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Vitamin D can ward off depression this winter, psychiatrists say

vitamin d depressionNeed another excuse to take a sunny holiday? No? Well consider this a bit of scientific reasoning you have save for a rainy day.

We already know, courtesy a recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, that vitamin D from fish oil can help ward off strokes, heart attacks, even cancer.

Now, as winter sets in on this part of the world, we are being reminded that vitamin D may play a crucial role in mental health.

According to a landmark study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, participants (there were 80 in the trial) with the lowest levels of vitamin D were 11 times more prone to depression.

The findings of that study are echoed by numerous other experts in the field, including Marissa Flaherty, MD, of the Department of Psychiatry, The University of Maryland’s School of Medicine in Baltimore.

“People who were vitamin D deficient and depressed seemed to react best for supplements, but there was some evidence that supplements improved depressive symptoms in people who had a normal level of vitamin D,” Flaherty told Medscape Medical News recently. “During my third year of settlement, I noticed that many of my depressed patients had very low vitamin D levels, and when I supplemented their vitamin D, their depressive symptoms, especially their fatigue and energy levels would be improved,” she added.

Flaherty thinks a test should become routine.

“I think all doctors should check vitamin D levels and supplement if necessary,” she said. “There is no harm in supplementing vitamin D, and most have low vitamin D.”

But some in the scientic community say there needs to be more evidence of a link between vitamin D deficiency and depression. Responding to a 2014 review published in Psychiatric Times that claimed there was no solid evidence of a link, Dr. James Phelps said the way the studies were conducted may be to blame.

“At least 2 more meta-analyses have been published, the most recent in 2015, which reached a similar conclusion regarding vitamin D as a treatment for depression: no significant benefit,” Phelps notes. “But wait. You wouldn’t set out to test the benefits of a cholesterol-lowering drug in people whose cholesterol was already low, right? And you would measure cholesterol levels at the end of the trial to demonstrate that the desired reductions were significant, relative to a placebo. Surprisingly, many of the tests of vitamin D have not been designed thus.”

Phelps says a newer randomized trial conducted by Zahra Sepehrmanesh and published in the The Journal of Nutrition suggest Vitamin D may in fact treat depression and that the dosage may be key.

“After years of skepticism, I’ve finally found some evidence in the Sepehrmanesh study that vitamin D actually might be a treatment for depression —but not at doses we might routinely use (eg, 600 to 2000 IU per day).14 It appears that these lower doses have not been properly studied as yet. Omega-3 fatty acids have far more data in support of their use in depression (as long as they’re EPA-rich, according to one important meta-analysis),” he adds.

Earlier this year, a smaller study found that 15 of 17 male psychiatric in-patients were vitamin D deficient.

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