Study links low Vitamin D status with depression among military personnel

By Danielle Masterson

- Last updated on GMT

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Related tags Vitamin d deficiency Depression Military

A retrospective study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found a link among military personnel between low Vitamin D status and depression.

The study​, led by Kelly A. Schadd, Asma S. Bukhari, Daniel I. Brooks, Justin D. Kocher and Nicholas D. Barringer, obtained data from the Military Health System (MHS) Data Repository (MDR), which contains information from a comprehensive network of military healthcare clinics that serve over 9.5 million beneficiaries.

The researchers found that service members stationed at northerly latitudes may be at increased risk for vitamin D deficiency. Furthermore, vitamin D deficient service members may be at higher risk for diagnosis of depression. 

Depression was found to be more prevalent in those who were diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency (20.4%) than in individuals who were not (4.2%). After adjustment, vitamin D deficient diagnoses remained significantly associated with depression diagnoses (OR = 1.22; 95% CI, 1.11–1.33, p < 0.001). 

Additionally, vitamin D deficient diagnoses were strongly associated with geographic latitude (r2 = 0.92, p = 0.002).

Depression defense 

Vitamin D is categorized as a hormone rather than a vitamin because of its paracrine, autocrine, and endocrine functions. It can be acquired through exposure to the sun, foods and dietary supplements. 

Because many military service members avoid help or treatment for depression, vitamin D status could be a life-saving screening tool to identify service members at risk for depression or suicide. 

According to a report released by the Defense Suicide Prevention Office,​ 139 active-duty soldiers, 68 sailors, 60 airmen and 58 Marines​ died by suicide in 2018. That’s 40 more service members than the previous year.

In 2018, 325 active-duty members died by suicide, the highest number since the Department of Defense began tracking data in 2001. 


Despite consuming a lot of bodybuilding and weight loss products to help with endurance and performance, it appears many of the supplements that active duty members purchase may lack Vitamin D and other important ingredients. One reason for this is because many are opting to buy supplements online. Online purchases pose a risk, with a  2016 paper in Drug Testing & Analysis reporting that an estimated 10% of military personnel use “risky’ supplements.

The military has taken an active stance in trying to better educate and inform its personnel with initiatives like Operation Supplement Safety​, an online resource that lists, among other things, the Department of Defense’s prohibited dietary supplement "ingredients". 

Additionally, programs such as The Wingman Project (formerly 'Wingman For Life') are available. The peer-to-peer suicide intervention program shows US military members and their families how to intervene to save a life. The Project is designed to decrease military suicides through human intervention in crisis events, referral to competent professional authority, public outreach to increase awareness, and de-stigmatization of mental health care.

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