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Treating vitamin D deficiency may improve depression among women

CHEVY CHASE, Md. — A case report series presented at the Endocrine Society's 94th Annual Meeting in Houston examined how women with moderate to severe depression could see an improvement in symptoms if they are treated for their vitamin D deficiency.

Sonal Pathak, an endocrinologist at Bayhealth Medical Center in Dover, Del., presented research findings from three women, ages 42 to 66 years, all of whom were previously diagnosed with major depressive disorder and were receiving antidepressant therapy. The patients also were being treated for either Type 2 diabetes or an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism). Over eight to 12 weeks, the women were given oral vitamin D replacement therapy to restore their vitamin D status to normal (32 to 38 ng/mL) after experiencing levels that ranged from 8.9 to 14.5 ng/mL. Levels below 21 ng/mL are considered vitamin D deficiency, while normal vitamin D levels are above 30 ng/mL, according to the Endocrine Society.

After treatment, all three women reported significant improvement in their depression, as found using the Beck Depression Inventory, a 21-item questionnaire that scores the severity of sadness and other symptoms of depression. A score of zero to nine indicates minimal depression; 10 to 18, mild depression; 19 to 29, moderate depression; and 30 to 63, severe depression.

One patient's depression score improved from 32 before vitamin D therapy to 12, a change from severe to mild depression. The second patient's score fell from 26 to 8, indicating she now had minimal symptoms of depression. The third patient's score of 21 improved after vitamin D treatment to 16, also in the mild range.

"Vitamin D may have an as-yet-unproven effect on mood, and its deficiency may exacerbate depression," Pathak said. "If this association is confirmed, it may improve how we treat depression. Screening at-risk depressed patients for vitamin D deficiency and treating it appropriately may be an easy and cost-effective adjunct to mainstream therapies for depression."


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