Vitamin B-12 and depression: Are they related?


Q. What is the relationship between vitamin B-12 and depression?

Answer.
Doctors have long known of the relationship between low levels of vitamin B-12 and depression. Vitamin B-12 and other B vitamins, such as folate, play a role in the production of certain brain chemicals that are important in regulating mood and other brain functions.

However, it's less clear whether vitamin B-12 deficiency may be the cause or the result of depression. Poor nutrition is one cause of vitamin B-12 deficiency. But poor nutrition may also be a consequence of depression. People who are depressed may lose interest in eating or make less healthy food choices, which may lead to vitamin B-12 deficiency.

When you're depressed, it's important to try to eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes sources of essential nutrients, including B vitamins. Vitamin B-12 is plentiful in animal products such as fish, meat, poultry, eggs and milk. Fortified breakfast cereals also are a good source of B-12 and other B vitamins.

Especially if you're older than 50 or you're a vegetarian, taking a daily supplement that includes vitamin B-12 and other B vitamins may be helpful in making sure your body is getting the nutrients it needs. Talk to your doctor about whether to take a vitamin supplement.

When talking to your doctor about depression, keep in mind that it's important for him or her to address any underlying physical conditions that might play a part in your depression. Examples include vitamin deficiency, thyroid disease and certain types of anemia. Treating these underlying conditions may improve your mood. If you're still depressed after successful treatment of the underlying condition, your doctor may recommend treatments for depression which include antidepressants and psychological counseling.