There seems to be a lot of talk about Vitamin D deficiency lately, particularly in relation to brain disorders.
I’ve always associated vitamin D with healthy bones, but really, it is important for good overall health. Vitamin D helps our hearts, muscles, lungs and brains work well. Unlike other vitamins, most vitamin D does not come from what we eat, but rather from our exposure to the sun (and possibly from supplements).
With all the emphasis on staying out of the sun and/or wearing sunscreen these days, it’s not surprising that many of us are now deficient in vitamin D.
Another unique characteristic of vitamin D is the fact that our bodies turn it into a hormone called “activated vitamin D” or “calcitriol.”
Some of the areas in which vitamin D is known to be helpful include:
- Immune system
- Muscle function
- Cardiovascular function
- Respiratory system
- Brain development
- Anti-cancer effects
Specifically, vitamin D deficiency has been associated with certain cancers, asthma, type-II diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, Alzheimer’s, and some autoimmune diseases including multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s and type 1 diabetes.
In this study published in July 2017, researchers looked at the vitamin D levels and cognitive function in patients who experienced psychosis. They found an association between low levels of vitamin D and decreased processing speed and verbal fluency. The authors suggested the next step should be randomized controlled trials of vitamin D supplementation in those with psychosis and vitamin D deficiency.
Another study, published in Psychiatry Research in August 2017, looked at whether vitamin B12, homocysteine folic acid, and vitamin D might be connected to childhood obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Fifty-two children and adolescents with OCD and thirty controls without OCD were involved in the study, which found that vitamin D levels were lower in study participants with OCD and also had a negative correlation with the severity of the disease — the lower the vitamin D level, the worse the OCD. The researchers concluded that vitamin D deficiency appears to be connected to childhood OCD and might even be a risk factor for developing the disorder.
So what do these studies actually mean? Are schizophrenia and OCD caused by a vitamin D deficiency? Or does having these brain disorders somehow cause the deficiency? Both? Neither?
In this article, Dr. John M. Grohol explains why it’s complicated.
While he discusses vitamin D deficiency in relation to mood disorders (specifically depression), the premise is the same. More quality research (specifically more randomized controlled trials) is needed, and even then, it’s unlikely that adding vitamin D supplements to our diets will bring about any miraculous changes.
Still, the benefits of vitamin D for our overall health are real, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, as much as possible, certainly can’t hurt when it comes to managing all types of illnesses, including brain disorders.