Vitamin D could cure your depression — but also make you miserable

Vitamin D could be a miracle worker, when it comes to treating some of the most common ailments that afflict Americans, such as depression and diabetes. But it could also cause some serious problems, if you get too much of it.

A huge number of papers about Vitamin D are being presented at this year's meeting of the Endocrine Society — showing that it's a huge topic among endocrinologists. But it's hard to know what conclusions to draw.

Top image: Bradley Stemke/Flickr

On the plus side: A handful of women all saw significant improvements in their depression when they were treated for concurrent vitamin D deficiency. "Vitamin D may have an as-yet-unproven effect on mood, and its deficiency may exacerbate depression," said author Sonal Pathak, MD, "If this association is confirmed, it may improve how we treat depression." Not to mention, vitamin supplements could be a far less expensive treatment than anti-depressants.

Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes. And low levels of Vitamin D are also common amongst teens who are being evaluated for weight loss surgery. More than half these teens were vitamin D deficient, especially among the African American population. And in the adults at risk of diabetes, vitamin D supplements improved their triglycerides, triglyceride-HDL ratio and E-selectin levels, in the short term.

So, if it's such a big deal, shouldn't we all get tested for vitamin D deficiency? Unfortunately, it also turns out that two of the newest FDA approved ways of testing for vitamin D deficiency are inaccurate. Both the Abbott Architect (ARC) and the Siemens Centaur2 (CT2) immunoassays are described by the authors as:

characterized by high degrees of random variability and significant constant biases relative to an established [method], inaccurate measurement of [vitamin D levels], and a failure to meet even a minimum quality standard for analytical bias for many of the clinical specimens we tested.

Okay, fine, so we should all just go out and by enormous tubs of vitamin D gummies, right? While many doctors will tell you that supplements are a good idea, especially when paired with calcium, it looks like that duo might also lead to trouble. In fact, combining vitamin D and calcium could lead to increased risk of hypercalcemia and hypercalciuria, which means more calcium in the blood and urine, plus kidney stones. In a group of 163 post-menopausal women on combined supplements, 33% had hypercalciuria, and around 10% had hypercalcemia — and while none actually got kidney stones, it was enough for the researchers to recommend that people stay at the FDA-recommended dose of 800 international units of vitamin D, and 800-1,200 milligrams per day of calcium. Which is far less than many doctors recommend.

So, vitamin D: it's both saving us and making our lives miserable. Yay!