Researchers from the Julius Centre University of Malaya, Department of Social & Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya, Malaysia found that more than 70% of the urban Malaysian women surveyed were vitamin D deficient (<50 nmol/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 of sunshine like Malaysia. Previous local studies showed that a high proportion of Malaysian women were vitamin D deficient, this study further strengthen the evidence, and is also 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, to consider vitamin D food fortiﬁcation programmes, to have sensible sun exposure recommendations and to encourage 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 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.
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Foong Ming Moy et al. Vitamin D deficiency and depression among women from an urban community in a tropical country, Public Health Nutrition (2016). DOI: 10.1017/S1368980016000811