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It seems logical to explore vitamins for depression.Vitamins help build the brain and ensure that it’s functioning correctly. Orthomolecular psychiatry is the study of micronutrients and their effect on mental health.
For decades the psychiatric profession has denounced orthomolecular psychiatry, and therefore the motivation to do good research on the effects of vitamins for depression and mental health has been lacking. However, as interest in alternative medicine continues to grow, researchers have more interest in determining just how vitamins for depression might be used (Freinkel 2005). Hopefully in the future we will have a better idea of how vitamins for depression can be used.
No one really wants to take antidepressants. Many people believe they should be able to feel better on their own or they have concerns about just what these pills may do to them. Antidepressants can cause unpleasant side effects such as weight gain, decreased sex drive, and various other health problems. For women in particular the weight gain can make their depression worse! It makes sense to try vitamins for depression, first, if there are any out there.
In order to understand why vitamins for depression might be helpful, three theories of depression become important. They can get kind of complex, but it’s important to understand there are real biological reasons why vitamins should be explored as treatment.
If you are uninterested in the biological explanation for why vitamins for depression might be helpful, please scroll down past the next few paragraphs.
Depression has been linked with monamine neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine.
This relationship is so complex that researchers are continuously trying to refine their understanding of it.
One thing we do know is that antidepressants act to increase the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine. The theory is that dysfunction in the processes that regulate these neurotransmitters are different or dysfunctional in people who have depression.
Lending credibility to the theory is the fact that when levels of neurotransmitters are depleted in people with a history of depression ( not those without a history of depression), depression results.
This suggests that some people who have problems with the way the neurotransmitters are created are predisposed in some way to depression.
There is also suggestion that dopamine dysfunction may be related to depression in a certain group of individuals and that in these individuals, the depression consists of additional unique symptoms (Betrone 2009).
We know that when we are under stress the brain releases the corticotrophin- releasing hormone (CRH) which stimulates the pituitary gland to release corticotrophins, which stimulate the adrenals to release cortisol. The hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis is the name of this pathway, and it is theorized that dysfunction in this axis also is related to depression.
Why? Some studies have demonstrated that people with depression have an increase in CRH in spinal fluid and an increase in cortisol in the bloodstream. Click here to read more about cortisol ( Betrone 2009).
Homocysteine is an amino acid produced when food rich in methionine is eaten ( cheese, fish, meat poulty).
Methionine is converted to S-adenosylmethionine( SAMe) which is then converted to S adenosyl-homocycteine ( SAH). This is then converted to homocysteine and then back to methionine and SAMe using Folate and B12. SAMe has natural antidepressant properties. Deficiencies in B12 B6 or folate can lead to elevated homocysteine levels which are associated with depression (America 2008).
One of the most commonly referred to of the vitamins for depression is Vitamin D. Vitamin D has an important function in the brain, although it is not completely understood. Studies of rats have shown dysfunction in the way the brain develops when they are deprived of Vitamin D in utero, and studies of mice without receptors for Vitamin D show increased anxiety and behavioral problems. Some studies suggest relationships between Vitamin D and mental health. There is some limited animal evidence that Vitamin D plays a role in both the HPA axis and that it is related in some way to dopamine(Betrone 2009).
In 2008 a Dutch study found that elderly people with depression had significantly lower levels of Vitamin D. (Hoogendijk 2008). One study of fibromylagic patients with depression demonstrated deficiencies in Vitamin D. Also, studies have shown that PMS is associated with lower levels of dietary intake of Vitamin D. Most of the evidence is circumstantial and it is unclear what relationship Vitamin D has to depression. The most compelling evidence comes from a study on obese subjects with depression, who showed improvement after high doses of vitamin D. (Jorde et al 2008).
Sources in our diet of Vitamin D include orange juice,milk, and fortified cereals, meats, fish, and eggs as well as vitamin supplements. Most people in most parts of the world can achieve the correct levels by spending about fifteen minutes in the sunlight daily( Challem 2009).
Omega 3 ( fish oil)is one of the vitamins for depression with the best research. Omega 3 appears to work on the levels of the neurotransmitters nor epinephrine, dopamine and serotonin. We aren’t sure how. Evidence demonstrates it is effective as an adjunct treatment with antidepressants. Studies have shown omega 3 to help with childhood depression, post partum depression and depression during pregnancy. Ask your doctor about omega 3 if you are suffering from depression.
Folate is a B vitamin that occurs naturally in food. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate that is found in supplements . Deficiencies in folate have been found to be associated with depression. Some studies suggest depressed patients who have folate added to their antidepressant receive more relief in symptoms 2008). If you have depression it makes sense to ask your doctor about folic acid.
SAMe is not quite a vitamin, but a molecule we produce involved in the homocysteine hypothesis of depression outlined above. Trials using SAMe in people with Major depressive disorder consistently demonstrate a beneficial effect. Some studies demonstrate that when taken along with antidepressants, people are more likely to respond and some more likely to respond quicker. There are concerns over the proper dosage , the way it is administered and the fact that it may induce hypomania in some who previously had only unipolar depression( America 2008).
Another molecule which appears to make the brain’s receptors more sensitive to serotonin. Research has been mixed and inclusive (Sarris 2009).
Amino acids are required to create serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine.
L tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin. There are no high quality studies to demonstrate the relationship to supplements and relief of depression.
One study showed L tryptophan to be superior to a placebo and as effective as antidepressants. Other studies have suggested that it can augment the effect of some antidepressants ( meaning that when taken along with an antidepressant the effect is greater(Sarris 2009).
L tryptophan first becomes 5 HTP before it is converted to serotonin. Studies have shown that some adult patients have made improvements in their depressive symptoms when they have taken 5HTP. The process by which serotonin is created makes it important to consider combining 5 HTP and magnesium zinc and vitamin B6 in future studies ( Sarris 2009).
Folate, Omega 3, SAM-e and tryptophan have some evidence for effectiveness for depression, particularly when used with an antidepressant. Omega 3 studies have in the past demonstrated effectiveness when used as a monotherapy (alone without and antidepressant).
There is no good research suggesting these vitamins for depression can be used alone(Sarris 2009). If you are currently taking an antidepressant, or experiencing mild depression and do not want to take an antidepressant, it makes sense to ask your doctor about these vitamins for depression.
America A, Milling LS.“ The efficacy of vitamins for reducing or preventing depression symptoms in healthy individuals: natural remedy or placebo?” J Behave Med. 2008. 157-167
Bertone-Johnson ER. “Vitamin D and the occurrence of depression: causal association or circumstantial evidence?” Nutr Rev. 2009 Aug;67(8):481-92.
Challem,J. “Be well with vitamin B: B-complex vitamins are essential for myriad physical and mental functions. Find out just how much you need”.Better Nutrition. 2009 June.
Freinkel, Susan, “Vitamin Cure?” Discover. 2005 May;26 (5) Jorde R, Sneve M, Figenschau Y, Svartberg J, Waterloo K” Effects of vitamin D supplementation on symptoms of depression in overweight and obese subjects: randomized double blind trial”.J Intern Med. 2008 264(6) 599-609. Epub 2008 Sep 10.
Hoogendijk WJG, et al "Depression is associated with decreased 25-hydroxyvitamin D and increased parathyroid hormone levels in older adults". Arch Gen Psychiatry 2008; 65: 508-512.
Sarris J, Schoendorfer N, Kavanagh D. “Major Depressive Disorder and nutritional medicine: a review of the monotherapies and adjuvant treatments”.Nutrition Reviews 2009;67(3): 125-131.
A great page on goal setting and how it's related to depression can be found here