite, memory, and learning. Many scientists believe there is a connection between low levels of serotonin and depression.
There are many theories to explain this connection. Some researchers believe that depression occurs when the brain fails to regenerate cells. Since serotonin seems to play a role in this regeneration process, low levels of the neurotransmitter may help inhibit the production of new brain cells. This could then pave the way for depression’s onset.
A deficiency in the Vitamin D may lead to lower levels of this critical neurotransmitter. This is because the vitamin supports serotonin in the body in two ways. First, it helps the body convert the amino acid tryptophan into serotonin. Second, the vitamin helps the body release serotonin that it produces.
A third way that deficiency can lead to depression is through the brain chemical dopamine. Its levels are also influenced by Vitamin D. Dopamine is another essential neurotransmitter that influences mood, pleasure, and cognitive functions.
Studies have found that exposure to sunlight can increase dopamine levels in the body. This is likely due to increased vitamin D levels that come from sunlight exposure.
Recent studies have proven that increased consumption of Vitamin D rich food can increase dopamine levels in the body. A 2016 study by nutritional scientists at the University of Toronto compared two groups of lab animals over a 14-weeks period. The first group was fed 1000 IU of Vitamin D per kilogram of food. The second group was fed 7000 IU of Vitamin D per kilogram of food. At the end of the study, the second group had a 48% increase in dopamine levels when compared to the first group.
The vitamin is crucial in the body’s production of dopamine, as it enables the body to manufacture dopamine from tyrosine, a basic amino acid building – block found in beef, chicken, and eggs.
The promising news is that several studies show that steps to raise Vitamin D levels seem to help depression. A 2017 study measured the effect of Vitamin D for depression on 940 adolescent girls over a nine-week period. The subjects received a dose of 50,000 IU of D3 each week. “After 9 weeks of vitamin D supplementation, there was a significant reduction on [the] mild, moderate, and severe depression score,” reported the researchers.
Another 2016 study also found a similar benefit with Vitamin D for depression for 169 pregnant women. The subjects were divided into a placebo group and a Vitamin D group. The Vitamin D group received 2000 IU of D3 each day from the 26th to 28th week of pregnancy to birth of the child. “The present trial showed that consuming 2000 IU vitamin D3 daily during late pregnancy was effective in decreasing perinatal depression levels,” the scientists reported.
A 2014 Chinese study also indicated that Vitamin D deficiency can lead to depression. The three-month study followed 213 postpartum women. The subjects were screened for depression and also tested to measure Vitamin D levels. There were 26 women identified as suffering from depression. Researchers found that when postpartum women have a blood serum level of Vitamin D of less than 10 ng, they are seven times more likely to suffer depression.
The amount of Vitamin D for supplementation needed to prevent or alleviate depression is far more than the recommended daily allowance generally cited by nutritional charts. This amount is usually set at 400 IU for age 12 and under, 600 IU for up to 70 years of age, and 800 IU above 70 years old. Yet, for those suffering from depression, this may not be enough. A 2012 study of 120 depressed subjects found that high doses of Vitamin were required for improvement of the depression.
The subjects were divided into three groups: the first received placebo injections, the second group received an injection of 150,000 IU; the third group received an injection of 300,000 IU. “The results of the study revealed that first, the correction of vitamin D deficiency improved the depression state, and second, a single injection dose of 300,000 IU of vitamin D was safe and more effective than a 150,000 IU dose,” researchers concluded.
Though it is possible to consume too much dietary Vitamin D and suffer toxic results, researchers have determined that any amount less than 10,000 IU a day is safe for Vitamin D for depression. “It is reasonable for every patient with depression to take 5,000 to 10,000 IU/day,” recommends the Vitamin D Council.
“In all my many years of practice of medicine, I’ve never seen one vitamin, even vitamin C, have such profound effects on human health,” said Dr. Soram Khalsa, medical director for the East-West Medical Research Institute. Fortunately, one Vitamin D’s best and most profound effect is its ability to relieve the suffering of the millions who are afflicted with depression.