How Does Vitamin D Deficiency Affect Your Memory and Mood?

How Does Vitamin D Deficiency Affect Your Memory and Mood?

Are you getting enough vitamin D? If you’re like most people, you probably aren’t. Vitamin D deficiencies are becoming more common, affecting about half of the people on planet Earth. According to one study, 70% of adults and 67% of kids ages 1-11 have insufficient levels of vitamin D. It’s no wonder when you consider the increasing amount of time we spend indoors and all that sunscreen we slather on our bodies when we’re outside. (Known as the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D is activated when sunlight hits the skin.)

Vitamin D deficiency, or even just less-than-optimal levels of the sunshine vitamin, can spell trouble for your memory and moods. Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with depression, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, and cognitive decline, as well as psychosis, autism, heart disease, and about 200 other conditions.

Who’s at Risk for Low Vitamin D Levels?

Anyone can have sub-optimal levels of the sunshine vitamin, but certain groups are at increased risk of vitamin D deficiency, including:

  • Adults over age 65 (statistics show that half of older adults have vitamin D insufficiency or deficiency)
  • People with darker skin tones (this is due to a reduced ability to make vitamin from sunlight)
  • People with limited sun exposure (people living in regions with less sunlight)
  • People taking certain medications (such as blood pressure medications, diabetes medications, benzodiazepines)
  • People with fat malabsorption syndrome (such as Crohn’s disease, liver disease, or cystic fibrosis)
  • People who are obese or who have undergone gastric bypass surgery

Vitamin D Deficiency and Memory Decline

Receptors for vitamin D are found throughout the brain and play a critical role in making memories. A team of researchers at Tufts University in Boston analyzed vitamin D blood levels in over 1,000 people over the age of 65 to determine its relationship to cognitive function. Out of the 1,000 study participants, 65% had “insufficient” or “deficient” levels of the sunshine vitamin.  These people performed worse on tests of executive function (such as reasoning, flexibility, and perceptual complexity), attention, and processing speed compared with those who had optimal levels of vitamin D.

Other research appearing in a 2015 issue of JAMA Neurology showed that older adults with low levels of the sunshine vitamin experienced memory loss faster than those with healthy levels. The study included seniors with dementia, with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and with normal cognitive function. The MCI group had lower levels of vitamin D than the cognitively healthy people, and those with dementia had even lower levels than the MCI group. The older adults with insufficient or deficient levels of vitamin D experienced accelerated rates of decline in terms of executive function and episodic memory (remembering your own life history) compared with those who had normal levels.

Low Vitamin D = Low Mood

The lower your vitamin D, the more likely you are to experience the blues. A 2013 meta-analysis in the British Journal of Psychiatry looked at research involving a total of 31,424 people and found that having low levels of vitamin D increased the risk for depression. On the flip side, individuals with depressive disorders were more likely to have lower vitamin D levels. Vitamin D receptors are present in areas of the brain associated with depression, which researchers suggest may explain the connection.

3 Ways to Optimize Your Vitamin D Levels

Boosting vitamin D levels has been shown to promote better moods and appears to be neuroprotective. Here are 3 simple ways to achieve healthy levels.

  • Get some sun. Enjoying short amounts of direct sunlight can help. Twice a week, spend 5-30 minutes exposing your face, arms, and legs without sunscreen to the sun.
  • Eat D-friendly foods. Foods can be a powerful source of vitamin D. Good examples of foods that are high in vitamin D include fatty fish like salmon and tuna, mushrooms, and eggs (especially the yolk).
  • Take a vitamin D supplement. Boosting your intake of the sunshine vitamin with a supplement can help optimize your levels. Research shows that supplementation with vitamin D supports healthier moods. And a 2012 study on people with Alzheimer’s disease found that those who took vitamin D in addition to a common medication for AD did better than those who took the medication alone. The current recommended daily dose is 400 IU of vitamin D3 per day. Most experts agree that is well below the physiological needs of most people and suggest 2,000-5,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day.

If you’re suffering from symptoms of depression or memory loss, Amen Clinics can help. The Amen Clinics Method takes a unique brain-body approach to assessment that includes lab tests (including vitamin D levels) to determine if biological factors are contributing to symptoms, as well as brain SPECT imaging to evaluate brain health. With this valuable information, our physicians are better able to personalize treatment for your specific needs.

To find out how we can help you, call us today at 888-288-9834 or schedule a visit online.


  1. Perhaps you should mention excessive VIt D..It causes a spike in creatnine bun and high levels of calcium..causing significant damage to kidneys and brain fog as well.

    Comment by bonita Lay — September 23, 2019 @ 3:32 AM

  2. don’t for get to take VIt K if you are taking Vit D otherwise the D vit will collect in your joints like ankles

    Comment by cinny — September 23, 2019 @ 3:55 AM

  3. my son has ms and the dr. has him on 800 mg a day. is that enough?

    Comment by laverne — September 23, 2019 @ 8:02 AM

  4. Please quantify low insufficient, deficient. Also advise on intake requirements and upper limits. This write-up is worthless as it is written

    Comment by Murray Duffin — September 23, 2019 @ 2:17 PM

  5. Thank you for help with educating us on valuable information

    Comment by Linda Volk — September 24, 2019 @ 9:26 AM

  6. Dear Dr. Amen,

    Enjoying your articles. Why don’t PCP routinely include a test for vitamin D when they do bloodwork? I find many of my psychotherapy clients have no idea if they are deficient and find myself asking them to ask their Doc for the test? Is more training needed mainstream?

    Susan Cohen, LCSW
    Storrs, CT

    Comment by Susan Cohen — September 27, 2019 @ 2:21 AM

  7. What are the REAL vitamin D levels that help with memory? I have read that the levels that the medical community thinks is adequate is too low to address many physical / mental / memory issues. What are the therapeutic levels of Vitamin D?

    I understand the a certain form of Vitamin K is necessary for absorption, bone building etc. Does your formula include that?

    Ann Arbor, MI

    Comment by Julie Johnson — October 14, 2019 @ 4:39 AM

  8. I am 72 years old and starting to notice cognitive decline. Any current information to help to slow down this condition would be helpful.

    Comment by Carol Lovelace — May 13, 2022 @ 7:51 PM

  9. Hello Carol, thank you for reaching out. We’d be happy to give you more information, please contact us here:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — May 16, 2022 @ 6:36 PM

  10. My brother is 25 yrs old and from last 4 days he forgot some thing. It kind of some memory loss. All test and MRI has done. All reports are normal and MRI also only Vit D is low. Can it be cure by giving him vitamin d medicine?
    Can you suggest some vitamin d so that he can remember all things which he has forgotten?

    Thank You

    Comment by Neha Mamgain — April 17, 2023 @ 12:55 AM

  11. Hello Neha, thank you for reaching out. Here is an article on how SPECT is different from other types of brain scans: Additionally, you can find more information about Dr. Daniel Amen's recommended brain-directed Omega-3 Power here:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — April 17, 2023 @ 9:18 AM

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