Date of Award


Degree Type

Closed Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor

Vijay Ganji - Chair

Second Advisor

Mildred M. Cody

Third Advisor

Yong "Tai" Wang


Background: The role of nutrients in mental health has recently been recognized and investigated. Vitamin D has been known to play a role in a wide range of diseases, such as bone, cardiovascular, and autoimmune diseases, and cancers. Recently, its role in cognitive function and mental health has been reported. Vitamin D receptor and hydroxylases have been mapped throughout the brain, suggesting a role for vitamin D in brain tissue. An inverse association between vitamin D and depression was observed in European epidemiologic studies. There is a paucity of data on the association between vitamin D concentrations and depression in the U.S. population. Objective: The objective of this study was to investigate the association between serum vitamin D concentrations and depression in a large, nationally representative sample survey, the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1988-1994 (NHANES III). Methods: The study sample included 7970 adults, ages 15-39 years, who completed the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for depression and had vitamin D concentrations measured. SAS and SUDAAN statistical software packages were used in data analysis. Multivariate logistic regression was used to estimate the likelihood of having depression in vitamin D deficient persons in relation to vitamin D sufficient persons, after taking several confounding variables into consideration. Significance was set at α < 0.05. Results: The prevalence of vitamin D deficiency was higher in women than in men (24 % vs. 15%), higher in African-Americans than in whites (60% vs. 10%), higher in people living in metropolitan rather than in rural areas (25% vs. 14%), and higher in subjects below the poverty threshold than in higher income subjects (29% vs. 14%). The prevalence of vitamin D deficiency increased as BMI increased. The diagnostic variables for depression did not show an association with vitamin D deficiency after adjusting for several confounding factors. However, subjects having a depressive episode at the time of the interview, were significantly more likely to exhibit vitamin D deficiencies (OR = 1.85; P = 0.0210). Conclusions: This is the first large epidemiologic study on the association between vitamin D and depression in a US representative sample survey. A significant positive association was found between subjects having an episode of depression and vitamin D deficiency. However, a causal relationship could not be established due to the cross-sectional nature of the study. Further studies need to investigate the mechanistic and causal relation between vitamin D and depression.