Two Columbia University psychiatry researchers are on a mission to get healthcare providers to recognize vitamin deficiency symptoms and treat vitamin deficiencies among patients with mental health issues like depression and anxiety. People today are overfed but undernourished and vitamin deficiencies are common risk factors for mental health disorders, according to Drew Ramsey, MD, and Phillip Muskin, MD, both psychiatrists at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
How do vitamin deficiency symptoms relate to depression and other mood disorders?
The doctors recently published an article in Current Psychiatry documenting the growing body of literature linking dietary choices to brain health and the risk of mental disorders. According to Dr’s Ramsey and Muskin, lack of essential vitamins can affect individuals with depression and other mental health conditions in several ways:
- deficiencies can play a role in causing mental illness and exacerbating symptoms
- mild vitamin deficiencies—called insufficiencies—can compromise the ability to recover from mental illness
- symptoms of mental health disorders can result in poor nutrition and vitamin deficiencies.
Additionally, genetic differences may make some people more prone to certain vitamin deficiencies, and therefore more at risk for vitamin deficiency symptoms, including depression and other psychiatric problems.
Vitamin deficiency symptoms of depression are most linked to folate and vitamins B6, B12, C, and D
In their article, Dr. Muskin and Dr. Ramsey review the role of nine essential vitamins (B1, B2, B6, B9, B12, C, A, D, and E) in the brain’s chemical pathways. Deficiencies in any of these nine vitamins can be a cause of mental illness, including mood disorders like depression, according to the doctors. But the vitamin deficiencies most linked to depression are three B vitamins: B6, B9 (folate), and B12, as well as vitamins C and D. For anyone with depression, the- Columbia University researchers urge testing blood levels of folate, vitamin B12, and vitamin D, and possibly of vitamin B6 as well.
In addition to performing blood tests for vitamin deficiencies, physicians should also be conducting dietary assessments of their patients and searching for additional signs and symptoms of vitamin deficiencies, according to Ramsey and Muskin. For instance, vitamin B6 deficiency can result in not only in depression, but dermatitis, swollen tongue, migraines, and chronic pain; vitamin B12 deficiency is associated with irritability, anemia, fatigue, shortness of breath, and high blood pressure.
How to prevent and treat vitamin deficiency symptoms for depression relief
Eating a nutrient-rich diet can prevent depression and other mental health conditions as well as increase the effectiveness of treatments. The doctors encourage patients with depression and other mood issues to get nutritional counseling and to remember that food, rather than supplements, can be used to treat many vitamin deficiencies. They urge all patients with depression and other mental health issues to eat “nutrient-dense foods such as leafy greens, beans and legumes, seafood, whole grains, and a variety of vegetables and fruits.”
For more information on how diet and vitamin deficiencies are linked with depression, visit the Depression and Anxiety section of our website. Our comprehensive guide Natural Remedies for Depression: Beating Depression without Drugs covers vitamin deficiency symptoms in more detail and provides a complete, step-by-step natural healing protocol for depression.