A Vitamin D deficiency is associated with an increased risk for depression.
Low levels of Vitamin D may contribute to poorly regulated mood and behavior, as a deficiency can impair cognitive function and brain health.
While getting more Vitamin D isn't likely to resolve depression on its own, it might help improve your mood.
This article was medically reviewed by David A. Merrill, MD, PhD, psychiatrist and director of the Pacific Brain Health Center at Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John's Health Center.
This story is part of Insider's guide to Depression.
Vitamin D has many functions in the body, including maintaining good bone, brain, and heart health. In fact, there's evidence to suggest that lower levels of Vitamin D are associated with depression.
However, that doesn't mean getting more Vitamin D alone can prevent or treat depression. Here's what you need to know about the relationship between vitamin D and depression.
Vitamin D deficiency and depression
A vitamin D deficiency may contribute to depression. For example, one review of 13 studies with over 31,000 participants found that those with a vitamin D deficiency had an increased risk for depression, when compared to those with higher levels of Vitamin D.
"Low levels of vitamin D are associated with both major and minor depression, as well as mood disorders and faster cognitive decline," says Robin Foroutan, MS, RDN, HHC, integrative medicine dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The average adult needs around 600 to 800 international units (IU) of vitamin D a day. For reference, a serving of salmon contains roughly 400 IU. However, few foods naturally have enough Vitamin D to get your daily dose.
In fact, the most common way to attain it is through sunlight, as vitamin D is synthesized by the skin in response to ultraviolet light. You should try to get around 15 minutes of sunlight between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., three times a week, in order to get enough vitamin D.
Does getting more vitamin D help with depression?
Improving Vitamin D levels may help promote general health and a stronger sense of well-being. However, research hasn't proven that getting more vitamin D is a sufficient stand-alone treatment for depression.
For example, a 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found there was no effect when vitamin D was supplemented at 4,000 IUs in those with depression versus a placebo.
And a 2019 review of patients with depression that supplemented with 70 micrograms (approximately 2,800 IUs) of vitamin D3 also found no change after supplementation.
"We do not have sufficient evidence to recommend this as a first line treatment for depression," says Dorothy Sit, MD, a psychiatrist at Northwestern Medicine.
Instead, your doctor will likely recommend a combination of therapy and medication as the first step for treating depression. Taken together with some key lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise and eating healthy, you may be able to reduce depressive symptoms.
What foods have vitamin D
Even if Vitamin D won't fix your depression on its own, it's still important to incorporate more Vitamin D into your diet if you have a deficiency.
Vitamin D is found in few foods naturally, and in relatively small amounts. The best sources include:
Salmon and other fatty fish
Some foods are also fortified with vitamin D, meaning that more is added in. These commonly include:
Moreover, if you're interested in taking a vitamin D supplement, your doctor can check your vitamin D levels and determine the proper dose you may need.
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