Depression is a confusing, debilitating illness. Increasingly, researchers are looking at the way certain lifestyle factors may contribute to its symptoms. According to research, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 8 men will experience depression. Only about a third will access treatment. Increasingly, researchers are looking at the way certain lifestyle factors may contribute to, and ease, its symptoms.
A new study, published in the journal Psychiatry Research, has found that people with low levels of vitamin D are more likely to have depression. The connection between vitamin D deficiency and depression is particularly significant for young women.
The effect of the vitamin D deficiency on depression still stood, even when other potential contributing factors were taken into account, such as time of year, race/ethnicity, diet, BMI, exercise, and time spent outside.
The body loves Vitamin D for all sorts of reasons, and the mind also needs its share. As well as being important for mental health, adequate levels of vitamin D are also needed to maintain bone health, muscle function and immune function. Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with some types of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Let’s talk about the research.
The study involved 185 college students. All were women aged between 18-25 and they took part in the study at different times during the year.
Interestingly, although many of the women had low levels of vitamin D, the rates of vitamin D deficiency were particularly high for women of colour, with tests showing that 61% had insufficient vitamin D for good health. This was compared to 35% of other women. More than a third of the people who participated in the study reported clinically significant depression symptoms each week for the duration of the study.
‘It may surprise people that so many apparently healthy young women are experiencing these health risks’ – David Kerr, lead author, associate professor in the School of Psychological Science, Oregon State University.
So vitamin D … How do I get it?
People make their own vitamin D when their skin is exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D is also found in some foods, including milk that has been fortified with it, and it is also available through a supplement.
Because exposure to sunlight tends to fluctuate with the different seasons, vitamin D levels can change depending on the time of year. In the study, levels dropped during Autumn and were lowest during winter. Vitamin D levels tended to rise again during spring.
The link between vitamin D and depression is something that needs further study. The researchers encourage those who might be at risk of having a vitamin D deficiency to speak with their doctor about the potential benefits of taking a supplement. They also caution that Vitamin D supplements, though inexpensive, readily available and good for general health, should not be used as a replacement for treatments that are known to be effective against depression.
And finally …
Increasing vitamin D is just one way that can help manage the symptoms, but the researchers warn that taking vitamin D supplements isn’t a cure. Depression is best managed with a multi-faceted approach that includes things like exercise, meditation, diet, sleep, and social connection. If medication is being taken, it is vital that there are no changes made to this consulting closely with a doctor.