Many experts say to go outside and take in some sunshine (with appropriate sunscreen) for your health. This advice is likely founded in a concern for vitamin D levels. Humans get this necessary nutrient from exposing their skin to the sun, and then our skin produces vitamin D. A deficiency of vitamin D can damage bone health and may even impact mental health. A new retrospective study in PLOS ONE focusing on vitamin D supplement use among veterans suggests a possible link between supplement use and lower risk of suicide.
Vitamin D is primarily generated through sun exposure; however, certain foods also contain or are enriched with it. Supplements can help ensure people get enough of this vital nutrient, although it is advisable to check with a doctor before altering your vitamin D intake, as too much can have adverse health effects. The recent study examined the suicide and self-harm risk reported for veterans prescribed supplements through the VA. The researchers scanned the data of hundreds of thousands of people who between 2010 and 2018 were seen at the VA at least once.
The team compared veterans who received supplements through the VA with those who did not to see if there was a link between this and suicide risk. The control (no known supplement) population had a suicide and self-harm rate of 0.36%. That fell to 0.2% in the treated groups. Vitamin D2 supplements were associated with a 48.8% reduction, while D3 supplements were associated with a 44.8% reduction. Among Black veterans, there was a 60% decline, while those with vitamin D deficiencies say a 64% decline.
There are limits to this study. Causation is not possible to infer from the data. It is also possible that control-group members were accessing vitamin D in other ways, through greater sun exposure or buying supplements on their own. While some studies support the link between vitamin D and suicide risk, other studies have not found supplements to help alleviate depression. Though the scientific jury is still out on vitamin D supplements’ potential therapeutic effects, there are certainly plenty of known positive health effects from getting your proper daily dose. And, the researchers noted in the paper, “As a relatively safe, easily accessible, and affordable medication, supplementation with vitamin D in the VA may hold promise if confirmed in clinical trials to prevent suicide attempts and suicide.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with a crisis, self-harm, or suicidal ideations, don't wait, call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
A study found vitamin D supplements may reduce the likeliness of suicide among veterans, an at-risk population.