bipolar depression

In this first-ever study to examine Vitamin D supplementation in adults with bipolar depression and insufficient Vitamin D levels, researchers determine whether increasing Vitamin D levels results in a reduction of depression symptoms.

Mood disorders like bipolar depression are a major public health problem since they are associated with poor quality of life, unemployment, and expensive long-term treatment.  Previous research has provided some evidence that Vitamin D supplementation can alleviate symptoms of depression.  The mechanism for this is not well understood but it is hypothesized that Vitamin D may play a role in regulating the synthesis of neurotransmitters and enhancing nerve growth.

Although eggs, mushrooms, and certain fish such as sardines and salmon can be rich in Vitamin D, most foods are poor sources of this vitamin. Sunlight is another source as we are able to synthesize Vitamin D through our skin.  For individuals with low levels of Vitamin D, supplementation is well tolerated and safe.

In a recent study led by Dr. Wendy Marsh from the University of Massachusetts, investigators examined if Vitamin D supplementation could be an effective treatment for individuals with bipolar depression and low levels of Vitamin D. Participants between the ages of 18 and 70 were recruited through electronic and print newspapers, Craig’s list, and psychiatric practices between June of 2013 and April of 2015. Of the 230 individuals prescreened by phone,  33 people were diagnosed with both bipolar depression according to the DSM IV and a vitamin D deficiency and agreed to participate in the double-blind controlled trial.   Of the participants, 48.5% were women and the mean age was 44 years.  For 12 weeks, 16 participants received daily Vitamin D3 supplements (5,000 IU) and 17 received a placebo.   The researchers rated the symptoms every two weeks throughout the study.  Unfortunately, only 25 participants completed the study.

The results were recently published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.  Unfortunately, Vitamin D supplementation did not result in a reduction of symptoms of bipolar depression compared to the placebo group.  It did not elevate mood or reduce anxiety.  In fact, both groups’ average Vitamin D levels remained deficient throughout the study.  However, these findings may be due to the small sample size.  Given the scarcity of effective treatments for bipolar depression, a larger study examining Vitamin D supplementation could be warranted.

Written by Debra A. Kellen, PhD


Marsh, W. K., Penny, J. L., & Rothschild, A. J. (2017). Vitamin D supplementation in bipolar depression: A double blind placebo controlled trial. Journal of Psychiatric Research. 2017.

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