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"D" for Depression

Women who eat high amounts of vitamin D may lower their risk of depression
The list of health benefits linked to vitamin D is rapidly growing, and a new report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that women who eat high amounts of vitamin D may lower their risk of having depression symptoms by as much as 20%.

Dietary vitamin D linked to a healthier mood

In this study, which included 81,189 postmenopausal women from the Women's Health Initiative, researchers used questionnaires to estimate the amount of vitamin D that women ate and informally diagnose depression symptoms. The results of the questionnaires, given at the beginning of the study and three years later, showed:

  • Women who consumed a total of 800 IU of vitamin D or more through diet and supplements had a 20% lower risk of having depression symptoms compared with women who ate less than 100 IU of vitamin D.
  • In women who did not have depression symptoms at the beginning of the study, those who ate 400 IU or more of dietary vitamin D per day had a 20% lower risk of having depression symptoms at the three year follow-up compared with women who ate 100 IU or less of dietary vitamin D per day

The study authors comment, "Vitamin D may affect the function of dopamine and norepinephrine, which are monoamine neurotransmitters that are likely involved in depression." They add that further research is needed to know more about the role of vitamin D in preventing and possibly treating depression.

Getting your vitamin D

  • Try these top dietary sources of vitamin D. Top sources of dietary vitamin D include oily fish such as salmon and mackerel. Non-fish options include vitamin D-fortified foods and beverages such as cereal, margarine, yogurt, milk, and orange juice. To a lesser extent, eggs and sardines are also sources of vitamin D.
  • Check your vitamin D status. Increasingly, doctors recommend that people have their vitamin D levels checked to ensure a healthy level that may help prevent disease and optimize the health of your mind and body. If the level is found to be low then a doctor may recommend vitamin D supplements. When thinking about taking a supplement, check with a doctor about the appropriate dose, duration of time to take the supplement, and the potential risks and benefits.
  • Live a balanced life. Getting enough vitamin D is just one aspect of having a healthy mind and body. People who eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and who have strong social supports are also less likely to be depressed. See a healthcare professional if you feel you are suffering from symptoms of depression such as persistent sadness, feelings of hopelessness, frequent crying, and/or a loss of interest in participating in social activities.

(Am J Clin Nutr doi: 10.3945/ajcn.111.017384.)

Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, websites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.

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