One may have thought that vitamin D was only associated with bone density, skin conditions, sunlight exposure, or cardiovascular functioning. While it is commonly known throughout the medical and psychological community that vitamin D is linked to brain development and functioning, recent studies suggest that a deficiency in vitamin D may correlate to brain dysfunction and the onset of psychosis, including major depression and schizophrenia.
As cited by Brauser (2013), researchers conducting a study in the United Kingdom determined that patients at an in-patient psychiatric facility who presented with first-episodes of psychosis (FEC) had very low levels of vitamin D, and surprisingly were three times more likely to be completely deficient in vitamin D than their healthy same-aged peers. Vitamin D is unlike many other vitamins. It is also a steroid hormone that releases neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. According to Greenblatt (2011), researchers found vitamin D receptors on cells in the region of the brain associated with depression. Greenblatt further stated that numerous research studies determined that low levels of vitamin D3 have been linked to Seasonal Affective Disorder; affecting serotonin levels in the brain.
While research studies do show a link between vitamin D deficiency and depression, it is unclear whether the relationship is causal. Brauser quoted Dr. John Lally, a clinical research fellow at United Kingdom National Psychosis Unit, stating: “we are not sure whether vitamin D deficiency is part of the psychosis itself or the result of lifestyle choices.” Dr. Lally further said that extended periods of hospitalization and the use of anticonvulsants may also cause a deficiency in vitamin D. Interestingly, further examination is needed to determine the causal relationship between vitamin D and the early onset of psychosis. Perhaps the takeaway for clinicians is to consider vitamin D levels in their patients and its impact on their mental health.
Brauser, D. (2013). Vitamin D deficiency linked to onset of psychosis. Retrieved from http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/813637
Greenblatt, J. M. (2011). Psychological consequences of Vitamin D deficiency. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-breakthrough-depression-solution/201111/psychological-consequences-vitamin-d-deficiency
David J. Wright, MA., MSW
WKPIC Doctoral Intern