Research & Education

The Latest on Vitamin D and Mood Health

Vitamin D, which is commonly referred to as the “sunshine vitamin,” may support mood health. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that can be obtained through diet or supplementation, or it can be endogenously synthesized through exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D has a variety of crucial roles in the body, which includes promoting healthy cell growth and differentiation, immune health, bone health, and supporting healthy anti-inflammatory responses. Unfortunately, vitamin D deficiency affects approximately 42% of the U.S. population. Research on the potential association between vitamin D and positive mood health is growing.

There are various methods that vitamin D may potentially promote mood health. First, vitamin D receptors are distributed in several areas of the brain, including the limbic system, cerebellum, and cortex, which are involved in emotional processing. Second, vitamin D may potentially promote mood health and healthy stress responses by supporting a healthy gut microbial environment. Third, vitamin D may support hormonal balance (including serotonin synthesis), attenuate inflammatory responses, and promote circadian clock regulation. Finally, the results of clinical trials suggest that the sunlight exposure aiding vitamin D synthesis may help promote overall mood.

Although there are conflicting results of some of the reports, several systematic reviews, meta-analyses, and cross-sectional studies have revealed that suboptimal vitamin D status may be associated with various mental and neuropsychiatric disorders, including mood disorders in women who are pregnant or postpartum. Reports from Guzek and colleagues and Hoffman and colleagues suggest that patients with diabetes who are taking vitamin D supplements may experience improved mental health and quality of life. Authors, Vellekkat and Menon, Shaffer and colleagues, and Spedding, all suggest that individuals receiving vitamin D supplements may experience positive effects on their mental health. Cheng and colleagues concluded that individuals consuming vitamin D supplementation may exhibit reduced negative emotions.

Maintaining optimal vitamin D status through dietary consumption may be challenging, as few foods naturally contain vitamin D. Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines, fish liver oils, eggs from hens fed vitamin D, mushrooms exposed to sunlight or UV light, or fortified foods are food sources of vitamin D.

On the other hand, maintaining optimal vitamin D status through sunlight exposure may also present problems. Adequate UV sunlight exposure depends on the season, latitude, lifestyle choices, amount of skin exposed, and darker complexions. During sunny months, individuals may potentially achieve healthy vitamin D status in certain parts of the world through minimal sun exposure to the face, arms, and hands without sunscreen for 5 to 15 minutes per day. However, this may only be possible for a small population and should be balanced with sun safe practices. For those who have been advised to stay out of the sun, vitamin D supplementation may be clinically beneficial.

Research suggests that vitamin D may support overall mood health. Supplementing with vitamin D may help promote vitamin D status and mood health, particularly in individuals with suboptimal sunlight exposure and for those who do not consume adequate amounts of vitamin D-rich foods.

By Danielle Moyer, MS, CNS, LDN