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Vitamin D may reduce depression for women: Study

By Stephen Daniells , 31-Aug-2011

Increased intakes of vitamin D from foods but not supplements are associated with reduced prevalence of depression for postmenopausal women, says a new study.

The prevalence of depressive symptoms was 21% lower for women with daily vitamin D intakes exceeding 800 International Units (IU) per day, compared with intakes of less than 100 IU per day, according to findings published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The study’s findings are based on data from 81,189 participants of the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) Observational Study.

Led by Harvard’s JoAnn Manson, the researchers add that the apparent benefits of vitamin D were primarily associated with dietary intakes of the sunshine vitamin, with supplemental vitamin D intakes producing “less consistent” results.

The researchers called for future studies to establish if boosting vitamin levels could prevent or treat depression, or both.

The vitamin

Vitamin D refers to two biologically inactive precursors - D3, also known as cholecalciferol, and D2, also known as ergocalciferol. The former, produced in the skin on exposure to UVB radiation (290 to 320 nm), is said to be more bioactive.

Both D3 and D2 precursors are hydroxylated in the liver and kidneys to form 25- hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D), the non-active 'storage' form, and 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D (1,25(OH)2D), the biologically active form that is tightly controlled by the body.

While our bodies do manufacture vitamin D on exposure to sunshine (UV-B radiation with a wavelength between 290 and 315 nm), the levels in some northern countries are so weak during the winter months that our body makes no vitamin D at all, meaning that dietary supplements and fortified foods are seen by many as the best way to boost intakes of vitamin D.

Study details

Dr Manson and her co-workers performed a cross-sectional and prospective investigation of vitamin D intakes and depression. Vitamin D intakes were measured at the start of the study using food-frequency and supplement-use questionnaires, while symptoms of depression were tested using a well-established scale and assessing the use of antidepressant medication.

Results showed that, in addition to the general 21% reduction in prevalence of depressive symptoms for intakes over 800 IU, when the researchers limited they calculations to women who were depression-free at the start of the study, a 20% lower prevalence of depression was observed for intakes of vitamin D from foods over 400 IU.

“Overall, our findings support a potential inverse association of vitamin D, primarily from food sources, and depressive symptoms in postmenopausal women,” they concluded.

Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.3945/ajcn.111.017384
“Vitamin D intake from foods and supplements and depressive symptoms in a diverse population of older women”
Authors: E.R. Bertone-Johnson, S.I. Powers, L. Spangler, R.L. Brunner, Y.L. Michael, J.C. Larson, A.E. Millen, M.N. Bueche, E. Salmoirago-Blotcher, S. Liu, S. Wassertheil-Smoller, J.K. Ockene, I. Ockene, J.E. Manson

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