How vitamin D supports brain health and works to reduce depression risk

Recent research has shown that vitamin D supports overall brain health, and that this vital nutrient can even help relieve depression. Estimates suggest that at least one billion people struggle with vitamin D deficiency worldwide, and another 350 million suffer with depression. While it may not be a cure-all, ensuring that you are getting enough vitamin D can help take the edge off of a depressed mind — and can help support better overall health, too.

Multiple studies have shown that there is a direct link between vitamin D deficiency and depression, but vitamin D is needed for much more than that. The “sunshine vitamin,” like other nutrients, plays multiple roles in the human body. For example, vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, as well as a healthy brain.

Understanding vitamin D and depression

As Be Brain Fit reports, ensuring your brain is healthy is the “first line of defense” when it comes to keeping depression at bay. Vitamin D is essential for brain health across the lifespan. It’s essential for proper brain development in the womb and early childhood, and it helps keep your brain healthy as you age by fending off cognitive decline. The benefits of vitamin D can be felt regardless of age.

In seniors, the benefits of vitamin D are especially notable. As sources explain, vitamin D deficiency in older adults is linked to multiple brain disorders including depression, dementia, borderline disorder and schizophrenia.

Conversely, studies have shown that supplementing with vitamin D can boost mood, improve memory and support overall brain function.

How vitamin D works in relationship to depression is not yet fully understood but researchers know that it helps. As a study published in 2017 concluded:

Clearly, eating food that is rich of vitamin D, taking dietary supplements to improve vitamin D deficiency, and spending time in the sunshine and/ or exercising outdoors may improve mental well-being in patients with depression. Although several issues in the relationship between depression and low levels of vitamin D remain controversial and are in need of further studies, the literature is already providing enough data to recommend screening for and treating vitamin D deficiency in subjects with depression, which is easy, cost-effective and may improve depression outcomes.

In their research, the study authors note that treating depression with vitamin D supplementation can take time and that it’s not an instantaneous remedy. The team also notes that there are many factors which can contribute to depression beyond just vitamin D deficiency.

Be Brain Fit reports that while the mechanisms by which vitamin D works to fight depression are not yet confirmed, it is believed that vitamin D increases production of brain chemicals called monoamines. Monoamines include “feel-good” neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.

Science has also shown that vitamin D deficiency may also promote inflammation in the brain –leading some to posit that perhaps inflammation is the true cause of depression.

More about vitamin D

In the United States, it’s estimated that 42 percent of people don’t get enough vitamin D. The daily recommended intake of vitamin D is 400 to 800 IU (International Units), but some research indicates that vitamin D needs may be much higher than that — especially for people who aren’t regularly exposed to sunlight.

Experts say that blood levels of vitamin D should be between 20 and 30 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL).

There are a few ways in which one can get vitamin D. Sun exposure is a great way to get your vitamin D, but it can be an unreliable source due to differences in sunlight across seasons and time of day, as well as differences in absorption from person to person. Foods that contain vitamin D include fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines, along with pastured eggs, mushrooms and yogurt.

Vitamin D supplements are a great option to help ensure you’re getting enough, but you should always speak with a naturopath or other trusted holistic care professional before beginning a new supplement. Learn more at

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