Low Vitamin D in Childhood May Have Mental Health Effects in Adolescence

Vitamin D and Mental Health
Vitamin D and Mental Health

The Study

A recent study conducted at the University of Michigan suggest that vitamin D deficiency in childhood may result in behavioral problems during adolescence, including aggressive behavior, anxiety and depressive moods. The study was done on school children in Bogotá, Colombia. Children with deficient blood vitamin D levels were almost twice as likely to develop behavior problems, as opposed to children who had higher levels of vitamin D.

Researchers also found that low levels of the protein that transports vitamin D in the blood were related to more aggressive behavior and depressive symptoms. Study leader Eduardo Villamor, MD, MPH, DrPH, and professor of epidemiology says “Children who have vitamin D deficiency during their elementary school years appear to have higher scores on tests that measure behavior problems when they reach adolescence.”

Additionally, Villamor notes that vitamin D deficiency has been associated with other mental health problems in adulthood, including:

  • Depression, and
  • Schizophrenia

Vitamin D deficiency in utero may be harmful

Additional studies strongly suggest that children who were vitamin D deficient at birth had a 44% increased risk of developing schizophrenia as adults. Study leader Weydert notes “Lack of vitamin D during brain development may alter a number of outcomes, including brain volume, neurochemistry, the expression of genes and proteins and behavior. Studies are starting to reveal the neurohormonal effects of vitamin D on brain development and behavior, with a link to mental health disorders. Many of these effects start well before the birth of the child, so it is important that each pregnant woman be assessed for vitamin D deficiency and supplemented for the best possible health outcome of the child.”

Other mental health problems associated with vitamin D deficiency include depression, seasonal effective disorder and autism. With respect to depression, Weydert explains, “Vitamin D deficiency decreases the expression of the enzyme catechol-O-methyl transferase (COMT), required for dopamine and serotonin metabolism.” In adolescents vitamin D supplementation has been shown to improve depressive symptoms.

How much vitamin D should you have

Conventional medicine suggests that being above 40 ng/ml is appropriate, but the majority of functional medical practitioners are suggesting levels between 60 – 80 ng/mL, with 40 ng/mL being the low cutoff point. The reality today is that the majority of Americans are vitamin D deficient.

The very best way to increase vitamin D is by getting regular sunlight exposure. However, this strategy is not practical for many people, especially those living in northern states. As a result, an oral vitamin D3 supplement is useful, especially during winter months.  See this article for more information on this topic Vitamin D and Sunscreen.

The only way to know whether you might need to supplement, and how much, is to have your level tested, through a blood test. Testing is not typically done as part of the standard of care in conventional medicine, so you will most likely need to request a vitamin D blood test from your health care provider.


University of Michigan

Low vitamin D linked to adolescent behavior problems

The association between neonatal vitamin D status and risk of schizophrenia

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