Fixing Nutritional Deficiencies Worsening Your Depression

Human body empty of nutrients
It is no secret that a large number of ailments can be prevented and even treated with proper diet and nutrition. While it is true that certain vitamins can play a role in some cases, it is important to highlight that the lack of a vitamin in particular is not the definite cause of depression, as some myths might suggest. Depression is a psychological occurrence linked with brain functioning and because of the complexity of the disease, depression symptoms and treatment options can vary greatly from patient to patient. Physical symptoms of depression are often ignored or underestimated. These symptoms can include sleep problems, chest pains, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and headaches, among others.

Specific foods are said to help during depressive episodes given that certain nutrients participate in the mixture of neurotransmitters affecting our mood and behavior. People with a nutritional deficiency can sometimes present symptoms that can mimic or exacerbate symptoms already caused by depression; such as insomnia, fatigue, nervousness, heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, or irritability.  Your doctor can help you identify any deficiency that might produce or aggravate your depression symptoms.  As always, check with your doctor before adding any supplements to your diet as they might conflict with medication you’re already taking.

How do you know if you’re deficient in…

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: The largest clinical study on omega-3 and depression concluded that there is a clear benefit of omega-3 supplementation among patients with major depressive disorder[1]. Omega-3 is indeed important to brain function as well as helping people who suffer from inflammation and pain problems. Many conditions, such as arthritis, learning disabilities, obesity, and depression, are found to worsen by a deficiency in the nutrient.

Symptoms of Omega 3 deficiency include dry, brittle skin, hair and nails, concentration problems, mood irritability, fatigue, insomnia, pain and inflammation.

Omega-3 can be found in foods such as fish (salmon, tuna, swordfish, and anchovies) and flax seed oil. Read the labels to make sure the fish oil you buy that has been cold processed and tested for heavy metals.

Vitamin D: We’ve all heard of the “Sun Vitamin” and its association with mental disorders. A vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteoporosis in women, problems with brain development in children, and worsening depression symptoms. It has also been associated with an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment, and hypertension[2].

Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include weakness, pain in bones and muscles, low energy levels, and decreased appetite.

Your body makes vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight. Walking during your lunch hour or walking your dog in the morning sun can help you maintain optimal levels of Vitamin D. You can also obtain vitamin D from natural sources such as fish and fish oils, egg yolks, cheese, and beef liver.

Vitamin B12:  B12 helps our nervous system function correctly.  A lack of vitamin B12 can affect development and muscle growth, it can also lead to anemia[3].

If you have a mild deficiency you may be experiencing fatigue, difficulty with memory recall, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and weakness, thus also worsening depression symptoms. If left untreated, your symptoms can progress to pale skin, light-headedness, sore tongue, easy bruising, weight loss, and diarrhea.

You can prevent B12 deficiency by eating animal products: meat, seafood, daily products, poultry or eggs. If you have any dietary restrictions, talk to your doctor about using vitamin B12 supplements.

L-Methylfolate: L-methylfolate is the only form of folic acid that crosses the blood-brain barrier and is necessary for the synthesis of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. A deficiency of L-methylfolate affects the production of neurotransmitters, which in turn can affect antidepressant effectiveness[4].

Folate is naturally found in grains, fruits and vegetables, and beans. But for most people, the synthetic version, folic acid, is better absorbed by the body. According to WebMD, however, up to 70% of depressed patients could have a specific genetic factor limiting their ability to convert folic acid from food to L-methylfolate[5].

Since depression symptoms vary from patient to patient, it is important that your share every single symptom with your doctor. A blood test could indicate a deficiency that, when corrected, could help lessen the discomfort.


Do you know of any other deficiencies that might be behind your depression symptoms? Share with us!









[5] Kelly CB et al. J Psychopharmacol. 2004;18(4):567-71.


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