To B or Not to B: B Vitamins and Depression

National statistics for the prevalence of adult depression vary but suggest that at least 15% of all adult Americans have had at least one depressive episode in their lives. Depression can be a severely debilitating illness that results in decreased physical health, impaired functioning, lost productivity, and overall negative well-being and quality of life. There are many different treatments for depression including therapy, diet, exercise, and medication. Vitamins, specifically folate and B12, are commonly used in conjunction with other treatment methods to help clients with depression improve their moods. Although there has been extensive research on depression and medication, until now, there has been little attention given to the rate of vitamin use in clients suffering with depression. In an effort to better examine this trend, Guixiang Zhao of the Division of Adult and Community Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta conducted a study analyzing how often vitamins were used in female and male clients with depression.

B12 and folate deficiency affect the functionality of neurotransmitters and have been shown to increase the risk for depression. Additionally, people who have depression and reduced levels of red blood cell folate and B12 also tend to struggle with longer episodes of depression and often do not respond well to traditional antidepressants. Previous research has suggested that depressed individuals who add folate, B12, and B6 to their diet can reduce their chance of experiencing a future depressive episode.

Zhao analyzed data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance system survey and found that among more than 46,000 individuals, women with depression were almost twice as likely as men to add folic acid to their daily regimen. Additionally, men with a diagnosis of anxiety or depression were 40% more likely to add folic acid to their daily diet than men who had never been diagnosed with either mental health condition. Both men and women with depression were also significantly more likely to add B vitamins to their diet than participants who had never been depressed. The study also revealed that symptom severity did not influence the rate of vitamin intake in people with depression. Zhao added, “Our results provide fundamental information on the status of dietary supplement use among U.S. adults with mental disorders, and have important implications in public health nutrition given that high intakes of folic acid and vitamins may reduce the risk for depressive disorders and increase medication response in depressed patients.”

Zhao, G., et al. Use of Folic Acid and Vitamin Supplementation Among Adults with Depression and Anxiety: A Cross-Sectional Population-Based Survey. Nutrition Journal. 2011 10:102.

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  • Cameron

    February 3rd, 2012 at 5:04 AM

    I take a B12 shot once a month and without it I can really tell a huge difference in my energy levels especially. I am not saying that I would be at greater risk for becoming depressed if I did not take one but I know how much better I feel otherwise so why take that chance?


    February 3rd, 2012 at 8:46 AM

    we see all these big numbers when it comes to depression? so what exactly is depression? are they counting even the ones that are relatively minor and not really harmful in nature?do people who report about themselves even in a position to know if it is depression or just a mood issue?

  • hollis

    February 4th, 2012 at 5:44 AM

    I have taken this and have never felt any different one way or another. Just another bandwagon for someone to hop on to maintain is going to be the next cure all.

  • Cain

    February 5th, 2012 at 5:34 AM

    I know that there are some people who swear by vitamins, but don’t you think that no matter how you get them that they will be better for you when they are obtained through food and diet instead of when you pop a pill?

    There are just some people who go overboard with this kind of stuff, and really for the most part I think that it is a waste of time unless it is a part of an overall healthy lifestyle.

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