Can depression be a nutrient deficiency?
Any type of mental disorder is frightening. If we have a cold, we can blow our noses, take some vitamin C, go to bed, and feel better in a day or two. If we break a leg, we hobble around on crutches and eventually the bone heals.
But if our brains don’t work right, the whole world is turned upside-down. Advice like “just snap out of it!” doesn’t go very far. One cannot “snap out of” a dark depression.
As difficult as it may be, we can approach the topic of depression (and other mental illnesses) from a nutrition perspective and find good solutions. Certainly prevention, if not treatment (partial or complete).
A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Am J Clin Nutr e Pub 2010 June 2) found that additional B vitamins may inhibit the onset of depression in adults as they age. Conducted by Rush University Medical Center Chicago, the study examined whether dietary intakes of vitamins B6, B12, or folate were related to the onset of depression in older adults. The study used a food frequency questionnaire to evaluate vitamin intake, while incident depression was measured using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression scale, over 12 years.
After adjusting for age, sex, race, education, income and antidepressant medication use, researchers found that higher intakes (including supplements) of vitamin B6 and B12 were associated with decreased likelihood of depression. Each additional 10 mg of these two B complex vitamins were associated with a 2 percent lower chance of developing symptoms of depression each year. This association remained even after adjusting for stress events and physical challenges.
We should not be surprised at these results because the B complex vitamins are known to be involved in energy metabolism, but also in methylation functions. I have written about the important relationship of methylation to mental functions.
Vitamin B12 is required for the production of acetylcholine, is critical to the development and maintenance of the myelin sheath, stimulates the utilization of all nutrients, and improves the utilization of iron.
The body is able to store a five-year supply of vitamin B12 so symptoms of deficiency may not appear for a long time. Symptoms of B12 deficiency mimic the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, so if these symptoms appear, B12 status should be assessed first.
The good news is that for just pennies a day, you can help prevent age-related depression, improve methylation (which accounts for many important functions including cognitive ability), and increase energy production. For a few extra pennies, please use the methylated form of B complex vitamins so if you do have an unknown methylation disorder, you still get the rich benefit of the vitamin.
Carol Simontacchi is a certified lifestyle educator. She can be reached at the Island Nutrition Center on Sanibel at 472-4499 or via her website at www.carolsimontacchionline.com.