According to a recent study published by the journal, PLOS ONE, vitamin D deficiency was associated with emotional, behavioral and peer relationship problems among older adolescents.
Adolescents are especially vulnerable to mental health issues. In fact, about 30% of adolescents develop emotional or behavioral problems before they reach adulthood. There are a variety of factors that may affect a child’s risk of exhibiting behavioral issues, including but not limited to family environment, socioeconomic status, education, stress and dietary habits.
In recent years, researchers have begun looking at the role of vitamin D status in mental health outcomes among adolescents. To date, research has found a relationship between vitamin D status and childhood depression, autism, sleep disorders, cognition and ADHD.
According to the German National Health Interview and Examination Survey for Children and Adolescents (KiGGS), vitamin D deficiency is highly prevalent (69%) in children between the ages of 7 and 13 years. This has lead researchers to hypothesize that vitamin D deficiency may negatively impact the mental health of German children.
Researchers collected data from 9,068 children between 3 and 17 years of age from May 2003 to May 2006. The parents of the children filled out the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaires (SDQ) regarding their child’s mental health status. A higher SDQ score indicates increased severity of problematic behaviors and emotional issues. The children were interviewed in person and received a medical examination to assess physical and mental health status. Additionally, all children had their serum 25(OH)D levels measured.
Here is what the researchers found:
- The average vitamin D status of all participants was 18.6 ng/ml (46.65 nmol/l).
- Vitamin D status was inversely associated with emotional problems (p < 0.01), peer relationship issues (p < 0.01) and rating on total behavioral difficulties among children (p < 0.01 for boys and p = 0.02 for girls).
- An increase of 10 ng/ml for boys and 10.2 ng/ml for girls was associated with a slight decrease in total behavioral difficulties (SDQ). This relationship was slightly stronger in boys compared to girls (p < 0.01 and p = 0.02, respectively).
- When dividing the children into two subsamples based on age, vitamin D deficiency was significantly associated with higher total SDQ ratings among older children (12-17 years), even after adjusting for confounding factors.
- Vitamin D deficiency was no longer significantly associated with mental health status among the younger age group (3-11 years) after adjusting for confounding factors.
The researchers concluded,
“Based on the large-scale cross-sectional study in a German population-based sample of children and adolescents we detected inverse associations between 25(OH)D concentrations and both parent- and self-rated SDQ scores of the total difficulties scale and different subscales with the strongest association in the subsample aged > 12-<18 years for both genders.”
The large, nationwide sample size and adjustment for a variety of confounding variables strengthened the findings of this study. However, the data did not obtain information regarding vitamin D supplementation, sunscreen use or family history of depression or schizophrenia. Additionally, the cross-sectional design limited the researcher’s ability to prove a causal relationship exists between vitamin D status and mental health issues among adolescents.
Therefore, researchers stated,
“…RCTs in children and adolescents are required to determine whether vitamin D is beneficial for mental health.”
Sturges, M. Vitamin D deficiency linked with behavioral problems among adolescents. The Vitamin D Council Blog & Newsletter, September, 2017.