Depression is triggered by a chemical imbalance, genetic predisposition or environmental factors. Nutritional deficiency is rarely considered as being a cause, although according to Bonnie Beardsley, MPH, LDN, RD, vitamin deficiency, especially B vitamins, can initiate a depressive state, and increase its length and severity.
Vitamin B-Complex group
B-complex vitamins work directly with the nervous system and factor highly in mental health and emotional well being. Although they are present in most natural foods, diets mainly consisting of refined carbohydrates and processed items and conditions such as alcoholism and kidney failure can lead to nutritional deficiencies. B-complex vitamins are water soluble, so excess amounts are passed through urine. For this reason, your body needs a constant supply and daily supplements are recommended.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)
Vitamin B1, also named thiamin, aids in nerve and brain stimulation and metabolizes carbohydrates to produce energy. It assists in building resilience, strength and stamina and symptoms signaling a deficiency are irritability, fatigue, personality change, nervous exhaustion, insomnia and depression. Insufficient diets, alcoholism, malabsorption syndrome and pregnancy can lead to thiamin deficiency.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Vitamin B3, or niacin, helps the nervous system function and improves blood circulation. It also metabolizes carbohydrates, lowers cholesterol, regulates the digestive system and promotes healthy skin, nails and hair. As many foods nowadays are fortified with niacin, a lack is less common but when deficient, the disease Pellagra can occur. This condition stems from a lack of niacin and is characterized by dry skin, psychosis and dementia. Irritability anxiety and depression are also symptoms of a deficiency.
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)
Vitamin B5 metabolizes carbohydrates, fats and proteins for energy. It is vital for the development of muscles, nerves and reproductive health and is a regulator of hormones, particularly the stress hormone cortisone. It’s also responsible for the absorption of amino acids and the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, working with the central nervous system to manage memory, learning and the cognitive functions of the brain. It reduces physical and mental stress and heightens energy and alertness. Deficiency can cause chronic stress, depression, fatigue, heart problems, and insomnia. Sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease are often deficient in Vitamin B5.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
Vitamin B6 is the main processor of amino acids and maintainer of the central nervous system and important functions of the body. It also helps serotonin, the neurotransmitter essential to emotional well being. When in balance, people can feel euphoria and calmness. The use of birth control pills, alcoholism and kidney failure can lead to vitamin B6 deficiency. Symptoms of deficiency are irritability, anxiety, antagonism and depression.
Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid)
Folic acid aids growth at all stages and red blood cell formation. It supports brain and neurotransmitter function and is crucial to mental and emotional wellness. Deficiency is a major contributor to depression. Homocysteine is a toxic byproduct of SAM-e (S-adenosylmethionine) a chemical that is found in the body. Increased levels of homocysteine can cause depression and heart disease. Folic acid reduces homocysteine levels. As many food items and cereals are now fortified with folic acid, deficiency is rare, although supplements are recommended for pregnant women. Alcoholics, the elderly and sufferers of kidney and renal failure are susceptible to lowered levels.
Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin)
Among the group of B-complex vitamins, B12 is considered to be the most powerful and vital in the production of blood cells, nervous system function, emotional and cognitive health. Resistance to the absorption of vitamin B12 occurs with age and senior sufferers of osteoporosis are generally B12 deficient. According to a study published in a 2008 edition of Neurology, B12 has the potential to eliminate brain shrinkage in the elderly to reduce memory loss. Other symptoms of deficiency are weight loss, severe depression, mental fatigue, irritability and mood swings.