After practicing psychology for more than 20 years with children, adolescents and adults, I’ve been treating symptoms of anxiety and depression with traditional psychotherapy and when severe enough, have recommended a referral to a psychiatrist for medication options. It was only by personal experience and therapy patient contact that I stumbled upon the connection between vitamin deficiencies, such as vitamin D, B12, thyroid hormones, folic acid, zinc and tryptophan that may play a huge part in our absorption and reuptake of serotonin in our brains (McGovern, 2018).
When it comes to serious illnesses, we do not think of our vitamin levels in our blood, but instead turn to antidepressants and antianxiety medication to feel better. The problem with medication is that it may instead mask the problem by taking care of the symptoms, but not the source.
Studies from around the world have shown that vitamin deficiencies may have a profound effect on how the medications themselves are absorbed in our brain and how the key chemicals that keep one stable may be severely compromised when there is a deficiency in one or multiple hormones in our bodies. For instance, vitamin D is the only vitamin listed as a hormone and assists in the absorption of calcium and activates genes that regulate the immune system and releases neurotransmitters that affect brain function and development. Researchers have found vitamin D receptors on a handful of cells located in the same regions in the brain that are linked with depression (Greenblatt, 2018).
Similar studies have shown that patients with severe vitamin D deficiencies suffering from depression were administered 3-month trials of “mega-doses” of vitamin D and after that time frame their symptoms of depression were alleviated. (Holick, 2007)
People with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) have been treated with real and artificial sunlight with positive results. Sunlight is a direct influence of vitamin D levels and has been shown to be a causal influence of depressed mood (Bauer, Heinz, & Whybrow, 2002).
Depleted B12 deficiencies have also been shown to be associated with depression and anxiety levels. Roughly 2/5 of the population present with severe B12 deficiencies (Brogan, 2018). You can have a blood test to determine healthy proportions of vitamin levels within your system.
There are six particular factors that have been shown to be linked with depression and anxiety that often mimic these disorders (Borchard, 2018).
- vitamin D deficiency
- low blood sugar
- dehydration/poor diet
- food intolerances/allergies
- chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is generated from an allergy or multiple allergies attacking the system, which affects chemistry in the brain. So, what if depression isn’t actually a cause, at least at the root level, by a chemical imbalance after all? More specifically, we might ask what if depression is not a disease, but a symptom of an underlying problem? To put it more simply, depression may be a symptom of chronic inflammation. But this is not only true for depression; it’s also true for all kinds of other mental and behavioral health disorders, like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, OCD, ADHD and autism spectrum disorder (Kresser, 2018).
This also may explain why traditional antidepressant medications may not be effective on some people and lose potency over the course of treatment. If we treat the body as a whole and realize there are multiple factors that affect brain chemistry and the activation of receptors in the brain that may be clogged or rendered ineffective by a system failure from vitamin deficiency or chronic inflammation, we may have other options at our disposal to help our family members (Haglage, 2018).
Research is still in its infancy regarding the causal effects of these mental disorders. However, there are promising studies that show how these vitamins, hormones and chronic inflammation have an established impact on our brains and its overall functioning. We do not know the specifics and the systemic causes of depression and anxiety disorders. But ask your doctor first about blood levels, vitamin deficiencies and hormonal imbalances before taking the first line psychotropic medications.
I do not think that this is the cure, but I am suggesting that there can be multiple causes to these disorders and the reasons why our brains are functioning with impairments may be more about deficiencies than a reaction to a specific event in our lives that shut down those functions.
So, what can you do to alleviate depression and anxiety? Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as adding a multivitamin to your diet (Schimelpfening, 2018). In psychotherapy, a thorough history is usually provided over time, as patients often are able to discuss their habits, behaviors and dietary regimens in a confidential and safe way. If there is a determined deficiency, it will take high dosages and months of consistent vitamin replenishment to stabilize. But maintaining a healthy diet, exercise, outdoor activities and checking for food allergies are great preventative measures to assist with our overall health. Hate to say it, but our grandparents “told us so!”
Bauer, M., Heinz, A. and Whybrow, P. (2002). Thyroid hormones, serotonin and mood: of synergy and significance in the adult brain. Molecular Psychiatry, 7(2), pp.140-156.
Borchard, T. (2018). 6 Conditions That Feel Like Depression But Aren’t. [online] Everydayhealth.com. Available at: https://www.everydayhealth.com/columns/therese-borchard-sanity-break/6-conditions-that-feel-like-depression-but-arent/ [Accessed 2 May 2018].
Brogan, M.D., K. (2018). Vitamin B12 Deficiency: A Trigger for Depression and Anxiety?. [online] Kelly Brogan MD. Available at: http://kellybroganmd.com/b12-deficiency-brain-health/ [Accessed 2 May 2018].
Greenblatt, M.D., J. (2018). Psychological Consequences of Vitamin D Deficiency. [online] Psychology Today. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-breakthrough-depression-solution/201111/psychological-consequences-vitamin-d-deficiency [Accessed 2 May 2018].
Haglage, A. (2018). People with allergies and asthma have a higher risk of psychiatric disorders. [online] Yahoo. Available at: https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/people-allergies-asthma-higher-risk-psychiatric-disorders-172415683.html?.tsrc=fauxdal [Accessed 2 May 2018].
Holick,M. (2007). Vitamin D Deficiency. New England Journal of Medicine,357, pp 266-281.
Kresser, C. (2018). RHR: Is Bipolar Disorder Caused by Chronic Inflammation?. [online] Chris Kresser. Available at: https://chriskresser.com/rhr-is-bipolar-disorder-caused-by-chronic-inflammation/ [Accessed 2 May 2018].
McGovern, C. (2018). Depression: it’s not your brain it’s your thyroid. [online] What Doctors Don’t Tell You. Available at: https://www.wddty.com/magazine/2016/june/depression-its-not-your-brain-its-your-thyroid.html [Accessed 2 May 2018].
Schimelpfening, N. (2018). The Vitamin That Lowers the Risk of Depression. [online] Very Well Mind. Available at: https://www.verywellmind.com/vitamin-for-depression-1065211 [Accessed 2 May 2018].