You may not get enough vitamin B-12 if you don’t watch what you eat, if you eat a vegetarian or vegan diet or if you have a digestive disorder that prevents you from properly absorbing vitamins. Evidence suggests that having a vitamin B-12 deficiency could boost your chances of having depression and other mental conditions. Fortunately, you may be able to reverse your risk by finding ways to increase your intake.
According to a 2003 Finnish study published in “BMC Psychiatry,” 115 patients receiving counseling as treatment for major depression were more likely to have successful treatment outcomes if they had high levels of vitamin B-12 in their bodies. Furthermore, a study published in a 2000 issue of "The American Journal of Psychiatry" found that physically disabled elderly women were twice as likely to have severe depression if they had a vitamin B-12 deficiency. Further studies have found that up to 30 percent of people hospitalized for depression have a vitamin B-12 deficiency, according to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.
Scientists have been able to draw some connections between B vitamins and mood. B vitamins help maintain blood cells and nerves through complex biochemical reactions in the brain, according to “Psychology Today.” B vitamins also help several of the body’s neurotransmitters function properly. One important neurotransmitter affected by B vitamins is dopamine, which helps provide the body’s experience of pleasure. Authors of the Finnish study postulated another potential link between vitamin B-12 and depression. They suggested that a deficiency in vitamin B-12 can build up an amino acid called homocysteine in the blood, an effect that may make depression worse.
Dietary Sources of B-12
You should be able to get enough vitamin B-12 in your diet simply by including animal products such as fish, poultry, eggs and meat in your diet. Most people need at least 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B-12 per day, and the average young man gets about 4.5 micrograms and the average young woman gets about 3 micrograms, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. If you’re a vegetarian you can take in about 0.9 micrograms of vitamin B-12 for each cup of fresh pasteurized milk you consume. If you consume no animal products, many foods – such as cereal – are fortified with vitamin B-12.
You may need to take extra steps to supplement your diet with vitamin B-12 if you know your diet is particularly low in it or if you are at increased risk of malabsorption. For instance, you should take extra steps to consume fortified foods as well as supplemental varieties if you’re over age 50, because you’re at increased risk of not being able to absorb food-bound vitamin B-12. However, talk to your doctor before you start supplementing, as supplements can negatively interact with other health conditions you may have and medications you take. Also get in touch with your doctor before you supplement your diet with vitamin B-12 to treat depressive symptoms. You may be a candidate for supplementation if you’re depressed and exhibit other symptoms of deficiency, but that will not replace your need for counseling and maybe even antidepressant medications.
- The American Journal of Psychiatry: Vitamin B12 Deficiency and Depression in Physically Disabled Older Women: Epidemiologic Evidence From the Women’s Health and Aging Study
- BMC Psychiatry: High Vitamin B12 Level and Good Treatment Outcome May Be Associated in Major Depressive Disorder
- Psychology Today: Be Healthy with B12
- Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University: Vitamin B-12
- The Wall Street Journal: Sluggish? Confused? Vitamin B12 May Be Low