RCT data suggests vitamin D may help elderly populations fight depression

By Nathan Gray contact

- Last updated on GMT

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Related tags: Depression, Depressive symptoms, Vitamin d, Healthy ageing, Nutrition

New clinical trial data suggests supplementation with vitamin D3 could help improve depression scores in older adults with moderate to severe depression.

The data, published in Clinical Nutrition​, investigated the potential of vitamin D supplementation on depression in people over 60 years old after previous studies suggested that the vitamin may have beneficial effects on mood and depressive symptoms.

The eight-week randomised clinical trial reported significant reductions in depression scores in those receiving vitamin D supplementation using the Geriatric Depression Scale-15 (GDS-15) questionnaire.

According to WHO (World Health Organisation) data, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years will nearly double from 12% to 22% between 2015 and 2050. The WHO estimates 15% of adults aged 60 and over suffer from a mental disorder​, while UK data from the Health Survey for England​ reports that depression affects around 22% of men and 28% of women aged 65 years and over​.

“Prevention and treatment of depression in elderly population is a crucial issue and vitamin D might have a potential impact on depression,”​ noted the authors, led by first author Negin Masoudi Alavi from Kashan University of Medical Sciences in Iran.

“Few randomised placebo-clinical trials (RCTs) have been done to examine the effect of vitamin D supplement in treatment of depression in older adults, so the aim of this clinical trial was to investigate the effect of vitamin D supplementation on the severity of depression in elderly population.”

Study details

Seventy eight older adults aged over 60 years with moderate to severe depression were randomly allocated to receive either 50,000 U vitamin D3 or placebo each week as part of the study. Alongside GDS-15 scores, the team also took measures of blood vitamin D status – as indicated by 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 [25(OH)D3].

Data showed that mean baseline vitamin D levels were 22.57 ± 6.2 ng/ml in vitamin D group and 21.2 ± 5.8 ng/ml in placebo group. Over the course of the trial these levels increased to  43.48 ± 9.5 ng/ml in vitamin D and 25.9 ± 15.3 ng/ml in placebo group.

Depression scores decreased from 9.25 to 7.48 in vitamin D group (p = 0.0001), while there was a non-significant increase in depression score in placebo group, revealed the authors.

Masoudi Alavi and colleagues noted that there are many vitamin D receptors in hippocampus – an area of the brain that is associated to depression – and that several vitamin D metabolites can cross the blood–brain barrier.

“In conclusion vitamin D supplementation significantly decreased GDS score in older adults,”​ they stated – noting that according to their findings older adults who are undergoing treatment for depression may see additional clinical benefits from vitamin D supplementation.

Source: Clinical Nutrition
Volume 38, Issue 5, October 2019, Pages 2065-2070, doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2018.09.011
“Effect of vitamin D supplementation on depression in elderly patients: A randomized clinical trial”
Authors: Negin Masoudi Alavi, et al

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