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Oct. 7, 2014

Low Vitamin D may play role in suicide attempts

Low levels of vitamin D and increased inflammation in the blood appear to be associated with suicide attempts, according to a recent study co-authored by a Michigan State University researcher.

The findings could have implications for how physicians treat depressed and suicidal patients, said Lena Brundin, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine in the MSU College of Human Medicine and head of the Laboratory of Behavioral Medicine at Van Andel Research Institute.

“The levels of vitamin D can be checked with a simple blood test at most hospitals and out-patient clinics,” Brundin said, a psychiatrist specialized in investigating the role low-level inflammation in the brain plays in depression.

Brundin collaborated on the study with researchers at Lund University in Sweden, where she previously held a position. The study included 59 patients in Sweden who had recently attempted suicide compared with 17 depressed but non-suicidal patients and 14 people with no history of depression.

The study, published in the September issue of the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology found that around 60 percent of the suicidal patients were deficient in vitamin D according to clinical standards. The suicidal patients’ levels of Vitamin D were significantly lower than those in the healthy controls and in the depressed but not suicidal patients. The patients who were deficient in vitamin D also had higher inflammatory markers in their blood, the study found, suggesting that low levels of vitamin D could be a cause of the inflammation.

Previous studies have shown that increased inflammation in the body might be a contributing factor to depression and suicidal tendencies. Vitamin D deficiency also previously has been linked to mental illness, including depression.

This is the first study linking low vitamin D levels to increased inflammation and suicide attempts. The low-grade inflammation observed in the patients could be due to a variety of causes, including infection and stress, Brundin said. Treatment with vitamin D supplements could lower inflammation and theoretically alleviate depression in some patients, she said, adding that it should be tested in future clinical trials.

“Vitamin D is known to have a strong effect on the body’s immune response,” Brundin said. “It is important for people working in the field of psychiatry to know that some of our patients might be severely deficient in this vitamin, and that it could potentially affect their mental health.”

The study was funded in part by Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and Van Andel Institute. In addition to Brundin, the team included researchers Cecile Grudet, Asa Westrin and Johan Malm at Lund University.

By: Geri Kelley

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