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Low levels of vitamin D in elementary school could spell trouble in adolescence

University of Michigan

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency in middle childhood could result in aggressive behavior as well as anxious and depressive moods during adolescence - study


Low Vitamin D status earlier in childhood predicted a greater likelihood in adolescence of both aggressive and antisocial behaviour, and mental health problems like anxiety and depression.

This was a purely observational study, so its findings cannot be taken as evidence of cause-and-effect (despite the news article alluding to this possibility). 

However, some controlled clinical trials have shown that Vitamin D supplementation may help to alleviate symptoms of depression, ADHD and other mental health conditions in some individuals (although findings have varied with dosage, background diet, baseline Vitamin D status and other factors). 

Adequate supplies of Vitamin D are also known to be vital for healthy development and function of the brain, as well as the body.  Pregnancy and early life is a particularly critical period, when Vitamin D deficiency can have irreversible effects on brain structure and function that may lead to suboptimal cognitive, motor and behavioural outcomes - including raising lifetime risks for schizophrenia, autism, ADHD and other neurodevelopmental or psychiatric conditions. 

Far less is known about the possible implications of Vitamin D deficiencies in mid-childhood for later mental health, behaviour or cognition - so these new data make an important contribution, although further studies are needed to find out if improving Vitamin D status in children might reduce aggression and mental health problems in adolescence and beyond.

For details of this research, see:

See also:

And see here for more articles on the links between vitamin D deficiency and mental health problems in children and adolescents.

20 August 2019 - MedicalXpress


Vitamin D deficiency in middle childhood could result in aggressive behavior as well as anxious and depressive moods during adolescence, according to a new University of Michigan study of school children in Bogotá, Colombia.

Children with blood vitamin D levels suggestive of deficiency were almost twice as likely to develop externalizing behavior problems - aggressive and rule breaking behaviors - as reported by their parents, compared with children who had higher levels of the vitamin.

Also, low levels of the protein that transports vitamin D in blood were related to more self-reported aggressive behavior and anxious/depressed symptoms. The associations were independent of child, parental and household characteristics.

"Children who have vitamin D deficiency during their elementary school years appear to have higher scores on tests that measure behavior problems when they reach adolescence," said Eduardo Villamor, professor of epidemiology at the U-M School of Public Health and senior author of the study appearing in the Journal of Nutrition.

Villamor said vitamin D deficiency has been associated with other mental health problems in adulthood, including depression and schizophrenia, and some studies have focused on the effect of vitamin D status during pregnancy and childhood.

However, few studies have extended into adolescence, the stage when behavior problems may first appear and become serious conditions.

In 2006, Villamor's team recruited 3,202 children aged 5-12 years into a cohort study in Bogotá, Colombia, through a random selection from primary public schools. The investigators obtained information on the children's daily habits, maternal education level, weight and height, as well as the household's food insecurity and socioeconomic status. Researchers also took blood samples.

After about six years, when the children were 11-18 years old, the investigators conducted in-person follow-up interviews in a random group of one-third of the participants, assessing the children's behavior through questionnaires that were administered to the children themselves and their parents. The vitamin D analyses included 273 of those participants.

While the authors acknowledge the study's limitations, including a lack of baseline behavior measures, their results indicate the need for additional studies involving neurobehavioral outcomes in other populations where vitamin D deficiency may be a public health problem.