How Vitamin D3 Affects Your Mood

Vitamin D is also known as the sunshine vitamin. That’s because the single best natural source of Vitamin D is exposure to direct sunlight.

However, the name is fitting for another reason. Getting enough Vitamin D is essential to the health of your brain and helps you to manage your mood. People who are Vitamin D deficient often have issues with depression as well as their physical health.

With the winter months upon us, it’s important to understand how Vitamin D impacts your mood, as well as how much Vitamin D you need and where to get it when the days are short, and the snow is falling. Here’s what you need to know.

VItamin D

How does Vitamin D Affect Your Mood?

Your brain’s chemistry is complex and most of us have only a limited understanding of how it works. We dug into the research about Vitamin D3 and moods to help you grasp its importance.

Let’s start with a 1998 study that looked at the effects of Vitamin D3 supplementation on people who experienced Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of seasonal depression that is strongest during the winter months. Common symptoms of SAD include sadness, lethargy, hypersomnia, carb cravings, and changes in circadian rhythms.

The study split subjects into three groups as follows:

  1. The first group was given 400 IU of Vitamin D3
  2. The second group was given 800 IU of Vitamin D3
  3. The third (control) group was given no Vitamin D3

The results showed that the two groups who received supplementary Vitamin D3 experienced an enhanced positive affect – that is, an improvement in their moods. There was also some evidence to suggest that Vitamin D3 supplementation decreased the negative affect associated with SAD.

We also looked at a 2005 study that examined the potential benefits of Vitamin D3 supplementation for the regulation and prevention of neuropsychiatric disorders, including depression. The study concluded that Vitamin D3 played an important role in multiple bodily functions, including mood regulation and serotonin synthesis.

We were particularly interested in a 2006 study that looked specifically at the impact of Vitamin D3 seasonal deficiency in adults with low mood and cognitive dysfunction because its results underscore how essential Vitamin D3 is to brain health.

The study looked at 80 adults, 40 of whom had a diagnosis of mild Alzheimer’s disease and 40 of whom were classified as non-demented. It found a direct correlation between serious Vitamin D deficiency, low mood, and cognitive impairment. 58% of the participants had abnormally low Vitamin D3 levels, which suggests that Vitamin D supplementation might be beneficial to individuals with impaired cognitive function and mood disorders.

There is also evidence to suggest that Vitamin D receptors in the brain play a role in serious psychiatric disorders, including both bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Perhaps most impressively, we found a systematic review of studies that concluded there was enough evidence to assume a direct correlation between Vitamin D deficiency and depression. We think it’s important to note that you should not assume that Vitamin D3 is a substitute for anti-depressant medication prescribed by a doctor, nor is it considered a treatment for other psychiatric and mood disorders.

However, it isn’t a bad idea to have your Vitamin D levels tested and to take a supplement if you have a deficiency. In addition to helping to regulate moods, Vitamin D is also important for healthy bones and teeth.

How Much Vitamin D3 Do You Need?

Now, let’s talk about how much Vitamin D3 you need to get. Remember that direct exposure to sunlight is the best way to get the Vitamin D3 you need. However, during the winter months and in any location where sunlight is limited, it’s essential to seek out other sources to get what you need.

The National Institutes of Health recommend the following minimum intake of Vitamin D:

  • 0 to 12 months: 400 IU (10 mcg)
  • 1 t0 13 years: 600 IU (15 mcg)
  • 14 to 18 years: 600 IU (15 mcg)
  • 19 to 50 years: 600 IU (15 mcg)
  • 51 to 70 years: 600 IU (15 mcg)
  • Over 70 years: 800 IU (20 mcg)

Vitamin D3

These are the minimum numbers. It’s important to note that in some situations, you may need significantly more Vitamin D than the minimum. For example, people who have a significant Vitamin D deficiency may need elevated doses to increase their serum levels of Vitamin D.

Other Reasons You Need Vitamin D

We’ve focused on the ways that Vitamin D3 impacts your mood and psychiatric disorders, but those aren’t the only reasons you need to be sure to get enough of this essential vitamin. Let’s talk about some of the others.

For women, it may be a good idea to get high daily doses of Vitamin D to reduce the risk of breast cancer. We found a study that concluded that maintaining a blood serum level of 25(OH)D could reduce the risk of breast cancer by as much as 50%. That would translate to a daily dosage of about 4000 IU of Vitamin D3, or 2000 IU of Vitamin D3 combined with daily exposure to sunlight.

If you have a family history of breast cancer, then you may want to talk to your doctor about whether taking a high-dosage Vitamin D3 supplement could help to reduce your risk.

Vitamin D3 is also extremely important for decreasing your risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes. We found a study that concluded there was a reason to believe that maintaining adequate Vitamin D3 levels could reduce the risk of cardiac disease. (The study also looked at calcium intake and did not find a direct correlation between that mineral and a reduced risk of cardiac events.)

We already talked about breast cancer, but it turns out that taking a Vitamin D3 supplement may also help to reduce your risk of other types of cancer. We found one review that showed that maintaining higher serum levels of Vitamin D3 may reduce the risk of:

  • Colon cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Renal (kidney) cancer

Finally, we found several studies like this one that examined the potential link between diabetes mellitus and Vitamin D deficiency. Unlike other micronutrients, Vitamin D functions in the body as a hormone, so it’s not surprising that it would have an impact on the endocrine system. Other hormones, including insulin and leptin, have a profound impact on your health – and insulin resistance is a primary cause of type 2 diabetes.

We suggest talking to your doctor about mood regulation, psychiatric conditions, bone density, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer risk to determine whether you should be taking a Vitamin D3 supplement and what your dosage should be.

Where to Get Vitamin D3 in the Winter

One of the biggest questions is where to get Vitamin D3 in the winter, particularly if you live in a climate where sunlight is rare in the winter months. (The Pacific Northwest is a good example.)

Let’s start with how much sunlight you get to ensure you have enough Vitamin D3. Direct sun exposure for between 10 and 30 minutes at least three times per week is likely to give you all the Vitamin D3 you need. However, people who have dark skin may need longer exposure to get what they need.

What should you do if you live someplace where the sun rarely shines in the winter? The incidences of Vitamin D deficiency are always higher in places that don’t get a lot of sun, such as the Nordic countries and Alaska.

You have several options. One is to eat foods that are enriched with Vitamin D3, including:

  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Eggs (egg yolks are a good source of Vitamin D)
  • Fortified orange juice
  • Prepared breakfast cereal
  • Enriched bread
  • Cod liver oil
  • Swordfish
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Tuna fish

Foods rich in Vitamin D

While nutrition experts often suggest that it is best to get the nutrients you need from food, Vitamin D3 supplementation is perfectly safe. In fact, it is necessary for people who follow a vegan diet since there are very few vegan sources of Vitamin D. Fortified cereals, breads, and orange juice are the only real options.

Vitamin D3 supplements are widely available. They come in multiple forms. For children, chewable supplements may be the best option; while adults may prefer a gel cap or tablet. Again, make sure to talk to your doctor about how and where to get the Vitamin D3 you need to be healthy.


40% of the world’s population is deficient in Vitamin D3. Because this vitamin is so essential to many aspects of good health, including mood regulation, it is essential to make sure that you get what you need.

If you live in a sunny climate, there’s a good chance that you are not deficient in Vitamin D3. However, if you live in a place that’s not sunny or you don’t get outdoors much, then you may need to take a Vitamin D3 supplement.