Researchers from the Julius Centre University of Malaya (JCUM) have found a relationship between vitamin D deficiency and depressive symptoms among urban Malaysian women. More than two-thirds of the women who participated in the study, published in Public Health Nutrition, were vitamin D deficient, and those with vitamin D deficiency were at a higher risk for depression and reported poorer mental health. Ethnic Malay and Indian women who reported having more depressive symptoms were more likely to be vitamin D deficient.

Researchers from the Julius Centre University of Malaya, Department of Social & Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya found that more than 70% of the urban Malaysian women surveyed were vitamin D deficient (<50nmol/l) and self-perceived to be depressed. Women of Malay and Indian ethnicity were more prone to have vitamin D deficiency, probably due to having darker skin pigmentation, clothing styles constrained by religion and aesthetic preference for fairer skin. The main source of vitamin D in human is through synthesis by the skin exposed to ultra-violet ray from the sunlight.

Studies from the West have shown an association between vitamin D deficiency and depressive symptoms. However, until now there have been no similar studies conducted in tropical countries with abundant sunshine like Malaysia. Previous local studies showed that a high proportion of Malaysian women were vitamin D deficient (1; 2), this study strengthens the evidence, and is the first to show an association between vitamin D deficiency and depressive symptoms in Malaysia. Women with vitamin D deficiency were also found to report poorer mental health.

Public health authorities should consider routine screening of vitamin D status, vitamin D food fortification programmes, sensible sun exposure recommendations, and encouraging vitamin D supplements for those who have deficiency.

The lead author Dr Moy Foong Ming comments: “It is worrying to observe that the majority of urban Malaysian women had vitamin D deficiency and were at risk of depression. If no action is taken to rectify the vitamin D status of these women, they will be at risk of postmenopausal osteoporosis as they age. In addition, vitamin D deficiency is also found to be associated with cardiovascular diseases.”

The study was recently published in the journal of Public Health Nutrition, the official journal of The Nutrition Society, the largest learned society for nutrition in Europe. It is part of the CLUSTer research project, which is studying the clustering of lifestyle risk factors and understanding its association with stress on health and wellbeing among school teachers in Malaysia. This study is funded by the Ministry of Higher Education, High Impact Research Grant (HIR No. H-20001-00-E000069), Malaysia.

This paper is freely available for two weeks

Paper Title: Vitamin D deficiency and depression among women from an urban community in a tropical country

Authors: FM Moy, VC Hoe, NN Hairi, SR Vethakkan and A Bulgiba

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