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Low Vitamin D Levels Linked to Increased Depression in Older Adults

posted 03:05 AM EST, Mon May 17, 2010

Failing to get enough of the sunshine vitamin might increase your risks for depression, as well as a host of other chronic conditions.

Vitamin D, the vitamin the body manufactures from sunlight exposure, plays a role in heart health, asthma, bone health and other chronic illnesses – and according to researchers at the National Institute of Aging in Baltimore, low levels of vitamin D are also associated with increased levels of depression in older adults.

The determine this, the researchers enlisted almost 1000 subjects (531 women and 423 men) over the age of 65 and followed this group over a 6 year period.

At the beginning of the study, 42% of the women and 18% of the men met the criteria for depression and 75 of the women and 50% of the men had insufficient vitamin D levels in the body.

Over a 6 year period:

  • Women who had a vitamin D insufficiency showed a greater decline in mood symptoms at both 3 and 6 years into the study than women with sufficient Vitamin D
  • Women with a vitamin D insufficiency who began the study as non depressed were twice as likely to become depressed over the 6 year period as women who began as non depressed with sufficient vitamin D

The researchers are quick to point out that their study results do not prove that low levels of vitamin D cause depression, only that there is a correlation between depression and insufficient vitamin D – it may be that other lifestyle factors that cause vitamin D insufficiency are the more significant causes of depression (such as ill health and a loss of mobility leading to more time spent inside, for example).

Because of the strong correlation however, the researchers suggest further study into the link between depression and vitamin D and hope that one day, vitamin treatments might be used to improve the emotional health of older adults, writing, “Preventing vitamin D deficiency in the elderly may become in the future a strategy to prevent the development of depressive mood in the elderly and avoid its deleterious consequences on health. In addition, normalization of vitamin D levels may be part of any depression treatment plans in older patients.”

The full research results can be read in the May 5th edition of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

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