B12: Could this be the answer to your depression?
As a nutritionist I look for root causes to mental health issues. The response that “It’s a chemical imbalance” does nothing to explain why someone is depressed. Nor does sitting on the couch of a professional for years do anything to help you if your root causes to depression are internal.
Could your depression be caused by a vitamin deficiency?
Sometimes it could be as simple as a needed nutrient that your body is lacking. The theory of an imbalance of serotonin in the brain may sound reasonable but it has never been proven. Yet many people, single mindedly, focus on this one possible cause.
In reality there can be many root causes to depression. B12 is just one of many that we will explore in this article.
Why is B12 so important?
B12 plays a central role in the regulation of your neurotransmitters like your dopamine and serotonin. The role that B12 plays with SAMe may have something to do with depression. SAMe is found in every cell in the body and is also involved in the breakdown and production of your brain chemicals that are involved in regulating mood. Not having enough B12 (or enough folate) can reduce your levels of SAMe.
B12 also plays a role in mitochondrial health. These power houses are responsible for each cells’ energy production which also plays a role in neurotransmitter signaling in the circuits that help to regulate mood. So no B12 means poor mitochondrial health.
Elevated cortisol levels which can be caused by chronic stress (from lifestyle, exercise and/or diet) can impact your moods as well. High cortisol levels (your fight or flight hormone) can cause oxidative damage to your mitochondria and in turn affect your neurotransmitter signaling. Nutrients including B12 along with folate, Omega 3’s , vitamin C, zinc and magnesium can protect your cells from this oxidative damage.
B12 is part of the B complex family/What to supplement with
When looking to add more B12 into your diet it may be best to add in the B complex which includes niacin, folate and B6. All of these can play a role in mood. The best way to get your B12 is from organic grass fed meat products. Other sources include fish, cottage cheese and grass fed yogurt.
However stress depletes our B vitamins so I typically recommend a B complex supplement. Remember training for an event and intense exercise is also stress on the body. Lack of sleep is too.
If you are a vegan or vegetarian then consider a B complex and an additional B12 supplement. In a B complex look for your B6 in the P-5P form, your B12 as methylcobalamin and your Folate as methyl-folate. Folic acid is synthetic. Avoid it! Purchase a supplement that has 800 mcg. of folate and 400 mcg. of B12.
While you may need B12 in your diet, a whole foods diet with variety is the best way to achieve balance with your vitamins and minerals. However, in today’s society sadly it is difficult to get all the nutrients our bodies need from food alone.
Our soil is depleted, much of our food is weeks old by the time it hits the store shelves and then factor in the processed food, the GMO’s, chronic low stomach acid and our style of rushed eating, and you have the perfect storm for nutrient deficiencies.
Are your medications causing your B12 deficiency?
Proton Pump inhibitors and histamine 2 receptor antagonists are two classes of drugs that can cause a B12 deficiency. Ask yourself if your depression started or got worse after starting on these medications. Other drugs that can cause a B12 deficiency include birth control pills and nitric oxide (laughing gas).
So what you may have thought as a brain imbalance may in reality be a nutrient imbalance. All our vitamins and minerals are meant to work in harmony. This means that excess of any one nutrient can cause an imbalance with others.
Other symptoms of a B12 deficiency (other than depression)
- constant tiredness
- pins and needles sensation
- hair loss
- numbness in hands/feet
- sore tongue
Causes of B12 Deficiency
This article does not touch on all the reasons why you may have low B12 so here are some others you may wish to explore further.
- Vegan or vegetarian diet
- Low stomach acid (many have low stomach acid not high and we need stomach acid to synthesize our B12). Proton Pumps lower your stomach acid.
- High homocysteine levels (B12 is needed for homocysteine metabolism. B12 deficiency allows for the buildup of homocysteine. High homocysteine is a factor to consider when one has depression)
- Not getting enough folate with your B12
- Autoimmune condition
- Leaky gut syndrome
- Weight loss surgery
- Eating disorder
- Old age (as we age we lose our ability to absorb our B12, as we age we tend to have lower stomach acid levels)
Stay tuned for my next blog post on: B12 testing: Pros and cons of various tests
Karen Brennan, MSW, CNC, author of Tru Foods Depression Free Nutrition, Supplement and herb guide and owner of Tru Foods Nutrition Services, LLC believes in addressing the root causes of your health issues with nutrition, supplements and herbs. For more information, visit her website at www.trufoodsnutrition.com
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