If you’re feeling down or depressed, it could be what you’re eating – or not eating. Vitamin deficiencies affect mood by altering the synthesis of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters that allow communication between nerve cells. If you’re sad, lack energy, or are dealing with sleep problems, you could need more of one of these two groups of vitamins.
It could be a B vitamin deficiency
The B vitamins are closely involved in energy metabolism, and deficiencies of B vitamins especially thiamin, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 can cause symptoms of depression. It’s not necessarily an issue of bad diet either. You can eat a healthy diet and still be deficient in B vitamins if you don’t absorb them properly.
Older people and vegetarians are more likely to have low levels of vitamin B12, each for different reasons. Vitamin B12 is most common in meat and dairy products, which vegetarians don’t eat – and older people don’t absorb B12 as well because they have lower levels of hydrochloric acid in their stomach.
Thiamin and vitamin B6 deficiency aren’t very common, but older people and anyone with an eating disorder who eats a poor diet is at risk. Alcoholics are also at a greater risk of a deficiency in B vitamins, because they eat a nutritionally poor diet – and because they can’t absorb them as well.
It could be a vitamin D deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency is surprisingly common, especially among the older population. Some studies show that up to 75% of Americans have inadequate levels of the “sunshine vitamin”, which can make for a less than sunny mood.
According to a study published on Medscape.com, the risk of depression is 2 to 3 times greater in people with low vitamin D levels, especially among older people. No one knows exactly how vitamin D raises the risk of depression, but some researchers speculate it’s related to higher levels of parathyroid hormone in vitamin D deficient people. Higher parathyroid levels have been linked with depression.
The bottom line
If you’re depressed, it’s a good idea to have your doctor check levels of B vitamins and vitamin D in your blood, especially if you’re over the age of fifty, drink lots of alcohol or eat a vegetarian or non-nutritionally balanced diet.
It’s also important to check for iron-deficiency anemia, thyroid problems and diabetes if you’re depressed. Physical problems can cause depression too, so don’t assume it’s all in your head.