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Vitamin D Deficiency & Mood Disorders

Depression is a common condition in the United States. If you have depression you feel fed up, miserable and sad, and these feelings last for more than a few weeks.

The symptoms of depression can interfere with your day to day life and for some people can be severe. You may lose interest in life and can’t enjoy anything, find it difficult to make decisions or concentrate and feel unhappy most of the time.

There are many causes of depression. Researchers are now discovering that vitamin D may play an important role in mental health and in depression. Vitamin D acts on the areas of your brain that are linked to depression.

Symptoms of Depression

The symptoms of depression can come on gradually and you may not realize how depressed you are. Sometimes a friend or family member will be the one to notice how your behavior and personality have changed. Sometimes the symptoms of depression can be physical and you may think you’re just under the weather or tired.

Below are some of the main symptoms of depression (you may not have all of these).


  • Lose interest in life and can’t enjoy anything

  • Find it difficult to make decisions or concentrate

  • Feel unhappy most of the time

  • Feel tired and have problems sleeping

  • Lose confidence and self esteem

  • Avoid being with other people

  • Feel numb, despairing and empty

What causes depression?

Depression can be caused by a number of different things. Sometimes there is one main cause, such as the death of a loved one, but sometimes a number of different things may play a part. The causes are different for different people.

The main causes of depression are:

  • Major changes in your life, such as divorce, changing your job, moving home or the death of a loved one.

  • Physical illness – particularly life threatening illness such as cancer, painful conditions such as arthritis and hormone problems such as an underactive thyroid gland.

  • Your circumstances – being alone or stressed for example.

  • Depression in your family – if your parent that has depression you’re much more likely to have it yourself.

  • Your personality – some people seem to be more vulnerable to depression. This may be because of their early life experiences or their genes.

  • Regular heavy drinking.

What is the link between Vitamin D and Depression?

Vitamin D is important for good bone health and researchers are now discovering that vitamin D may be important for many other reasons. It plays an important role in many of the functions of the body, including brain development.

Receptors for vitamin D have been found in many parts of the brain. Receptors are found on the surface of a cell where they receive chemical signals. By attaching themselves to a receptor, these chemical signals direct a cell to do something, for example to act in a certain way, or to divide or die.

Some of the receptors in your brain are receptors for vitamin D, which means that vitamin D is acting in some way in your brain. These receptors are found in the areas of your brain that are linked to the development of depression. For this reason vitamin D has been linked with depression and with other mental health problems.

One theory is that vitamin D affects the amount of chemicals called monoamines (such as serotonin) and how they work in your brain. Many anti-depressant medicines work by increasing the amount of monoamines in your brain. Therefore researchers have suggested that vitamin D may also increase the amount of monoamines, which has an effect on depression.

How can you check if you have a D deficiency?

The most accurate way to measure how much vitamin D is in your body is the 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood test. Ask your physician to check your levels if you have any concerns about a deficiency. According to Mayo Clinic, a level of 20 nanograms/milliliter to 50 ng/mL is considered adequate for healthy people and a level less than 12 ng/mL indicates vitamin D deficiency.

Treatment for Vitamin D Deficiency Treatment for vitamin D deficiency involves getting more vitamin D -- through diet, direct sunlight on the skin and supplements. Guidelines from the Institute of Medicine increased the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of vitamin D to 600 international units (IU) for everyone aged 1-70, and raised it to 800 IU for adults older than 70 to optimize bone health. The safe upper limit was also raised to 10,000 IUs for treatment of Vitamin D Deficiency and 50,000 IUs for up to 5 consecutive days for intensive supplementation.

If you don't spend much time in the sun or always are careful to cover your skin (sunscreen inhibits vitamin D production), you may benefit from a vitamin D supplement, particularly if you have risk factors for vitamin D deficiency.

*This information was excerpted and modified from the Mayo Clinic and The Vitamin D Council for informational purposes only.

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