Can a B-12 Deficiency Cause Depression?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Overview

A vitamin deficiency, or low levels of a vitamin in your blood, can be caused by diet or a malfunction in the way your body absorbs vitamins.

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Vitamin B-12 is naturally found in animal products. That means people who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet may have trouble getting enough B-12. Some foods like cereal have B-12 added to them. That can help people who consume little or no animal protein get enough B-12. You can also take a vitamin supplement.

Some people consume enough B-12, but their bodies don’t properly absorb the vitamin. A B-12 deficiency can affect your health in various ways. Some have even linked depression to vitamin B deficiency.

What is the connection between Vitamin B-12 and depression?

B-vitamins, including vitamin B-12, have been linked to depression. But because depression is a complex condition, the connection isn’t fully understood.

One possible connection is the effect of vitamin B-12 on the levels of serotonin in your brain, in addition to other chemicals. Serotonin helps to regulate your mood. Low levels of serotonin may be linked to depression. However, recent research has suggested that serotonin may play a smaller role in depression than previously thought.

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If you’re experiencing depression, talk to your doctor. They can help you develop a treatment plan that’s right for you. Natural remedies, like a B-12 supplement, may help. But you’ll also likely need to participate in talk therapy and possibly take prescription medication.

Do you have a B-12 deficiency?

Vitamin B-12 is also known as the energy vitamin. It helps keep your immune system healthy and your brain functioning. Some of the symptoms of a B-12 deficiency are similar to those of depression, which can make it difficult to identify a vitamin deficiency if you’re also depressed.

What are the risk factors for a vitamin B-12 deficiency?

Some people are at an increased risk for vitamin B-12 deficiency. The highest sources of vitamin B-12 are animal products, like meat, fish, or diary. People who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet are at an increased risk for B-12 deficiency and may need to add a B-12 supplement to their daily diet. Some foods are fortified with B-12. So if you have a mostly plant-based diet, check food labels and pick grain products that are fortified with B-12.

You may also have an increased risk for vitamin B-12 deficiency if you:

  • recently had weight loss surgery, because the operation interferes with your body’s ability to extract B-12 from food
  • have been diagnosed with Crohn’s or celiac disease, conditions that can affect the way your body absorbs nutrients
  • are over the age of 50, because the stomach beings to produce less acid as you age, and this acid helps with B-12 absorption
  • take prescribed heartburn drugs, which reduce acid production in your stomach and may affect B-12 absorption

How is a B-12 deficiency diagnosed?

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If you suspect you have a vitamin deficiency, make an appointment with your doctor. They can do a blood test to check the level of vitamins in your blood. You should also bring a list of the following to your appointment:

  • medications and supplements you take
  • symptoms you’ve experienced
  • questions for your doctor

Test results shouldn’t take more than a week to receive. If you find out you have a vitamin or nutrient deficiency, you can start implementing diet changes. Your doctor may also recommend temporarily taking supplements if the deficiency is severe.

If your blood work comes back normal, you can rule out a B-12 deficiency and look into other treatment options for depression.

What are the treatment options for a B-12 deficiency?

You can also treat B-12 deficiencies by taking a B-12 supplement. Be sure to talk to your doctor first. Sometimes B vitamins can interact with medications, so your doctor may not recommend that you take them.

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It’s also important to eat breakfast every day. Starting your day with fortified cereal and low-fat or fat-free milk is a great way to get some B-12 into your diet. And eating breakfast can help you feel more energized throughout the day.

Outlook

Depression is a serious medical condition that can affect everything you do. While there may be a link between your B-12 levels and depression, it’s important to work with your doctor to come up with a holistic treatment plan that works for you.

Read more on: depression


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