Vitamin D improves mood

Jacob Schor ND FABNO

January 26, 2009


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A recent literature review on Vitamin D and mood written by Alan Gaby, MD, starts out with the sentence,


 “One investigator (John Denver) reported anecdotally that sunshine on his shoulder made him happy. A recent study adds scientific support to that observation and suggests that the mood-elevating effect of sunshine is mediated by vitamin D.”

This opening line made me laugh and so I have decided to paraphrase Dr Gaby’s review here.

You can click on this u-tube link and have John Denver play his song in the background while you read this:

You should be able to finish reading this before the song is over.

Gaby starts out looking at a December 2008 study that reported on a double blind study in which researchers randomly gave vitamin D or placebo to 441 fat Norwegians.  The lower their starting vitamin D levels, the more likely they were to be depressed.  Subjects took either 20,000 IU, 40,000 IU or a placebo once a week for a year.  About ¾ of the participants completed the study and of those that did, the more vitamin D they took, the better they felt. Depression as measured by a standard questionnaire decreased by 33% in the group receiving 40,000 IU per week, by 20% in the group receiving 20,000 IU per week and by 5% in the placebo group, though the decrease in the last group was not statistically significant. 


 This isn’t the first study to report vitamin D makes people happier.    A double blind study from Australia published way back in 1998 showed that taking as little as 400 IU per day for five days produced a measurable improvement in mood.   I’ve mentioned this study in earlier newsletters as these patients were all suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Another study along the same theme was published a year later in 1999.  It reported on 15 patients with SAD who were randomly chosen to either get 100,000 IU of vitamin D-2 (no longer our first choice in Vitamin D) or two hours of phototherapy daily for a month.  The patients who received the vitamin D had their depression score improve 43% while the phototherapy group were no better.

The newsletter on vitamin D and Seasonal Affective Disorder:


J Intern Med. 2008 Dec;264(6):599-609. Epub 2008 Sep 10.Click here to read Links

    Effects of vitamin D supplementation on symptoms of depression in overweight and obese subjects: randomized double blind trial.

    Jorde R, Sneve M, Figenschau Y, Svartberg J, Waterloo K.

    Institute of Clinical Medicine, University of Tromsø, Tromsø, Norway.

    OBJECTIVES: The objective of the present study was to examine the cross-sectional relation between serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25-(OH) D] levels and depression in overweight and obese subjects and to assess the effect of vitamin D supplementation on depressive symptoms. DESIGN: Cross-sectional study and randomized double blind controlled trial of 20,000 or 40,000 IU vitamin D per week versus placebo for 1 year. SETTING: A total of 441 subjects (body mass index 28-47 kg m(-2), 159 men and 282 women, aged 21-70 years) recruited by advertisements or from the out-patient clinic at the University Hospital of North Norway. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) score with subscales 1-13 and 14-21. RESULTS: Subjects with serum 25(OH)D levels < 40 nmol L(-1) scored significantly higher (more depressive traits) than those with serum 25(OH)D levels > or = 40 nmol L(-1) on the BDI total [6.0 (0-23) versus 4.5 (0-28) (median and range)] and the BDI subscale 1-13 [2.0 (0-15) versus 1.0 (0-29.5)] (P < 0.05). In the two groups given vitamin D, but not in the placebo group, there was a significant improvement in BDI scores after 1 year. There was a significant decrease in serum parathyroid hormone in the two vitamin D groups without a concomitant increase in serum calcium. CONCLUSIONS: It appears to be a relation between serum levels of 25(OH)D and symptoms of depression. Supplementation with high doses of vitamin D seems to ameliorate these symptoms indicating a possible causal relationship.

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 1998 Feb;135(4):319-23.Click here to read Links

    Vitamin D3 enhances mood in healthy subjects during winter.

    Lansdowne AT, Provost SC.

    Department of Psychology, The University of Newcastle, Callaghan NSW, Australia.

    Mood changes synchronised to the seasons exist on a continuum between individuals, with anxiety and depression increasing during the winter months. An extreme form of seasonality is manifested as the clinical syndrome of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) with carbohydrate craving, hypersomnia, lethargy, and changes in circadian rhythms also evident. It has been suggested that seasonality and the symptoms of SAD may be due to changing levels of vitamin D3, the hormone of sunlight, leading to changes in brain serotonin. Forty-four healthy subjects were given 400 IU, 800 IU, or no vitamin D3 for 5 days during late winter in a random double-blind study. Results on a self-report measure showed that vitamin D3 significantly enhanced positive affect and there was some evidence of a reduction in negative affect. Results are discussed in terms of their implications for seasonality, SAD, serotonin, food preference, sleep, and circadian rhythms.

J Nutr Health Aging. 1999;3(1):5-7.Links

    Vitamin D vs broad spectrum phototherapy in the treatment of seasonal affective disorder.

    Gloth FM 3rd, Alam W, Hollis B.

    The Department of Medicine, The Union Memorial Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland 21218-2895, USA.

    Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is prevalent when vitamin D stores are typically low. Broad-spectrum light therapy includes wavelengths between 280-320 nm which allow the skin to produce vitamin D. This study was designed to test the hypothesis that vitamin D deficiency might play a role in SAD. A prospective, randomized controlled trial was conducted in a group of 15 subjects with SAD. Eight subjects received 100,000 I.U. of vitamin D and seven subjects received phototherapy. At the onset of treatment and after 1 month of therapy subjects were administered the Hamilton Depression scale, the SIGH-SAD, and the SAD-8 depression scale. All subjects also had serum levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25-OH D) measured before and 1 week after intervention therapy. All subjects receiving vitamin D improved in all outcome measures. The phototherapy group showed no significant change in depression scale measures. Vitamin D status improved in both groups (74% vitamin D group, p < 0.005 and 36% phototherapy group, p < 0.01). Improvement in 25-OH D was significantly associated with improvement in depression scale scores (r2=0.26; p=0.05). Vitamin D may be an important treatment for SAD. Further studies will be necessary to confirm these findings.