Vitamin D and Students´ Mental Health

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Hannah Dorsman
About the Author

Hannah Dorsman is a Cognitive Neuroscience Master Student at Radboud University, Nijmegen. She is interested in the mental health of adolescents and wrote this blogpost for a course in science communication.


The exam season is almost upon us. Days in the library are getting longer and the urge to just go for some comfort food in the evening is growing. Unfortunately, this also means that our vitamin D levels are at a risk of falling. This can have a negative impact on our mood and overall mental health, which is exactly what we do not want during the busy weeks surrounding our exams.

WHAT IS VITAMIN D?

Truth is, Vitamin D is not actually a vitamin, but a hormone that takes care of the uptake of calcium and phosphate in our bodies (1). Vitamin D is therefore also important for the healthy growth of our bones and teeth, for our muscle function, and for the functioning of our immune system. The hormone is present in several types of food, such as fatty fish, milk, yogurt and butter. Besides this, vitamin D is one of the few vitamins that the body can create itself using sunlight.

VITAMIN D DEFICIENCY

Unfortunately, the number of people who are deficient in vitamin D is increasing worldwide (2). A vitamin D deficiency can have several health effects, such as an increased risk of skin disorders, bone fractures, fatigue, pain, apathy and cardiovascular diseases.

VITAMIN D AND MOOD

Recently, more attention has been given to the impact of vitamin D deficiency on our mental health. Multiple studies have shown a positive association between depression and vitamin D deficiency (3). Another study revealed that vitamin D supplementation in women during the winter reduced their depressive symptoms (4). Similarly, research has shown that vitamin D supplementation also improved the mood of people experiencing negative emotions (5). This means that a lack of vitamin D is found together with symptoms of depression and that increasing vitamin D intake could reduce them.  It is important to keep in mind that there is a lot we still don’t know about the exact way in which vitamin D influences the brain. But it is now thought that vitamin D has an effect in 3 different ways: it can regulate gene expression of specific genes relevant to mood, it can modulate the immune system and it can regulate neuronal calcium levels. All these

processes are impaired when there is a deficiency of vitamin D and this can lead to a worse mood and depressive symptoms.  

What does this mean for us students? My advice would be: Take breaks in between studying to go outside for a nice walk with your study buddies and treat yourself to a delicious, nutritious meal in the evening. This will not only improve your mood but is also fun to do and will probably give you some more motivation to study! 

 References

  1. Vitamin D
  2. Prevalence of Vitamin D deficiency
  3. Vitamin D and depression
  4. Vitamin D and depressive symptoms in women
  5. The effect of vitamin D supplementation on negative emotions