The Effects of Vitamin D on the Brain


Long known for its beneficial effects on bone integrity, vitamin D has recently become somewhat of a ‘hot topic’ in the conversations surrounding the fight against Covid-19.

So, how does it work?

Vitamin D is a lipid-soluble vitamin that is produced in the skin from sun exposure, and is therefore often called the “sunshine vitamin”. It is then converted in the liver and kidneys to its active form: 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin-D (or in short, 1,25(OH)2D), which circulates in the body and interacts with vitamin D receptors. This interaction then increases calcium absorption in the intestine, which in turn, regulates calcium levels in the body. 1,25(OH)2D also enters the brain, where it interacts with neurons and regulates a variety of processes that influence brain development and functions.

Source: Harvard Health Publishing

A recent data analysis study from hospitals across the world investigated the association between vitamin D deficiency and death caused from Covid-19. The study found that patients in countries that had significantly higher death rates, such as the UK, Spain or Italy, had lower vitamin D levels, compared to countries with lower numbers of Covid-related deaths. The researchers also suggest that vitamin D has a protective role in reducing complications in Covid-19 patients. These results are preliminary and only report general population trends; however, if proven, they could offer new insight into the mortality mechanisms and the potential therapeutic targets of Covid-19.

The benefits and positive effects of vitamin D are myriad, as we have suggested above. However, it must be said that, vitamin D has also been associated with levels of aggression and mood disorders present in adolescents.

In a recent study  conducted on 3,202 randomly selected students in Colombia, researchers found that students with deficient levels of vitamin D were twice as likely to have aggressive behaviours, compared to children with higher levels of vitamin D. In adults, vitamin D deficiency was previously associated with depression and schizophrenia disorders. Several studies also suggest that vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy, results in altered dopamine metabolism in the fetus, which may lead to aberrant behavioural responses and irregular motor development in childhood. Furthermore, lower vitamin D levels suggestive of deficiency, have also been shown to have a direct correlation with the development of multiple sclerosis. Cognitively, vitamin D deficiency has been associated with a variety of neurological conditions and general cognitive decline, including Alzheimer’s disease and neurodegeneration disorders.

Vitamin D deficiency is a common problem worldwide, and is known to bring about long-lasting mental and physical health defects. This is why vitamin D is widely researched; while some studies offer only weak associations or show inconsistent results, Vitamin D has been shown to have numerous beneficial effects on brain health both in the womb and throughout life.

Featured image: pexels
Image: Harvard Health Publishing

Relevant Studies:

Vitamin D & Covid-19:

Daneshkhah A, Agrawal V, Eshein A, et al. The Possible Role of Vitamin D in Suppressing Cytokine Storm and Associated Mortality in COVID-19 Patients. medRxiv; 2020. DOI: 10.1101/2020.04.08.20058578.

Vitamin D & behavioural disorders in children:

Sonia L Robinson, Constanza Marín, Henry Oliveros, Mercedes Mora-Plazas, Betsy Lozoff, Eduardo Villamor, Vitamin D Deficiency in Middle Childhood Is Related to Behavior Problems in Adolescence, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 150, Issue 1, January 2020, Pages 140–148.

Vitamin D & Depression:

Anglin, R., Samaan, Z., Walter, S., & McDonald, S. (2013). Vitamin D deficiency and depression in adults: Systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Psychiatry, 202(2), 100-107.

Vitamin D & Schizophrenia:

Ghazaleh Valipour, Parvane Saneei, Ahmad Esmaillzadeh, Serum Vitamin D Levels in Relation to Schizophrenia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 99, Issue 10, 1 October 2014, Pages 3863–3872.

Vitamin D deficiency & pregnancy:

Dijana Tesic, Jazmin E. Hawes, Graeme R. Zosky, Caitlin S. Wyrwoll, Vitamin D Deficiency in BALB/c Mouse Pregnancy Increases Placental Transfer of Glucocorticoids, Endocrinology, Volume 156, Issue 10, 1 October 2015, Pages 3673–3679.

Darling, A., Rayman, M., Steer, C., Golding, J., Lanham-New, S., & Bath, S. (2017). Association between maternal vitamin D status in pregnancy and neurodevelopmental outcomes in childhood: Results from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). British Journal of Nutrition, 117(12), 1682-1692.

Edited by Malavika Ramanand

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