Vitamin D and Mental Health

Dr. Manuel Schlipf
About the Author

Manuel Schlipf is a medical doctor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, Germany. In 2020 he started working as a new investigator of the VANTASTIC-Study (Part of Eat2beNice), which evaluates the effects of broad-spectrum supplementation on reducing impulsive, compulsive, and aggressive behavior in adolescents.

Now that autumn has arrived, the sunlight is fading, and leaves are falling. Our vitamin D levels are also at risk of falling because its synthesis in our bodies depends on exposure to the ultraviolet radiation within sunlight.  

What is vitamin D and why is it important?
The active form of vitamin D, calcitriol, acts as a hormone. In the target cells, it binds to the vitamin D receptor and produces effects on multiple locations. It regulates the concentration of calcium and phosphate and promotes the healthy growth and remodeling of our bones. Calcitriol also has other effects, such as balancing cell growth, neuromuscular, and immune functions as well as modulating immune responses.

Other sources of Vitamin D are certain foods such as fatty fish. In most countries, the usual diet alone does not contain enough vitamin D, so that the sun-dependent synthesis is necessary to supply the body adequately (1).

Unfortunately, Vitamin D deficiency is quite common worldwide. It can cause impaired bone mineralization and lead to bone-softening diseases like osteomalacia and subsequent bone damage. Moreover, Vitamin D deficiency is also discussed to play a role in non-skeletal diseases like diabetes, cancer, neurological, cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases. However, a preventive effect of supplementation of vitamin D on non-skeletal diseases has not been found and a supplementation of the general population is not recommended (1).

Vitamin D and mental health
Furthermore, the role of Vitamin D in mental health is becoming of great interest in research. Lower levels of vitamin D are associated with a number of psychiatric conditions, in particular schizophrenia (2). Other studies revealed that children with ADHD show vitamin D deficiency more often than healthy children (3). Recent clinical trials in vitamin D deficient children with ADHD suggest that a supplementation of vitamin D in addition to standard treatment leads to further reduction of ADHD symptoms (4).

In the VANTASTIC-Study (Part of Eat2beNice), we intend to evaluate the effects of broad-spectrum supplementation including vitamin D, on reducing impulsive, compulsive, and aggressive behavior in adolescents (5).

But what is the link between vitamin D and the brain? Vitamin D receptors are expressed by cells in most organs, including the brain. There is evidence for diverse functions of vitamin D both in the developing and the adult brain, for example, differentiation of brain cells, regulation of axonal growth and calcium signaling in the brain. These processes – if impaired due to vitamin D deficiency – could contribute to the development of mental diseases (2).

So what is there to learn? During autumn and winter, going out and catching some sunshine is an especially good idea – even on cloudy days. And take your whole family along; they can all use a little extra vitamin D. It’s free after all.

Further reading
What are micronutrients?

The importance of vitamin D intake when sunlight is scarce:

Continued micronutrient treatment associated with long-term ADHD symptom improvements: