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Depression affects up to three to four percent of Americans. Given how common it is, there can be a temptation among family and friends not to take the mental illness seriously. For some patients, depression can impact even daily activities, making a strong support system an important component to overcoming the limitations of the disorder.

A new study finds that there may be an important physical deficit contributing to the appearance of depressive symptoms. The study, led by Sonal Pathak, M.D., an endocrinologist working at Bayhealth Medical Center located in Dover, Delaware, found that when patients received vitamin D supplements to treat a deficiency, they experienced major improvements in symptoms of depression.

The study included three case studies involving women exhibiting moderate to severe depression. The participants were all between the ages of 42 and 66, had been diagnosed with depression and were treating the disorder with antidepressants. Each of the women were also under treatment for Type 2 diabetes or for hypothyroidism.

The research was presented by Pathak at the Endocrine Society’s 94th Annual Meeting held in Houston. Pathak explained that vitamin D may have an effect on mood, and when a person is deficient, they may experience an exacerbation of depressive symptoms.

The women had signs that they might have been low on vitamin D, such as a low vitamin D intake, as well as a low level of sun exposure. As a result, the researchers administered a 25-hydroxyvitamin D blood test. Each of the women were shown to have low levels of vitamin D, with a range of 8.9 to 14.5 nanograms per milliliter.

Any vitamin D level below 21 ng/mL constitutes as being deficient, according to The Endocrine Society. A normal level is above 30 ng/mL.

The researchers gave the women oral vitamin D replacement therapy over an eight-to-twelve week period, which returned the vitamin D level to normal in each of the participants.

Following the vitamin D regimen, the women all reported improvement in their levels of depression, measured by the Beck Depression Inventory. The Beck Depression Inventory includes a 21 question assessment of the severity of sadness and other common symptoms of depression. The scores indicate the level of severity for depression as follows: 0 to 9 reflects minimal depression; 10 to 18 is mild depression; 19 to 29 is moderate depression; and 30 to 63 reflects severe depression levels.

All three of the women experienced a reduction in depression symptoms significant enough to drop to a lower level of depression severity following the vitamin D replacement therapy.

The findings are very helpful for developing a potential screening tool for treating depression with vitamin D in deficient patients. However, the authors note that further research is necessary to determine whether the results can be duplicated in a large, randomized controlled clinical trial.

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