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Low vitamin D status may play a role in depression among young college students

Posted on: December 15, 2014   by  Vitamin D Council


A recent study published in the journal Nutrients found that vitamin D levels were negatively associated with depression in healthy college students, even after adjusting for sun exposure.

Depression is a common mental health problem for college students. College students often feel overwhelmed and lonely, because they might be living alone for the first time and they must adapt to a new schedule.

According to a nationwide survey of college students from two and four year institutions, 30% of the students reported feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function.”

The high prevalence of both depression and vitamin D deficiency, coupled with the benefits to mood from sun exposure, have led researchers to hypothesize that vitamin D is involved in the development of depression.

Vitamin D helps regulate tyrosine hydroxylase, an enzyme used for the production of epinephrine, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Healthy amounts of these hormones are essential to regulate mood, stress, and energy.

Studies have yet to evaluate the relationship between vitamin D status and depression among healthy young adults.

In the present study, researchers from New Zealand enrolled 615 college students to examine the relationship between vitamin D status and depressive symptoms.

All participants completed a questionnaire, which included an assessment of daily sun exposure and measured depression. The researchers measured vitamin D levels to see if low levels were related to depressive symptoms defined by a questionnaire response.

The average age of the participants was 19.5 years and the average vitamin D status of all participants was 25.64 ng/ml.

After adjusting for age, gender, ethnic origin, body mass index, and time spent outdoors, young adults with a vitamin D status below 18 ng/ml were nearly twice as likely to report depressive symptoms compared to young adults with a vitamin D status above 32 ng/ml.

“In this population-based study of over 600 young adults, lower vitamin D status was associated with higher depression scores even after taking potential confounders including time spent outdoors into consideration,” the research team stated.

The researchers call for randomized controlled trials of supplementation with vitamin D on healthy young adults.


Polak M, et al. Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Concentrations and Depressive Symptoms among Young Adult Men and Women. Nutrients, 2014.

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