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Low vitamin D levels are associated with depressive symptoms. That is the main conclusion by researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the Cooper Institute in Dallas in a cross-sectional study of 12,564 participants. Given this finding, is vitamin D the new wonder pill for depression?
Why the focus on vitamin D?
For the past five years, prominent studies disclosed the risks associated with vitamin D deficiency. In 2010, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found that the evidence supported the importance of vitamin D along with calcium in promoting bone health, but not for other health outcomes. In contrast, the studies of Pearce (2010) and Holick (2007) associated vitamin D deficiency as a risk factor for various medical conditions, including autoimmune diseases, vascular disease, infectious diseases, osteoporosis, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and certain cancers.
What does the latest study on vitamin D for depression suggest?
Using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D), higher vitamin D levels were associated with a significantly decreased risk for depression. The Dallas study reported that participants with higher vitamin D levels were 0.92 times less likely to have depression compared to participants with lower vitamin D levels. Note that the study found stronger association particularly for those who had previous history of depression.
What can we learn from the study?
Based on findings from different studies, it is important for patients to be screened on vitamin D levels to determine the risks and threats to bone health, and mental health as well. It is clear that vitamin D is a critical supplement for bone health, and its role in preventing depression has been emerging in recent studies.
How much vitamin D supplement do I need?
On these aspects, it is helpful to start with the IOM recommendations for bone health. At all age levels, except for those over 70 years old, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is 600 International Units (IU) daily. For persons older than 70, the RDA is 800 IUs. (The IUs are boldly printed on the labels of over-the-counter vitamin D.) For the upper limits, the IOM concluded that intakes more than 4,000 IUs of vitamin D per day increase the risk for harm. Please note that the Dallas study does not indicate the recommended intake levels for vitamin D with reference to depression.
How should I consult with my health care provider?
In the next visit to your health care provider, it would not hurt to ask for vitamin D levels in your blood draws. It is also certainly helpful to tell your provider what other supplements you take regularly. This is important because, by doing so, you can help prevent adverse drug reactions and unfavorable interactions among the medications and supplements you take.
Above all, it is not only ourselves that we need to consider for the vitamin D screening and subsequent supplementation; we need to suggest screening to our loved ones as well. In light of the Dallas study, it is highly recommended for those with history of depression to have vitamin D level screenings. That suggestion could spell the difference in taking away depression during the holidays and beyond.
Information provided by Fernand De Los Reyes, RN, MA, QDCP, Staff Nurse in the Department Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at St. Luke's and Roosevelt Hospitals.