About.com: Vitamins for Depression?

Here is a well-articulated article on the role of vitamins in depression.  Although it is not referenced, it is reviewed by Harvard professor of psychiatry, Dr. Steven Gans.  This article is on general depression, but it cites conditions specific to pregnant women such as increased blood volume and DNA synthesis.  Also noted is that the use of birth control pills is a common reason for low levels of B-vitamins.  Other reasons for increased need for B-vitamins besides pregnancy are stress, breast feeding, or physical stress due to trauma such as vaginal childbirth or Cesarean section.

During pregnancy the mother’s own body donates all the nutrients required to grow the fetus.  Women can be left with inadequate levels of vitamins for proper brain function.  Read on…

A Good Vitamin Supplement Could Be Just What the Doctor Ordered

By Nancy Schimelpfening, About.com

Updated: May 29, 2006

About.com Health’s Disease and Condition content is reviewed by Steven Gans, MD

 

Did you ever wish that you could take a vitamin for depression? Well, for some of you it may be just that simple. There are a variety of vitamin deficiencies that can lead to depression symptoms.

The B-Complex Vitamins

The B-complex vitamins are essential to mental and emotional well-being. They cannot be stored in our bodies, so we depend entirely on our daily diet to supply them. B vitamins are destroyed by alcohol, refined sugars, nicotine, and caffeine so it is no surprise that many people may be deficient in these.

Here’s a rundown of recent finding about the relationship of B-complex vitamins to depression:

  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine): The brain uses this vitamin to help convert glucose, or blood sugar, into fuel, and without it the brain rapidly runs out of energy. This can lead to fatigue, depression, irritability, anxiety, and even thoughts of suicide. Deficiencies can also cause memory problems, loss of appetite, insomnia, and gastrointestinal disorders. The consumption of refined carbohydrates, such as simple sugars, drains the body’s B1 supply. 
  • Vitamin B3 (niacin): Pellagra-which produces psychosis and dementia, among other symptoms-was eventually found to be caused by niacin deficiency. Many commercial food products now contain niacin, and pellagra has virtually disappeared. However, subclinical deficiencies of vitamin B3 can produce agitation and anxiety, as well as mental and physical slowness.
  • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): Symptoms of deficiency are fatigue, chronic stress, and depression. Vitamin B5 is needed for hormone formation and the uptake of amino acids and the brain chemical acetylcholine, which combine to prevent certain types of depression.
  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine): This vitamin aids in the processing of amino acids, which are the building blocks of all proteins and some hormones. It is needed in the manufacture of serotonin, melatonin and dopamine. Vitamin B6 deficiencies, although very rare, cause impaired immunity, skin lesions, and mental confusion. A marginal deficiency sometimes occurs in alcoholics, patients with kidney failure, and women using oral contraceptives. MAOIs, ironically, may also lead to a shortage of this vitamin. Many nutritionally oriented doctors believe that most diets do not provide optimal amounts of this vitamin.
  • Vitamin B12: Because vitamin B12 is important to red blood cell formation, deficiency leads to an oxygen-transport problem known as pernicious anemia. This disorder can cause mood swings, paranoia, irritability, confusion, dementia, hallucinations, or mania, eventually followed by appetite loss, dizziness, weakness, shortage of breath, heart palpitations, diarrhea, and tingling sensations in the extremities. Deficiencies take a long time to develop, since the body stores a three- to five-year supply in the liver. When shortages do occur, they are often due to a lack of intrinsic factor, an enzyme that allows vitamin B12 to be absorbed in the intestinal tract. Since intrinsic factor diminishes with age, older people are more prone to B12 deficiencies.
  • Folic acid: This B vitamin is needed for DNA synthesis. It is also necessary for the production of SAM (S-adenosyl methionine). Poor dietary habits contribute to folic acid deficiencies, as do illness, alcoholism, and various drugs, including aspirin, birth control pills, barbiturates, and anticonvulsants. It is usually administered along with vitamin B12, since a B12 deficiency can mask a folic acid deficiency. Pregnant women are often advised to take this vitamin to prevent neural tube defects in the developing fetus.

Vitamin C

Subclinical deficiencies can produce depression, which requires the use of supplements. Supplementation is particularly important if you have had surgery or an inflammatory disease. Stress, pregnancy, and lactation also increase the body’s need for vitamin C, while aspirin, tetracycline, and birth control pills can deplete the body’s supply.

 

In 2006, The British Journal of Psychiatry showed folate is a good complement to medical antidepressant therapy.  For more information on using B-complex vitamins click here

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