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The prevalence of depression is continuing to escalate in society. We attribute much of it to the increasing amount of stress so many of us experience in our everyday lives. But there may be something else at play here as well: low vitamin D.

Here in Australia, the land of sunshine and kangaroos, there are a large number of the population who are vitamin D deficient. We have grown up with the “slip, slop, slap” program of always covering up, and anointing ourselves with sunscreen to protect our skin from the ageing effects of sun damage and risk of skin cancer. But it appears some of us have done this a little too well and as a consequence have developed vitamin D deficiency. Depending on the time of year we need roughly 20 minutes of sun exposure on bare skin to manufacture enough of the vitamin. But it appears that many of us don’t manage to achieve that.

What do we need vitamin D for?
We use vitamin D to help absorb calcium and promote healthy bones.
Lack of vitamin D is associated with rickets, osteomalacia, certain cancers (breast, colon and prostate, heart disease, weight gain …and depression.

A case report recently presented at the Endocrine Society in Houston, revealed that 3 women with moderate to severe depression, who were found to be vitamin D deficient, noted substantial improvement in their symptoms after they received treatment with the vitamin. They did not change their antidepressant medication or any other environmental factor during this time.

They received treatment with vitamin D replacement over a three-month period, and restored their vitamin levels to normal. The three women showed a marked improvement in their depression symptoms on testing with the Beck Depression score.

Obviously with such a small report there is a need for larger randomised controlled trials to substantiate these findings, but the implication is that vitamin D deficiency may exacerbate the symptoms of depression and that it could be worthwhile considering testing for the deficiency and treating it accordingly if someone presents with depression.

The type of vitamin D most suitable for supplementation is thought to be vitamin D3, the type found in oily fish and eggs. Recently, new technology is now providing us with mushrooms, which contain vitamin D naturally, with boosted levels of the vitamin – produced by exposing the mushrooms to UVB light. (Which makes me think of mushrooms lying on sunbeds!)

All this talk of mushrooms is making me hungry. Perhaps it’s time to rustle up some vitamin D enhancing mushrooms on toast.
How do you like to take your vitamin D?

Endocrine Society (2012, June 25). Treating vitamin D deficiency may improve depression.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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