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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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • John Lynch

    John Lynch

    July 9th, 2012 at 10:19 AM

    I hope this doesn’t lead depressed people to overdose on vitamin D, because the Institute of Medicine found an increased risk of pancreatic cancer with blood levels over 40ng/dL. Now that’s something to get depressed about.

  • Roman


    July 9th, 2012 at 11:14 AM

    I would really love to hear more about studies like this as they play out because I have always felt that there is something more going on when it comes to depression and how it affects our lives than just being another mental illness. I know that when my daughter was depressed one of the very first things that the doctors then checked were her thyroid functioning levels, and lo and behold, she had an underactive thyroid. Got on meds for that and boom! Depression goes away. So I think that there are a lot of other internal factors as well as external causes that need to be given a second look when treating an illness such as depression. It may not be a quick fix for everyone but at least the providers are then being thorough and can begin to rule things out.

  • Jessie


    July 9th, 2012 at 11:35 AM

    I just hope that if it is proven that vitamin d can indeed help with symptoms of depression and warding it off that supplements are not the answer.
    Get that vitamin d the good old fashioned way- eat right and go outside!

  • betsy


    July 9th, 2012 at 4:12 PM

    Great news on the nutrition front.
    This is yet another study that highlights just how important our nutrition is to the rest of our health.
    I think that we have always known that it is important for good physical health but have really failed to recognize the importance that it plays in our mental health too.
    But this says it all. I know that in many cases nutritional deficiencies can lead to many physical ailments, but what if solving so many of our mental health issues boiled down to establishing healthy eating patterns and habits? That would be some amazing advances that many researchers had not anticipated before.

  • Starke


    July 10th, 2012 at 4:22 AM

    I strongly hope that there are not patients who read this and think that this is the end all and be all solution to depression. Sometimes we all have this tendency to boil things down to the smallest possible element, and vitamin d and depression cures could be just that. For many of us, though, there are far greater causes for our depression. I just would hate for someone to think that this is the miracle answer and then be stunned to find out that it is not. You can’t put all of your eggs into one basket, so let’s let this play out and find out a little more about it before deciding that this is the ultimate answer.

  • sloane


    July 10th, 2012 at 11:11 AM

    I haven’t read anything here that would indicate that patients with depression should give up on their other modes of treatment but that rather this is something that they could incorporate into what is already working to perhaps increase their likelihood of a faster and more solid recovery. This does suggest to me though that therapists need to begin focusing on many different elements of patients’ lives that perhaps they have not brought into play before. We are a society in crisis in that we rarely exercise enough and too often eat a diet filled with too much junk that we simply don’t need. Therpay has to begin for these patients to be a resource for all around healthier living, and not just about curing what id ailing us at the moment, but as a tool for teaching us how to prevent anything more from happening by integrating healthier habits into our lives for good.

  • marina p

    marina p

    July 10th, 2012 at 11:48 PM

    remember reading about how sunlight can help with vitamin D in school.and we all know about good good diet and getting out helps you with depression?

    definitely helps me! natural ways to stay up and cheerful of you ask me.

  • Mr. James

    Mr. James

    July 11th, 2012 at 4:30 AM

    any word on whether therapy pros will take this into account when it comes to prescriptions or life changes that they encourage for their patients? in other words is this info being looked at as serious or is it another passing fad?

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