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Can Vitamin Deficiency Cause Depression?


By Rachel Welch 

Depression is a complex mental disorder caused by various factors, including genetics, environmental influences, and lifestyle choices. It can significantly impact a person's life differently and affect their relationships with loved ones and friends.  


While depression is a lifelong battle for many, there are specific steps that may help reduce its symptoms and keep the worst of it at bay. It is first necessary to address what may have caused depression to occur, to begin with. While there is no clear answer as to why certain people experience depression while others don't, recent studies have suggested that a deficiency in some vitamins may play a role in the development of depression.


Vital Vitamins 


Vitamins are essential nutrients that all bodies need to function correctly and be at their best. Vitamins support various bodily processes, including metabolism, immune system function, and brain function.  


Multiple health problems, including depression, can surface without the right amount of these essential vitamins.   


Vitamin D for Depression 


Vitamin D, aka "the sunshine vitamin," is unique because it can be synthesized by the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight. However, vitamin D deficiency is common, particularly in areas prone to overcast skies and with limited sunlight exposure.  


Vitamin D receptors reside in regions of the brain that regulate mood, leading researchers to explore the ties between vitamin D and depression. For plant lovers, think of vitamin D as the body's answer to photosynthesis, in that our body produces vitamin D when we spend time in the sun. Pretty nifty. 


Vitamin D deficiency and depression are closely related, particularly in individuals with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of depression linked to seasonal changes and is more common in areas with limited sunlight exposure.  


Otherwise, vitamin D occurs in certain foods like fatty fish and fortified dairy products.  


Studies have shown that people with depression also often have a vitamin D deficiency more often than those without depression. 


To dig a little deeper: another study from the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that people with depression had significantly lower vitamin D levels than those without depression. The study also found that vitamin D supplementation helped improve symptoms of depression. 


Furthermore, researchers found that people with depression who received vitamin D supplementation for eight weeks had a significant improvement in their depression symptoms compared to those who received a placebo.  


All of this leads to the conclusion that vitamin D may play a role in regulating mood and emotions and, therefore, in the onset and maintenance of depression. 


Vitamin B12 


Another vitamin linked to depression is vitamin B12. You can get vitamin B12 from your diet through animal products like meat, fish, and dairy.  


B12 is required for several functions, including that of the nervous system. Researchers believe that vitamin B12 deficiency may lead to depression by affecting the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine (happy brain chemicals, essentially).  


Serotonin and dopamine help us regulate our mood, and a deficiency in vitamin B12 may lead to a decrease in their happy and helpful production.   


One peer-reviewed study compared the findings of 30-40 published articles, and found that while further research is needed, B12 deficiency is correlated with a higher risk of developing depression.  


According to these studies, if you proactively supplement B12, it is likely that you will not develop depression or experience worsening symptoms.   


Another study found that people with depression who received vitamin B12 supplementation for 12 weeks had a significant improvement in their depression symptoms compared to those who received a placebo. The study also found that the improvement in symptoms was greater in those who had a more severe vitamin B12 deficiency at the start of the study. 


Vitamin C  


Continuing our journey through the vitamin alphabet, we have vitamin C. Vitamin C is found in fruits and vegetables and is required for immune system function and health, among other essential functions.  


Studies have shown that individuals who suffer from depression are more likely to have a vitamin C deficiency than those without depression. 


One study from 2015 found that people with depression who received vitamin C supplementation for four weeks significantly improved their depression symptoms compared to those who received a placebo. The study also found that the improvement in symptoms was more significant in those with a more severe vitamin C deficiency at the start of the study. 


This leads to the theory that vitamin C deficiency may contribute to the development of depression by increasing inflammation in the body, since inflammation is linked to a number of health issues, including depression.


Vitamin B6: Pyridoxine 


With the many types of B vitamins out there, another to address is vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine.  


Vitamin B6 plays a crucial role in producing neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, so deficiency of vitamin B6 has been linked to depression and other mood disorders.  


A study conducted on 140 patients with depression showed that the patients had significantly lower levels of vitamin B6 compared to the control group.  


This suggests that supplementation of vitamin B6 may be a potential treatment option for depression.  


Another study conducted on elderly patients with major depressive disorder showed that treatment with vitamin B6 significantly improved their depressive symptoms. 


Vitamin B6 can be found in various foods, including poultry, fish, potatoes, and bananas. However, it is essential to note that vitamin B6 can be destroyed during the cooking process.  


Therefore, it may be necessary to supplement vitamin B6 in cases of deficiency. 




Magnesium is a mineral that occurs naturally in the body and is essential for several bodily functions, including nerve and muscle function, bone health, and heart rhythm.  


Recent studies have also found a connection between magnesium deficiency and an increased risk of depression. 


Magnesium can play a significant role in treating and preventing depression.  


Researchers have found that supplementing with magnesium may significantly improve depression symptoms in participants with mild-to-moderate depression. The study suggests that magnesium may be an effective and safe supplement for treating depression. 


Another study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry found that participants with depression had significantly lower magnesium levels in their blood than those without depression.  


The study also found that magnesium supplementation significantly improved symptoms of depression in participants with low levels of magnesium in their blood. Additionally, participants who maintained a diet high in magnesium were at a lower risk of depression than those who consumed a diet low in magnesium. 


One theory behind the connection between magnesium and depression is that magnesium plays a role in regulating the stress response system in the body.  


Chronic stress can change the brain and can contribute to depression, meanwhile Magnesium has been found to have a calming effect on the brain and body and reduce stress. 


Overall, the evidence suggests that magnesium may be an effective and safe supplement for treating and preventing depression. However, Magnesium supplementation might interact with certain medications, so it’s important to speak with your doctor to make sure it’s right for you.  




Another factor that seems to be related to depression is overall hydration and the body's balance of electrolytes. 


Electrolytes play a crucial role in maintaining bodily functions, including the proper functioning of the brain and nervous system.  


Maintaining proper electrolyte balance is vital for mental health as it can impact mood, energy levels, and cognitive function and has been researched for years.  


A study from 1963 confirmed the relationship between dehydration and increased depressive symptoms, and more recent studies seem to confirm this.  


Additionally, dehydration can negatively impact mental health by causing fatigue, brain fog, and irritability. Therefore, staying hydrated and ensuring proper electrolyte intake is essential for maintaining good mental health.  


Drinking water and consuming foods rich in electrolytes, such as bananas, leafy greens, and nuts, can help maintain electrolyte balance and improve overall mental well-being. With the importance of hydration in mind, we encourage you to grab a hydrating gulp of water before you continue reading.  


Research continues in the quest to better understand vitamin deficiency’s link to depression. Still, studies from the past and present suggest that deficiencies in specific vitamins and minerals may play a role in the development of depression.  


If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, it may be worthwhile to consider other treatments beyond vitamin supplementation. 


Therapy is for Everyone! 


Therapy can provide us with tools and coping strategies to manage depression symptoms and improve our overall quality of life.  


Therapy is beneficial for everyone. 


Here are some of the research-backed benefits of different types of therapy that can help treat depression: 


Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a popular therapy used to treat depression. CBT is based on the idea that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interconnected.  


In CBT, therapists work with clients to identify negative thought patterns and replace them with positive ones. Studies have shown that CBT is effective in treating depression and can be just as effective as medication in some cases. 


Another effective form of therapy for depression is interpersonal therapy (IPT).  


IPT helps individuals improve their interpersonal (social) relationships and communication skills, which can help reduce symptoms of depression. Studies have shown that IPT is as effective as medication in treating depression, especially for individuals with mild to moderate symptoms. 


Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) combines elements of CBT with mindfulness meditation. This is a powerful pairing, as it helps encourage the feeling of being present, grounded, and stable.  


MBCT helps reduce symptoms of depression and may prevent relapse in individuals who have experienced recurrent episodes of depression. 


Finally, psychodynamic therapy is a form of therapy that explores the unconscious mind and how past experiences may impact current behavior. This could be exploring past trauma and working through it, for instance.  


While psychodynamic therapy is a lesser-researched treatment for depression, studies have shown that it can be effective in reducing depression symptoms and that it may improve overall functioning. 


Vitamins, and Beyond 


While obtaining adequate amounts of vitamins through your regular diet is important, supplementation is always a great idea if you are deficient in any of these crucial nutrients. 


If you suspect you may lack any of these vitamins, it is important to speak with your doctor to explore the best options for you.


It is also important to note that while vitamin deficiencies may contribute to depression, they are not likely to be the sole and exclusive cause of the condition. Depression is a complex disorder influenced by a wide range of factors, including genetics, environment, and life experiences. 


Treatment for depression is as multifaceted as individual health.  


It may need a unique approach, as each person is unique in their health journey. However, addressing underlying nutrient deficiencies may be necessary for a comprehensive treatment or prevention plan.  


If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, remember to consult your doctor to check for nutritional deficiencies and to establish a plan of action.  


As a complex individual, your health and depression needs may require a clever mix of solutions. If those solutions involve a regimen of vitamins and supplements, Health by Principle has you covered with high-quality supplements to help you live your healthiest life.  



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