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Vitamin D Supplements Likely No Help for Depression

Vitamin D Supplements and Depression

Although there have been several studies to suggest that depression is linked to low vitamin D levels, a researchers at Columbia University Medical Center warn against rushing out to buy supplements just yet. Their new study, published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, has found no evidence that over the counter dietary supplements reduce symptoms.

Dr. Jonathan A. Schaffer and his research team identified several clinical trials that evaluated the effect of vitamin D supplementation on depression. Seven trials involving almost 3200 participants were considered, however almost all were “characterized by methodological limitations.” Only two of the studies included patients who had a confirmed medical diagnosis of clinical depression.

Overall, none of the studies confirmed that vitamin D supplementation itself had any impact on depression. Says Dr. Schaffer: "Although tempting, adding vitamin D supplements to the armamentarium of remedies for depression appears premature based on the evidence available at this time."

Clinical depression is more than just a sad mood. It is a serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. People of all ages, genders, ethnicities, cultures and religions can suffer. Each year, it affects over 17 million American men and women.

There are different forms of clinical depression with different combinations of the following symptoms:

• Sleep disturbances-insomnia, oversleeping, waking much earlier than usual
• Changes in appetite or eating: much more or much less
• Decreased energy, fatigue
• Headaches, stomachaches, digestive problems or other physical symptoms that are not explained by other physical conditions or do not respond to treatment

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• Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed, such as going out with friends, hobbies, sports, sex, etc.
• Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
• Neglecting responsibilities or personal appearance

• Persistent sad or "empty" mood, lasting two or more weeks
• Crying "for no reason"
• Feeling hopeless, helpless, guilty or worthless
• Feeling irritable, agitated or anxious
• Thoughts of death or suicide

Past studies have suggested a link between low levels of vitamin D in the blood and symptoms of depression. However, the research has not yet shown clearly whether low vitamin D levels cause depression, or whether low vitamin D levels develop because someone is depressed. For example, those with depression may stay indoors alone more often, and are not exposed to sunlight which the body uses to produce vitamin D.

Vitamin D is important for many body functions, including brain development. Receptors within the brain that accept vitamin D are located within areas that are associated with the development of depression.

Exactly how vitamin D works in the brain isn’t fully understood. One theory is that vitamin D affects the amount and function of chemicals called monoamines (such as serotonin). Many anti-depressant medicines work by increasing the amount of monoamines in the brain. Therefore researchers have suggested that vitamin D may also increase the amount of monoamines.

If you have depression and want to take vitamin D, it is unlikely to make your symptoms worse or cause you any harm (as long as you’re taking less than 10,000 IU/day). However, you may not see any improvement in your symptoms either. And you should NEVER take vitamin D in place of any other treatments for depression – always speak to your physician first about any regimen you are considering.

Journal Reference:
Jonathan A. Shaffer, et al. Vitamin D Supplementation for Depressive Symptoms: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Psychosom Med; published ahead of print March 14, 2014, doi:10.1097/PSY.0000000000000044

Additional Resources:
University Health Services at Berkley (University of California)
Vitamin D Council