Press Release

7 Oct 2014

Suicidal patients have low levels of vitamin D and increased inflammation

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Grand Rapids, Mich. (Oct. 7, 2014) – 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 Dr. Lena Brundin, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine in Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and head of the Laboratory of Behavioral Medicine at Van Andel Research Institute.

The findings could have implications for how physicians treat depressed and suicidal patients, said Dr. Lena Brundin. “The levels of vitamin D can be checked with a simple blood test at most hospitals and out-patient clinics,” said Brundin, 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, (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306453014003229) showed that around 60 percent of the suicidal patients were deficient in vitamin D according to clinical standards. The suicidal patient’s 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 a higher level of inflammatory markers in their blood.

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, and it suggests that the low levels of vitamin D could be contributing to the observed inflammation, Brundin said. Treatment with vitamin D supplements could lower inflammation and theoretically alleviate depression in some patients, she added. “This should be tested in future clinical trials.”

The authors propose that clinical testing of vitamin D levels could be beneficial in patients with suicidal symptoms, with subsequent supplementation in patients found to be deficient. “Vitamin D is known to have 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 and Van Andel Institute. In addition to Dr. Brundin, the research team included Cecile Grudet, Asa Westrin and Johan Malm at Lund University.

About Van Andel Research Institute

Established by Jay and Betty Van Andel in 1996, Van Andel Institute (VAI) is an independent research and educational organization based in Grand Rapids, Mich. Van Andel Research Institute (VARI), VAI’s research arm, is dedicated to studying the genetic, cellular and molecular origins of cancer, Parkinson’s and other diseases and working to translate those findings into effective therapies. Find out more about Van Andel Institute or donate by visiting www.vai.org. 100% To Research, Discovery & Hope®.