Vitamin D3 Benefits for Depression, Anxiety, and More
Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, is important for a healthy immune system, bones, and nerves. Besides playing crucial roles in your physical health, it is also vital to your emotional health. Read on for how you can benefit from vitamin D and how you can get more safely.
What's in This Post
|Vitamin D Benefits|
|How Vitamin D Benefits Mental Health|
|How Vitamin D Benefits Anxiety: Research|
|Vitamin D and Depression Research|
|Vitamin D2 Versus D3|
|Natural Sources of Vitamin D|
|Vitamin D Levels|
|What Causes Vitamin D Deficiency?|
|Vitamin D Sources: Supplements|
|Vitamin D Negative Side Effects|
|Vitamin D Supplement and Medication Interactions|
|Vitamin D Dosage|
|Vitamin D Supplement Examples|
Notes: The contents of this post are not intended to be medical advice. It is always advisable to consult with your personal medical professionals for individualized recommendations. I may receive small commissions for purchases from links on this site, but they don't impact your cost. I offer them for your convenience.
Vitamin D Benefits
In an Instagram Live interview with Jennifer Garner on Sept. 10, 2020, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, touted the immune-boosting benefits of vitamin D:
"If you're deficient in vitamin D, that does have an impact on your susceptibility to infection. . . I would not mind recommending, and I do it myself, taking vitamin D supplements.”
Why is vitamin D important?
Research shows that healthy levels of vitamin D may:
promote healthy bones and teeth
boost the immune system
assist your body's use of glucose (sugar)
improve heart health
lower blood pressure
reduce risk of developing multiple sclerosis
How Vitamin D Benefits Mental Health
Vitamin D is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrient—both of which have been shown to help mental health.
I have seen people have a 180-degree change from anxiety to calm when they raised their vitamin D up from unhealthy low levels.
Vitamin D is involved in many anxiety-related physical functions, including (1-2):
production of the calming neurotransmitter serotonin,
use of GABA,
movement of neurotransmitters, and
optimum health of nerve cells (this is where vitamin D's antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities come in).
How Vitamin D Benefits Anxiety: Research
Data collected on 7,500 British people who were followed for fifty years found a strong correlation between low vitamin D and both depression and panic. (3)
A study by the Institute of Endocrinology and National Institute of Mental Health in the Czech Republic compared vitamin D levels in three groups: forty men and women with depression, forty with an anxiety disorder, and healthy matches. Those with depression and those with anxiety had similarly low vitamin D levels when compared to the healthy control subjects. (4)
Low vitamin D levels corresponded with both depression and anxiety in seventy-five fibromyalgia patients. (5)
When 200 stroke patients were followed for a month, low vitamin D levels were associated with the development of post-stroke anxiety. (6)
Studies with rodents have shown an increase in anxiety behaviors when the vitamin D receptor gene is absent, (7) and reduced anxiety-related behaviors with vitamin D supplementation. (8)
Vitamin D and Depression Research
This is just a small sample of vitamin D depression research:
Examination of data collected on 8,000 US residents between the ages of 15 and 39 showed that people with low vitamin D were much more likely to have depression than people with higher levels of the vitamin. (9)
A couple thousand people in the Netherlands divided into three groups (current diagnosis of depression, past diagnosis of depression, and non-depression) were compared for vitamin D levels. The comparisons were controlled for lifestyle—including sunlight exposure—to eliminate confounding factors. Low vitamin D levels were associated with both the presence of depression and the severity of symptoms. (10)
600 young adults in New Zealand from the general population were tested for depression symptoms and vitamin D levels. Results—adjusted for time spent outdoors, etc.—showed that those whose vitamin D fell in the lowest quarter of the values had more depression symptoms than those whose values fell in the highest quarter of the values. (11)
Many studies show that vitamin D supplementation may help alleviate depression. In his 2014 examination of previous studies regarding vitamin D and depression, Simon Spelding concluded that vitamin D had a similar effect to antidepressant medication. (12)
Vitamin D2 Versus D3
There are 2 forms of vitamin D: D2 and D3.
Your body doesn’t use D2 itself. It must convert it to D3 before plugging it into your body’s vitamin D chemical reactions. (The D2 to D3 conversion is a questionable process which I get more into in my book Feed Your Calm: Anti-Anxiety Anti-Stress Diet and Supplement Tips for Stress Resilience.)
Natural Sources of Vitamin D
Where can you get vitamin D?
The best source of vitamin D3 is sunlight. (For more on this source of vitamin D, check out this post: Tips for How to Get Vitamin D from the Sun .)
There are a few foods containing vitamin D, but they get a little tricky because animal sources give you D3 while plant sources, such as mushrooms, offer only D2.
What foods have vitamin D3?
the oil of fatty fish like wild-caught salmon, herring, or sardines, and
pasture-raised eggs. (Hens need exposure to sun to have vitamin D in their eggs but hens on mass-production farms are kept indoors.)
Vitamin D Levels
Recommended Dietary Allowances for vitamin D are given in two ways: IU (International Units) and μg (micrograms). Each number is given in amounts recommended per day to maintain a healthy level.
|Recommended Vitamin D Levels for Men & Women||IU /day||μg/day|
|under 70 yrs old||600||15|
|over 70 yrs old||800||20|
A Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) of 4000 IU/day or 100 μg/day has also been established for vitamin D. This upper limit only pertains to supplements because your body won’t over-make vitamin D from the sun. The US Food and Nutrition Board suggests staying under the limit unless supervised by a doctor. (Doctors will often prescribe supplement levels that go way over this limit for a short period of time if your blood tests show a low result for vitamin D.)
What Causes Vitamin D Deficiency?
The best way to get vitamin D is from the sun, but if cloudy weather or other conditions get in the way of you achieving enough sun exposure, you may benefit from supplementing with vitamin D3 because food sources of the vitamin are not thought to be adequate to get you to optimal levels. (13)
Your need to supplement may change throughout the year as your sun exposure changes.
Vitamin D Sources: Supplements
Vitamin D supplements are available in two forms: D2 and D3. Remember that D3 is more useable by your body and therefore what we're looking for in supplements. (14-15)
More on specific supplements in a minute, but first we need to talk about the potential of taking too much vitamin D.
Vitamin D Negative Side Effects
Vitamin D is fat soluble so it can build up in your body.
Water-soluble vitamins like the Bs or C will get flushed out through your urine if you take too much, but the fat-soluble vitamins are retained if you overdo the supplements.
Too much vitamin D can have a negative impact on your body systems, including interfering with calcium getting laid down in your bones.
You can’t get too much D from the sun as your body will just stop making it when you’ve hit ideal levels. You can, however, overdo intake from supplements.
Vitamin D Test
It can be particularly beneficial to do blood tests to check your baseline vitamin D amount before supplementing and then monitor levels with testing while you supplement so you can hit ideal levels.
If your vitamin D levels are low, a doctor will typically prescribe short-term high doses above the UL to get your levels up to normal, but you should only megadose with a doctor’s supervision.
There are at-home vitamin D tests such as this one by Everlywell. (I'm not attesting to the accuracy of this particular test kit. The exact test kit that I successfully used in the past is no longer available.)
Vitamin D Supplement and Medication Interactions
Vitamin supplements can sometimes cause negative reactions when combined with pharmaceutical medications.
Vitamin D supplements may cause harm when used with some statins and diuretics according to the NIH vitamin D factsheet.
Talk to your physician before starting supplements if you are on medications. You can also do a check of medication/supplement interactions on sites dedicated to this function, such as Medscape's Drugchecker.
Vitamin D Dosage
Dr. Leslie Korn recommends the following supplementation dosage for adult men and women in her book Nutrition Essentials for Mental Health: A Complete Guide to the Food-Mood Connection: (16)
- 2000–4000 IU/day
I see that most vitamin D supplements come in 5000 IU doses.
If you have vitamin D deficiency, a doctor will likely prescribe higher doses, but be very careful about taking large amounts on your own because of the possibility of overdosing that I mentioned above.
Vitamin D Supplement Examples
1. Rhonda P. Patrick and Bruce N. Ames, “Vitamin D and the Omega-3 Fatty Acids Control Serotonin Synthesis and Action, Part 2: Relevance for ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, and Impulsive Behavior,” FASEB Journal 29, no. 6 (2015): 2207–2222, https://doi.org/10.1096/fj.14-268342.
2. M. Wrzosek, J. Lukaszkiewicz, and A. Jakubczyk, “Vitamin D and the Central Nervous System,” Pharmacology Reports 65 (2013): 271–8.
3. Jane Maddock et al., “Vitamin D and Common Mental Disorders in Mid-Life: Cross-Sectional and Prospective Findings,” Clinical Nutrition 32, no. 5 (2013): 758–764, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clnu.2013.01.006.
4. M. Bičíková et al., “Vitamin D in Anxiety and Affective Disorders,” Physiological Research 64, Supplement 2 (2015): S101–S103.
5. D. J. Armstrong et al., “Vitamin D Deficiency Is Associated with Anxiety and Depression in Fibromyalgia,” Clinical Rheumatology 26, no. 4 (2006): 551–554, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10067-006-0348-5.
6. Chaowen Wu et al., “Association between Serum Levels of Vitamin D and the Risk of Post-Stroke Anxiety,” Medicine 95, no. 18 (2016): e3566, https://doi.org/10.1097/md.0000000000003566.
7. Allan V. Kalueff et al., “Increased Anxiety in Mice Lacking Vitamin D Receptor Gene,” NeuroReport 15, no. 8 (2004): 1271–1274, https://doi.org/10.1097/01.wnr.0000129370.04248.92.
8. Julia Fedotova, Svetlana Pivina, and Anastasia Sushko, “Effects of Chronic Vitamin D3 Hormone Administration on Anxiety-Like Behavior in Adult Female Rats after Long-Term Ovariectomy,” Nutrients 9, no. 1 (2017): 28, https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9010028.
9. Vijay Ganji et al., “Serum Vitamin D Concentrations Are Related to Depression in Young Adult US Population: The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey,” International Archives of Medicine 3, no. 1 (2010): 29, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2996356/.
10. Y. Milaneschi et al., “The Association between Low Vitamin D and Depressive Disorders,” Molecular Psychiatry 19, no. 4 (2013): 444–451, https://doi.org/10.1038/mp.2013.36.
11. Maria Polak et al., “Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Concentrations and Depressive Symptoms among Young Adult Men and Women,” Nutrients 6, no. 11 (2014): 4720–4730, https://doi.org/10.3390/nu6114720.
12. Simon Spedding, “Vitamin D and Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis Comparing Studies with and without Biological Flaws,” Nutrients 6, no. 4 (2014): 1501–1518, https://doi.org/10.3390/nu6041501.
13. Ulrike Lehmann et al., “Efficacy of Fish Intake on Vitamin D Status: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 102, no. 4 (2015): 837–847, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.114.105395.
14. Laura Tripkovic et al., “Comparison of Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3 Supplementation in Raising Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Status: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 95, no. 6 (2012): 1357–1364, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.111.031070.
15. Victoria F. Logan et al., “Long-Term Vitamin D3 Supplementation Is More Effective Than Vitamin D2 in Maintaining Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Status over the Winter Months,” British Journal of Nutrition 109, no. 06 (2012): 1082–1088, https://doi.org/10.1017/s0007114512002851.
16. Leslie E. Korn, Nutrition Essentials for Mental Health: A Complete Guide to the Food-Mood Connection (New York: W. W. Norton, 2016), 267.
- Ann Silvers