Is Vitamin D Good for Depression?

Medically Reviewed on 9/21/2022
Is Vitamin D Good for Depression?
Studies show a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and symptoms of depression.

Vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin) is a fat-soluble nutrient that is vital for both physical and mental health. It is essential to keep the bones healthy and strong and promotes cell growth and immune function. Although the exact role of vitamin D in immunity is unclear, vitamin D seems to be important in mood and memory physiology.

Depression is a disabling condition that impairs all aspects of human function and is the leading cause of disability, affecting about 121 million people worldwide.

Studies reported that people with depression have low circulating levels of vitamin D in their blood and have a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency.

Moreover, several studies have suggested that low levels of vitamin D during pregnancy are associated with postpartum depression, a type of depression occurring in women after childbirth.

What are the normal requirements of vitamin D?

Table 1. Values of dietary reference for vitamin D intake according to the Institute of Medicine, Food, and Nutrition Board
Age Men Women Pregnancy Lactation
0 to 12 months 400 IU (20 mcg) 400 IU (20 mcg) - -
1 to 13 years 600 IU (15 mcg) 600 IU (15 mcg) - -
14 to 18 years 600 IU (15 mcg) 600 IU (15 mcg) 600 IU (15 mcg) 600 IU (15 mcg)
19 to 50 years 600 IU (15 mcg) 600 IU (15 mcg) 600 IU (15 mcg) 600 IU (15 mcg)
51 to 70 years 600 IU (15 mcg) 600 IU (15 mcg) - -
Older than 70 years 800 IU (20 mcg) 800 IU (20 mcg) - -

Can vitamin D deficiency lead to depression?

Studies suggest a relationship between vitamin D deficiency and symptoms of depression. However, it remains unclear if low vitamin D levels are the cause or effect of depression.

Although several issues in the relationship between depression and low levels of vitamin D remain controversial and need further studies, the literature provides enough data to recommend screening for and treating vitamin D deficiency in people with depression. These are easy and cost-effective and may improve depression outcomes.

Low levels of vitamin D may contribute to various other mental disorders, such as:


Depression is a(n) __________ . See Answer

What are the risk factors for vitamin D deficiency?

Here are the risk factors for vitamin D deficiency:

  • Limited sun exposure:
    • For most people, sunlight exposure is the primary source of vitamin D.
    • The amount of sun exposure to attain an optimum vitamin D level depends on certain factors, such as climate, the time of day and year, and the individual skin tone.
  • Dark skin tone:
    • Vitamin D deficiency appears to be more prevalent in people with darker skin tones because they have higher amounts of melanin, a natural pigment that gives skin its color.
    • Melanin is responsible for inhibiting vitamin D production in the skin.
  • Inadequate diet:
    • Consuming the following natural sources of vitamin D regularly could help fulfill the requirement:
      • Salmon
      • Mackerel
      • Other fatty fish
      • Fish liver oils
      • Animal fats
      • Vitamin-D-fortified food products, such as orange juice and cereals
    • For people who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, some of the vegan vitamin D sources include
      • Fortified plant-based milk, fruit juices, and grains
      • Mushrooms that have been exposed to ultraviolet light
  • Obesity:
    • Studies have reported a link between vitamin D deficiency and people with a body mass index of 30 or higher.
    • Obese people may need to absorb more vitamin D to reach recommended nutrient levels than people with moderate weight.
  • Older age group:
    • Skin becomes less efficient at producing vitamin D with age.
    • In addition, older adults tend to limit their time in the sun and may eat diets with insufficient amounts of vitamin D.
  • Certain population:
    • People living far from the equator (studies report that people living in northern latitudes are more prone to low vitamin D levels)
    • People with liver disease, renal disease, and celiac disease
    • People on certain medications, such as anticonvulsants and glucocorticoids

What are the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency and depression?

Vitamin D deficiency is defined as a condition with a vitamin D level of less than 20 nmol/L.

People with vitamin D deficiency may experience symptoms, such as:

Symptoms of depression include:

  • Anhedonia (loss of interest in the activities previously enjoyed)
  • Overwhelming feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and helplessness
  • Lack of concentration and focus
  • Difficulty sleeping or eating
  • Insomnia or excessive sleepiness
  • Lethargy
  • Excessive weight loss or gain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Forgetfulness
  • Loss of sexual interest
  • Headaches or backaches
  • Anxiety
  • Isolation and withdrawal
  • Suicidal tendencies or ideations

Daily dosage and treatment for vitamin D deficiency and depression

According to the NIH, for most people, a daily dose of 600 IU of vitamin D is recommended.

It is important to analyze vitamin D levels before taking high-dose vitamin D supplements because taking high doses over time may lead to vitamin D toxicity, which can cause high calcium levels, kidney stones, digestive problems, and neurological changes.

The best way to treat vitamin D deficiency is to:

  • Increase exposure to the sun.
  • Increase intake of foods fortified with vitamin D.
  • Take vitamin D supplements.

Common treatments for depression include:

Medically Reviewed on 9/21/2022
Image Source: iStock images

What to Know About Vitamin D and Mental Health.

Vitamin D and Depression: Where is all the Sunshine?

Depression and Vitamin D Deficiency: Causality, Assessment, and Clinical Practice Implications.

Depression in Women: Is There a Role for Vitamin D?