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Vitamin D supplementation may improve mental health among women with type 2 diabetes

Posted on: November 21, 2017   by  Missy Sturges & John Canell, MD


For 14 years, the Vitamin D Council has been stating that when it comes to vitamin D, dose is everything. However, studies are continuing to use 400 (10ug), 800 (20 ug) or 1,000 IU (25 ug) per day to evaluate whether vitamin D may impact a particular health outcome. These doses fail to offer much benefit, as they are too low to enable people to reach vitamin D sufficiency.

However, the tides appear to be changing. A new study published in the Journal of Diabetes Research discovered that weekly physiological doses of vitamin D2 helped improve depression and anxiety among women with type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) is a highly prevalent metabolic disorder that primarily results from chronic obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. In fact, at least 29.1 million individuals in the United States have been diagnosed with T2DM, and researchers estimate an additional 8.1 million people are unaware they have this disease.

Those with T2DM are all too familiar with the hardships that accompany this disease. Between counting carbohydrates before each meal, administering daily insulin injections and the financial burden from medical care expenses, it’s comes as no surprise to learn that mental health issues follow this diagnosis.

One individual reached out to the Vitamin D Council for guidance:

“Since I developed T2DM, I have lost interest in eating out and socializing with friends, which used to be a couple of my favorite past times. Can vitamin D help get me back on track?”

Past research suggests vitamin D may be a useful tool in helping manage both T2DM and depression. In fact, vitamin D supplementation has been shown to help improve markers of T2DM and depression, independent of one another. However, until now, no research to date has evaluated whether vitamin D supplementation may improve mental health status among women with T2DM (a group more likely to experience depression).

In a recent study funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH), known as the Sunshine Study, researchers aimed to determine whether vitamin D supplementation improved mental health status among women with T2DM.

A total of 50 women with T2DM and symptoms of depression were included in the study. All participants received weekly supplementation of 50,000 IU vitamin D2 per week for a total of 6 months. The researchers used several standard tools to evaluate the participant’s mental and physical health status.

Here is what the researchers found:

  • A total of 92% attended all of the required visits for the study.
  • Total 25(OH)D levels increased from an average of 19 ng/ml (47.5 nmol/l) at baseline, to 34.29 ng/ml (85.73 nmol/l) after 3 months and 37.6 ng/ml (94 nmol/l) after 6 months (p < 0.001).
  • The participants experienced a significant improvement in depression and anxiety symptoms, as well as mental health status (p < 0.0001).
  • After adjusting for several confounding variables, the relationship between vitamin D supplementation and depression remained significant (p < 0.0001).
  • Though not statistically significant, those who were not taking mood stabilizing medications experienced an improved response from vitamin D supplementation (p = 0.07).

The researchers summarized their findings:

“Findings indicated that for depressed women with T2DM, weekly vitamin D2 supplementation for a period of six months significantly improved depression even after controlling for race, season of enrollment, baseline vitamin D, baseline depression, and BMI.”

As always, it is important to note the study’s limitations. The researcher’s chose to supplement the participants with large, weekly doses of vitamin D2 instead of daily doses of D3, which has been proven to be more efficient in raising and maintaining healthy vitamin D levels. In addition, the lack of control group prevented the researchers from eliminating the risk of placebo effect. Lastly, average vitamin D levels did not reach optimal range (40-60 ng/ml) after 6 months of supplementing with this dose. Nevertheless, the researchers presented promising findings.

Due to the safety, affordability and potential mental and physical health benefits of maintaining healthy vitamin D levels for patients with diabetes, the Vitamin D Council recommends adults supplement with 5,000-10,000 IU vitamin D3 daily. This is physiological dosing; to determine which dose offers the optimal treatment effect, researchers must use pharmacological doses of vitamin D3.

If you have T2DM and found that vitamin D has impacted your health, please email the Vitamin D Council team at [email protected] to share your story.


Sturges, M. & Cannell, JJ. Vitamin D supplementation may improve mental and physical health among women with type 2 diabetes. The Vitamin D Council Blog & Newsletter, 11/2017.


Penckofer, S. et al. Vitamin D Supplementation Improves Mood in Women with Type 2 Diabetes. Journal of Diabetes Research. 2017.

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