In any given year, depression is thought to affect almost 15 million adults in the US alone. This is a mental health epidemic with a complicated web of causes, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that vitamin B12 is involved.
Scientists have long thought that there could be a link between vitamin B12 and mental health, and that taking B12 may help to treat depression. After all, depression is one of the most common symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency.
When B12 Causes Depression
B12 deficiency is often overlooked as the possible cause of a number of common psychological disorders, especially depression. Lots of doctors are aware of the physical effects of B12 deficiency, but not the mental repercussions. This is a huge problem, as cognitive damage caused by vitamin deficiency can become permanent if left untreated for too long.
Low B12 levels normally go hand in hand with high blood levels of an amino acid called homocysteine (a key risk factor for coronary artery disease, blood clots, strokes, pregnancy complications and more). Research performed in Norway a few years ago found that people with high homocysteine levels (and thus low B12 levels) were at a greater risk of depression than those with healthy levels.
Interestingly, they couldn’t find any connection to anxiety, a separate but closely related condition.
Vitamin B12 plays an important role in producing various brain chemicals that have a big impact on mood and mental health. Other B vitamins (folate and B6 in particular) are also vital here, so a deficiency in any of these vitamins could potentially lead to an increased risk of depression.
Preventing Depression With B12 Supplements
It’s clear that if nobody had B12 deficiency, there would be fewer cases of depression. Of course it would never eliminate the problem entirely, but it would prevent anyone falling ill from a dietary shortfall.
A recent scientific study found that 27% of depressed women had low levels of vitamin B12 in their blood. Some of these individuals would no doubt have been depressed even with healthy vitamin levels, but B12 supplementation could have decreased the severity of the symptoms.
And it seems highly likely that at least some of those 27% of women will have been depressed as a result of B12 deficiency. As this is more than a quarter of the afflicted population, further research is definitely required to establish just how much of a role B12 plays here.
In medical literature, the classic account of depression caused by B12 deficiency is that of an unfortunate 57 year old woman. She had been suffering from a variety of steadily worsening symptoms for a number of years – lethargy, anxiety, hearing voices and, eventually, catatonia.
The poor woman underwent months of treatment with antidepressants and antipsychotic medication, and her doctors even resorted to electroconvulsive therapy. Only after all of this did someone have the bright idea of testing her B12 levels.
Lo and behold, she very clearly had B12 deficiency. Within a couple of months of B12 supplementation and injections, she was completely fine, with none of her old symptoms. After 14 years (!) of suffering, it took just two months of treatment with B12 to cure her.
Treating Depression With B12
Not all depression can be treated so easily, and B12 won’t have an effect on everyone. After all, many cases of depression are nothing at all to do with vitamin B12 levels.
Still, anyone who is diagnosed with clinical depression should have their B12 levels measured, just to be sure. Even if it isn’t the cause, there’s evidence to suggest that it might still be beneficial for depression patients to supplement their B12 intake.
Scientists investigating the effects of B12 supplementation discovered that patients responded to standard depression treatments better when they were taking vitamin B12 tablets. Supplementation of Folate/folic acid also improved the response to antidepressants and counseling.
To conclude, traditional treatments for depression e.g. therapy, counseling and antidepressants should still form the backbone of care for depressed patients. But ensuring that they’re getting plenty of B12 may well be the extra push that they need to recover.
As a final note, we always suggest that anyone taking B12 supplements ensures that the main ingredient is methylcobalamin not cyanocobalamin. It tends to be a little bit pricier, but you get what you pay for. Please take a look at the link if you want to find out more!
From top to bottom, images are courtesy of David Castillo Dominici, Master isolated images, steafpong, photostock, and Ambro, all at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.