Large‑scale Study Indicates Vitamin D May Ease Depressive Symptoms
A group of researchers from Finland and Australia in a meta-analysis of 41 studies found that taking vitamin D supplements could ease symptoms of depression in people. The study was published last month in Critical Reviews in Food and Nutrition.
Vitamin D’s role in bone health is well established — it’s key to maintaining the levels of calcium and phosphate in the human body, which keep our bones, teeth, and muscles healthy. A deficiency of vitamin D is known to cause bone deformities such as rickets and osteomalacia. But earlier studies have hinted at a more encompassing role: vitamin D may also play a role in regulating several functions in the central nervous system — made up of the brain and the spinal cord. A 2018 research linked vitamin D deficiency with depression — pointing towards a connection between the vitamin and our mental health that we still haven’t fully understood.
Given this, many medical practitioners hope to counter depressive symptoms by treating the deficiency. Further, studies indicate that vitamin D is responsible for neuroprotection in the Central Nervous System — it helps neurons carry out their functions properly. The findings of the present study, if tested on a larger general and clinical sample, could bolster vitamin D supplements as an effective alternative treatment option.
In the present study, researchers analyzed data from a total of 53,235 volunteers across 41 studies. These participants included individuals with and without depression, those taking vitamin D supplements — usually in doses between 50 and 100 micrograms — or placebos, and individuals with a variety of physical health conditions.
Related on The Swaddle:
Researchers observed that among those with depression, vitamin D supplements were effective in mitigating the symptoms. “Our results suggest that vitamin D supplementation has beneficial effects in both individuals with major depressive disorder as well as in those with milder, clinically significant depressive symptoms,” the researchers note in their study. It is important here to remember that the study only looked at the effects of vitamin D supplements on the symptoms of depression — some of which can occur also in healthy individuals — and not on depressive disorder itself. In healthy individuals, the researchers observed, placebos were more effective in alleviating depressive symptoms.
However, there are some limitations to interpreting the results of the current study: although the meta-analysis indicates a link between vitamin D and depressive symptoms, conclusive evidence can only be established through uniform studies among larger general and clinical populations. Further, the data only indicates that vitamin D supplements relieve patients of depressive symptoms. It is still unclear whether vitamin D supplements can effectively cure depression itself.
Nonetheless, findings could provide a relatively accessible preventive as well as treatment option for people suffering from depression. This is increasingly vital; the World Health Organisation in its information bulletin on depression notes that it affects approximately 280 million people every year — but antidepressants are not always an effective cure for everybody. They are known to cause side-effects like dizziness, headaches, loss of libido, as well as greater health risks such as serotonin syndrome, diabetes, and may even trigger suicidal thoughts. Where one of the mainstays of treatment doesn’t work for some individuals, it speaks to a public health concern — making it important that other alternative forms of treatment are explored. Ongoing research with respect to marijuana and psychedelic substances such as LSD shows promise. Vitamin D then holds potential as another viable alternative.