Vitamin D has received a lot of attention lately from medical researchers because of its wide range of effects upon the body and the mind. As a primary care physician working in the Idaho Rocky Mountains, a large number of my patients live in canyons and gulches that run throughout the mountains, where they receive little direct sunlight. The result is that most patients I see are low to very low to very very low in Vitamin D. Thus, it was with great interest when I came across an article in that reviewed the role of vitamin D and the mental health in older adults.
We have known for decades that vitamin D is a steroid hormone that is vital to your health. Like all vitamins, it is a compound that cannot be made in the body, so we need to either consume it in our diet or be exposed to enough sunlight, or we will get very sick. Historically, the role of vitamin D has been recognized to be essential to maintaining healthy bones, but more recent research indicates that it also works throughout the body and throughout the brain. One of the primary interests currently is how vitamin D affects our personality and our overall mental health. The possible link between low levels of vitamin D and psychiatric disorders has generated significant interest from the mental health community because of the far reaching implications of vitamin D deficiency.
Several mental illnesses have been associated with vitamin D deficiency according to a recent review article in Current Psychiatry Reports, including depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Low vitamin D levels also have been associated with an early or more rapid decline in our memory and ability to think as we age. Given these apparent widespread effects of vitamin D, the authors suggest that older adults should supplement their diet with vitamin D.
Our basic personality also appears to be associated with the levels of vitamin D that we have in our blood. A recent research trial reported in Psychopharmacology concluded that vitamin D may influence personality traits, and act to promote an outgoing personality and open behavior. A tongue in cheek article even suggested that in fantasy literature, where good consistently triumphs over evil, that the evil characters consume less vitamin D in their diet and get less sunlight compared to the good characters. Certainly in regards to the inhabitants of Middle Earth in JRR Tolkien’s novel The Hobbitt, the researchers found the virtuous characters had higher “vitamin D scores.”
So after reading the medical literature, I have to wonder, are low vitamin D levels a problem? Or should we just tolerate all of these diseases, and not worry about it? Although the research isn’t conclusive, there’s strong evidence that low vitamin D levels are common, and that this deficiency results in sub-optimal health. Now we just we need to figure out whether supplementation will help prevent or cure these wide ranging health problems.