B Vitamins and Depression

Erin Coleman, R.D., L.D.
Vitamin tablets

Believe it or not, depression may be linked with the amount of B vitamins you're taking in on a daily basis. Knowing which B vitamin deficiencies are associated with depression (and how much of each vitamin to consume daily) will help lower your risk of feeling down in the dumps.

Are B Vitamins Linked With Depression?

The B vitamins are vitamin B1 (thiamin), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), vitamin B6, vitamin B7 (biotin), vitamin B12 and vitamin B9 (folate), and deficiencies in just about all of these vitamins are linked with depression.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 deficiency has been linked with depression (as well as memory loss, paranoia, delusional thinking, and loss of smell and taste), says Harvard Health Publishing. Why? Mayo Clinic suggests that vitamin B12 is needed to produce chemicals in your brain that affect mood. Getting enough B12 in your diet and taking supplements can alleviate depression caused by B12 deficiency.

Aim to consume at least the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin B12, which is 2.4 micrograms daily for adults. Eat plenty of B12-rich foods, such as lean meats, fish, seafood, eggs, dairy foods, and B12-fortified breakfast cereals, and take a multivitamin supplement containing vitamin B12.

Despite consuming enough vitamin B12 from foods and supplements, some people simply don't properly absorb vitamin B12 and require injections or high-dose oral B12 supplements. Check with your doctor to see which is the best option if you're deficient in vitamin B12.

Vitamin B6

As with vitamin B12, vitamin B6 deficiency also affects your mood. The University of Maryland Medical Center says you need vitamin B6 to make serotonin, a mood-influencing chemical in the brain, and low serotonin levels are associated with depression. That's why getting at least the RDA for B6 in your diet (or supplements) is crucial. The vitamin B6 RDA is 1.3 to 1.7 milligrams daily; if you're deficiency in B6, your doctor may recommend a higher dosage. Vitamin B6-rich foods include lean meats, poultry, fish, legumes, B6-fortified breakfast cereals, fruits, veggies, and grains.

Folate

Getting too little folate in your diet can lead to major depressive disorder (MDD), and poorly absorbed folate could mean an ineffective response to antidepressant medications, says Psychology Today. The Office Dietary Supplements suggests folate deficiency is linked with depressive symptoms, and these symptoms appear to improve after folic acid supplementation. Aim to consume at least the RDA of 400 micrograms daily, and eat folate-rich foods like fruits, veggies and fortified grains.

Thiamin (B1)

Low thiamin levels also appear to be associated with increased risks for symptoms of depression among older adults, according to a 2013 study published in The Journal of Nutrition. The University of Maryland Medical Center confirms low thiamin levels are associated with depression. A variety of healthy foods contain thiamin, as do multivitamin supplements. Aim to consume at least the thiamin RDA (1.1 to 1.2 milligrams daily for adults), and your doctor may recommend higher dosages if you're deficient.

Riboflavin (B2)

Riboflavin isn't necessarily linked with depression, but getting too little vitamin B2 in your diet can lead to fatigue says the University of Maryland Medical Center. Being tired all the time may boost your risk for feeling down in the dumps, so eat plenty of riboflavin-rich foods and aim to meet the riboflavin RDA (1.1 to 1.3 milligrams per day).

Niacin (B3)

potatoes and mushrooms

Niacin deficiency can make you feel blue, which is why Mayo Clinic says taking niacin supplements helps make depression (and other symptoms of niacin deficiency) subside. So add niacin-rich foods to your daily meal plan and be sure niacin is in your multivitamin supplement. The niacin RDA is 14 to 16 milligrams per day. You may require a higher dose if you're niacin deficient, so check with your doctor to be sure.

Pantothenic Acid (B5)

Feeling sad can happen if your body is deficient in pantothenic acid, says the University of Maryland Medical Center. This type of deficiency may also cause insomnia, fatigue, irritability, upper respiratory infections, and burning feet. If you're deficient in vitamin B5, talk with your doctor about taking a B vitamin supplement, and be sure to get plenty of B5-rich foods. Adults should aim to consume at least 5 milligrams of pantothenic acid daily.

Biotin (B7)

MedlinePlus says biotin deficiency is linked with depression, and that supplemental biotin helps alleviate feeling down in the dumps. Aim to get at least 30 milligrams of biotin in daily, which is the adequate intake level for adults. Eat biotin-rich foods (such as meat, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds) or take a multivitamin supplement containing biotin.

Taking B Vitamin Supplements

When taking B vitamins, look for a B complex supplement containing all essential B vitamins in recommended dosages (that meet or exceed RDAs). Better yet, try a multivitamin supplement containing all essential vitamins and minerals (including B vitamins) to help prevent deficiencies and depression associated with it. If you're deficient in certain nutrients, ask your doctor for a dosage that's appropriate for you. Avoid exceeding tolerable upper intake levels for vitamins and minerals unless your doctor recommends it to treat a deficiency.

Is Depression from a Deficiency?

If you're feeling depressed, ask your doctor to run a blood test to determine if a nutrient deficiency is the cause. Taking B vitamins (or other vitamin and mineral supplements) is not a substitution for traditional depression treatments, but can effective if you're deficient in B vitamins.

B Vitamins and Depression