Low Vitamin D Levels Linked to Depression in Younger Women


Low vitamin D levels in otherwise healthy young women may increase their risk for depression, according to findings published in Psychiatry Research.

Low vitamin D levels in otherwise healthy, young women may be linked to depression, according to findings published in Psychiatry Research.

Researchers from Oregon State University examined 185 undergraduates aged 18 to 25 years living in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States during the fall, winter, and spring academic terms in order to determine whether vitamin D would be linked to depression in otherwise healthy young female participants. The participants completed the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression scale weekly for 4 weeks (labeled by the researchers W1 through W5). Other data collected from the students (at W1 and W5) included serum levels of vitamins D and C in blood samples.

“Depression has multiple, powerful causes and if vitamin D is part of the picture, it is just a small part,” lead author David Kerr, PhD, an associate professor in the School of Psychological Science at OSU, explained in a press release. “But given how many people are affected by depression, any little inroad we can find could have an important impact on public health.”

Vitamin D insufficiency was common at W1 in 42 percent of the patients and at W5 in 46 percent of the patients. Between weeks 1 through 5, clinically significant depression was indicated by 34 to 42 percent of the patients. Across weeks 1 through 5, vitamin D deficiencies predicted clinically significant depressive symptoms when controlling for season, BMI, race/ ethnicity, diet, exercise, and time spent outside, the researchers noted.

Prior research has not made any associations between vitamin D and depression, though the Oregon State researchers believe this is because most of that body of work was focused on older adults or special medical populations.

“I think people hear that vitamin D and depression can change with the seasons, so it is natural for them to assume the two are connected,” Kerr continued. “It may surprise people that so many apparently healthy young women are experiencing these health risks.”

The researchers additionally found that lower levels of depressive symptoms in the fall term participants (vs. the winter or spring term) were explained by their higher levels of vitamin D. The first week’s depressive symptoms did not predict vitamin D changes from W1 to W5.

“Vitamin D supplements are inexpensive and readily available,” Kerr concluded, adding that the findings are consistent with literature that supports seasonal depressive symptoms. “They certainly shouldn’t be considered as alternatives to the treatments known to be effective for depression, but they are good for overall health.”

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