Symptoms of depression are often linked to lack of vitamin D, which is now referred to as the “happiness vitamin”
More and more people experience despair and depression. There can be several underlying factors but according to a large German population study, lack of vitamin D increases the risk of depressive symptoms. The scientists explain how vitamin reduces local inflammation in the brain, which increases the risk of developing a depression. That is why it is so important to get plenty of vitamin D all year round because the nutrient affects our mood and energy level in a variety of ways.
It is only natural for our mood and energy levels to fluctuate from time to time. Depression, however, is a serious condition that manifests itself as persistent sadness, lack of interest and initiative, low energy, and increased tiredness. Often, people have sleep problems that make their condition even worse. With winter depression, the depressive periods begin in the autumn and end when spring comes around. The majority of people get over their depression but once you have suffered from one, you have an increased risk of depression later on. Depression is a burden for the individual patient, for the patient’s family, and for society. Because the condition is difficult to treat it is relevant to look at prevention and ways to improve existing therapies. This includes focusing on vitamin D because we lack this nutrient during the winter period, and chronic vitamin D deficiency has become more widespread for a variety of reasons.
Vitamin D, depression, and inflammation
All cells in our body have vitamin D receptors (VDR), including the brain cells. Vitamin D is believed to regulate around 10 percent of our genes through different on/off mechanisms that affect, among other things, our nervous system and mood. Previous studies show that low vitamin D levels are associated with depression, and there are also studies that show a link between depressive symptoms and chronic, low-grade inflammation.
However, only few studies have looked at the complex relation between vitamin D, depression, and inflammation. For that reason, a team of scientists from Leipzig University in Germany wanted to study this closer and did so by analyzing data from a population study named “LIFE” that included 10,000 people in the age group 18-80 years.
Through several interviews, the scientists gathered information about the participants’ medical records and social conditions, income level, BMI, and smoking and drinking habits. Their depressive symptoms were graded using a scale (CES-D) with 20 questions. In addition, blood tests were made to analyze levels of vitamin D and three inflammation markers (CRP, IL-6, and WBC)
The large population study revealed an inverse relation between blood levels of vitamin D on one hand and inflammation markers plus depressive symptoms on the other. Put differently, lack of vitamin D in the blood increases levels of the three inflammation markers and worsens the tendency to become depressed. According the scientists, this is the only large population study that investigates the rather complex relation between vitamin D, depression, and inflammation.
The “happiness vitamin” affects our brain and mood in several ways
Vitamin D is often called the sunshine nutrient because our main source of vitamin D is exposure to the sun exposure during the summer period. Here, the sun sits sufficiently high in the sky to allow our skin to synthesize vitamin D. Now, however, researchers have started calling vitamin D the “happiness vitamin” for different reasons.
First of all, science has discovered vitamin D receptors in different parts of the brain such as the hypothalamus, the prefrontal cortex, the substantia nigra, the amygdala, and the thalamus. This supports the hypothesis that vitamin D is vital for brain function. Furthermore, it indicates that the presence of vitamin D receptors in the neurons and microglia cells is important for the immune defense of the central nervous system. Also, it appears that vitamin D has a structural and protective effect on neurons and neuroplasticity where imbalances play a critical role in the development of depression.
In addition, it turns out that the active form of vitamin D (1,25(OH)2D) is able activate tryptophan hydroxylase, thereby increasing the synthesis of serotonin, a hormone that is found at reduced levels in patients with depression. Finally, studies suggest that vitamin D affects the innate immune system through different mechanisms such as regulating cytokines and other cell signaling pathways. This helps inhibit the inflammation that is involved in depression
The new study is published in Nutrients.
Lack of vitamin D is widespread, and supplements may improve your mood
A large Irish study has demonstrated that lack of vitamin D is widespread and increases the risk of depression. The study also shows that vitamin D supplementation may significantly improve moods over time. Many people have a tendency to feel depressed during the winter period because this is when people typically lack the nutrient. Vitamin D-deficient patients with winter depression may feel better if they are given a supplement of vitamin D in the early phase of their depression, according to a study published in International Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Journal
New vitamin D recommendations and widespread deficiency problems
The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration has issued new guidelines for vitamin D supplementation that recommend 5-20 micrograms of vitamin D daily during the winter period. Vulnerable groups should take a supplement all year round. Several leading scientists say that we may need even more vitamin D in order to reach the optimal blood levels of the nutrient (above 50 nmol/L). Our actual need for vitamin D hinges on factors such as sun exposure, diet, genetics, skin color, ageing processes, BMI, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. You can easily find high-dosed vitamin D supplements on the market with 20-80 micrograms of vitamin D in each capsule. In order to activate vitamin D in the liver and kidneys, the body also needs magnesium.
More information about depression, brain inflammation, and nutrients
Numerous studies have shown that vitamin D, fish oil, magnesium, and zinc are able to improve moods by counteracting inflammation in the brain and other places in the body. You can read more about this subjects in the following article
Dogan-Sander et al. Inflammation and the Association of Vitamin D and Depressive Symptomatology. Nutrients 2021
Nikki Hancoks. Study: Vitamin D levels associated with depressive symptoms. NUTRAingredients.com 2021
Robert Bruggs et al. Vitamin D Deficiency is associated with an Increased Likelihood of Incident Depression in Community-Dwelling Older adults 2019
Liam Davenport: Vitamin D Levels Predict Depression. Medscape Medical News 2015
Sarkar S. Vitamin D for depression with a seasonal pattern: an effective treatment strategy. International Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Journal. 2017
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