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publishDate

August 13, 2021

author

Lindsay Delk, RDN
Vitamin D And Mental Health
Author

Fact Checked By Lindsay Delk, RDN
 August 13, 2021

Mental Health

Depression and anxiety are medical illnesses that negatively affect how you feel, think, and act.

Depression affects almost 7% of adults each year, and almost 17% will experience depression at some time in their life (1).

Anxiety affects over 19% of adults each year, and over 31% will experience an anxiety disorder at some time in their life (2).

Fortunately, these conditions can be treated, and vitamin D is showing promise as one option for prevention and/or treatment.

The Link between Vitamin D and Depression

Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed (3).

Other symptoms may include changes in appetite, not sleeping enough or sleeping too much, feeling tired, difficulty concentrating, and sometimes thoughts of suicide.

Groups, such as the elderly, adolescents, the obese, and people with chronic illnesses, are at increased risk for vitamin D deficiency and depression.

Research clearly shows a relationship between vitamin D and depression, but it’s not clear exactly how that relationship works.

While people with depression may have lower levels of vitamin D, research has not shown that vitamin D deficiency caused them to develop depression.

Here is some of the research about vitamin D and depression:

  • One study showed that people with depression also had low vitamin D levels and that people with low vitamin D levels were at a greater risk of depression (4).
  • In a study with people who were overweight or obese, taking a vitamin D supplement for one year seemed to help their depression symptoms (5).
  • Several other studies found that taking a vitamin D supplement may reduce symptoms of depression (6).
  • One review study suggested that taking a vitamin D supplement had similar effects on depression as that of antidepressant medication (7).

Staying indoors, social withdrawal and isolation, and a poor diet may cause people with depression to have lower vitamin D levels.

So, getting outside, socializing, eating a healthier diet, and taking a vitamin D supplement recommended by your doctor may raise your vitamin D levels and improve your symptoms of depression.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons (8).

Usually, people with seasonal affective disorder have depression-like symptoms in the winter when there are fewer daylight hours.

Vitamin D could play a role in seasonal affective disorder.

Fewer daylight hours can lead to lower vitamin D levels, which could contribute to SAD symptoms.

Ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels and recommend a vitamin D supplement dosage to start in early fall to make sure you have good vitamin D levels in the winter.

The Link between Vitamin D and Anxiety

Anxiety can be a normal response to stressful situations, but people with anxiety disorders often have intense and excessive worry and fear that interferes with their life (9).

Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic attacks, social anxiety disorder, separation anxiety disorder, and various phobias.

Research also shows a link between vitamin D and anxiety:

  • Low vitamin D levels have been seen in people with anxiety disorders and with obsessive-compulsive disorder (10), (11). 
  • One study found that taking a vitamin D supplement eased the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder by increasing serotonin levels. Serotonin is a hormone that stabilizes your mood (12).

Ways to Raise Vitamin D Levels

You can get vitamin D from exposing your skin to the sun (without sunscreen), from eating foods high in vitamin D, or from a vitamin D supplement.

Vitamin D deficiency is common in the United States, especially in people with darker skin.

Research estimates that up to 42% of Americans have a vitamin D deficiency, but 82% of black Americans and 69% of Hispanic Americans are deficient (13), (14), (15).

The only way to know if you have a vitamin D deficiency is to ask your doctor to measure your vitamin D level with a blood test.

Your vitamin D blood level should be at least 30 ng/ml (75 nmol/l) (16).

Only a few foods are naturally rich in vitamin D.

They include cod liver oil, salmon, tuna, sardines, beef liver, egg yolks, mushrooms, and vitamin D-fortified milk, orange juice, and breakfast cereal.

If you don’t eat lots of fatty fish or don’t spend a lot of time in the sun (without sunscreen), you should consider a vitamin D supplement.

Vitamin D3 is the best choice for a vitamin D supplement because vitamin D3 raises vitamin D levels in the blood higher and keeps them there longer than vitamin D2 (17).

Ways to Cope with Depression or Anxiety

  • Talk to your doctor about medication.
  • Visit a therapist or counselor.
  • Exercise – Exercise can release endorphins in your brain. Endorphins are sometimes called the “feel good” chemicals. Exercising outside is an excellent option for feeling less isolated and getting sun exposure to raise your vitamin D levels.
  • Sleep – People with depression or anxiety sometimes have a hard time sleeping or sleep too much. Try to create a regular sleep schedule, going to bed at a certain time and waking up at a certain time.
  • Support groups – There are many depression and anxiety support groups available either in person or online. Connecting with other people who are also experiencing depression or anxiety can help ease your symptoms, and you will be helping ease the symptoms of others.
  • Socialize and communicate with family and friends.
  • Hobbies – Find and participate in hobbies or activities that you enjoy.
  • Journal – Keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings.
  • Practice meditation, deep breathing, yoga, and/or mindfulness.
  • Sunlight – Sun exposure can increase the amount of serotonin in your body. Serotonin is a hormone that can lift your mood and help you feel calm and focused. Low amounts of sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin and vitamin D that may lead to depression (18).
  • Vitamin D – Make sure you have good vitamin D levels, and ask your doctor if you should be taking a vitamin D supplement.

There are many causes and symptoms of depression and anxiety, and no single drug, vitamin, or treatment can make them disappear.

But studies show that keeping your vitamin D at a good level may provide some relief from your symptoms of depression and anxiety.