Mental Health

The Link Between Low B Vitamins and Your Mental Health

Struggling with depression? It might be linked to a vitamin B12 deficiency. Learn how boosting your B12 intake can help lift your mood and reduce depressive symptoms.

By URLife Team
30 May 2024

What happens when you don't get enough vitamin B12? According to a 2022 study as reported in the journal Vitamins and Hormones, vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to distressing neuropsychiatric symptoms and play a significant role in conditions like depression, anxiety, psychosis, dementia, and delirium. 

It's crucial to screen at-risk populations for this deficiency. The neuropsychiatric effects of B12 deficiency are linked to several mechanisms, including alterations in one-carbon metabolism, genetic vulnerability, and changes in folate metabolism. 

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Causes of Vitamin B Deficiency

Why do some people end up with low levels of those crucial B vitamins? Whether it’s what you’re eating, how well your body absorbs nutrients, specific lifestyle choices, or even your genetics, multiple factors can lead to B vitamin deficiencies. 

Poor Dietary Intake: First off, what you eat—or don’t eat—can significantly affect your vitamin B levels. B vitamins are found in a variety of foods, but if your diet is lacking in these, you’re setting yourself up for a deficiency. For instance, vitamin B12 is primarily found in animal products like meat, dairy, and eggs. If your meals are consistently missing these, or if you’re eating a lot of processed foods with low nutritional value, you might not be getting enough of these essential nutrients.

Absorption Issues: Even if you’re eating a balanced diet packed with B vitamins, your body might have trouble absorbing them. This can happen due to various gastrointestinal disorders like celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, or even after weight-loss surgery. These conditions can damage the part of your gut responsible for soaking up nutrients, making it hard for your body to get enough B vitamins from food.

Gastrointestinal Disorders: Conditions like celiac disease and Crohn's disease can wreak havoc on your intestines, which are key for absorbing nutrients. When your gut isn’t working right, those essential vitamins pass right through without getting absorbed.

Weight Loss Surgery: Procedures like gastric bypass can lead to nutrient absorption issues. While these surgeries can be life-changing for weight management, they sometimes come with the side effect of making it harder for your body to extract and absorb vitamins from food.

Vegetarians and Vegans: Since vitamin B12 is mostly found in animal products, vegetarians and vegans are at a higher risk. If you’re not eating fortified foods or taking supplements, your B12 levels might drop over time.

Older Adults: As we age, our bodies become less efficient at absorbing vitamins. Older adults often have decreased stomach acid production, which is necessary for extracting B12 from food. Plus, dietary habits might change with age, sometimes leading to less varied or nutritious diets.


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Types of Vitamin B

B vitamins play a crucial role in keeping our brains healthy and our moods stable. A 2020 study issued in the journal Cureus shows that vitamin B12 supplements help prevent onset of depression and also improves its prognosis. B vitamins, especially B6, B12, and folate, are key players in maintaining brain health and supporting the production of neurotransmitters—those vital chemicals that transmit signals in the brain.

1. Vitamin B6: This vitamin is essential for producing neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which are crucial for mood regulation. Without enough B6, your brain can’t produce these chemicals effectively, leading to mood swings and mental health issues.

2. Vitamin B12: B12 helps maintain the myelin sheath, a protective covering around nerves, ensuring that signals travel efficiently. It also plays a role in producing neurotransmitters and DNA synthesis, which is vital for brain cell repair and regeneration.

3. Folate (Vitamin B9): Folate is involved in the production of DNA and RNA and is crucial for cell division and growth. It also aids in the conversion of homocysteine to methionine, a process essential for producing neurotransmitters. High homocysteine levels, often due to low folate, have been linked to an increased risk of depression and other mental health conditions.


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The Connection Between Vitamin B12 And Depression

When your brain has all the B vitamins it needs, it can function at its best. Here’s how these vitamins affect your mood and cognitive processes:

  • Mood Regulation: Adequate levels of B vitamins help regulate mood by supporting the production of serotonin and dopamine. These neurotransmitters are known as the "feel-good" chemicals because they help stabilise mood and promote feelings of happiness and well-being.
  • Cognitive Function: B vitamins, particularly B12 and folate, are essential for maintaining cognitive function. They help protect brain cells and support the synthesis of neurotransmitters involved in learning, memory, and concentration. Low levels of these vitamins can lead to cognitive decline, memory issues, and even dementia.
  • Depression: A 2024 study published in the journal PLoS One found that individuals with low levels of B12 and folate were more likely to experience depression. 
  • Anxiety: A deficiency in B vitamins, particularly B6 and folate, was linked to increased anxiety levels. Supplementation helped reduce symptoms in many cases.
  • Cognitive Decline: A 2022 study in Biomedicines found that older adults with higher levels of homocysteine, a marker for low B vitamin levels, had a greater risk of cognitive decline and dementia. 
  • Psychosis and Delirium: Case reports in Vitamin and Hormones have linked severe B12 deficiency with symptoms of psychosis and delirium. Patients who received B12 supplements often showed significant improvements in their mental health.


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Boost Vitamin B: Here’s How

A  2022 Harvard  study reveals that the human body needs vitamin B12 to produce red blood cells, maintain nerves, synthesise DNA, and perform various other functions. Adults should aim for 2.4 micrograms of B12 daily. Unlike some nutrients, the body can't produce vitamin B12 on its own; it must come from food or supplements. Here's the catch: some people don't get enough B12 in their diet, while others can't absorb enough, regardless of intake. This makes vitamin B12 deficiency relatively common, especially among older adults. Understanding these causes can help you take proactive steps to ensure you’re getting enough of these vital nutrients. 

1. Vitamin B6

Sources: Poultry, fish, potatoes, chickpeas, bananas, fortified cereals.
Tips: Include a variety of these foods in your meals. For instance, have a chicken salad, roasted potatoes, and a banana smoothie to cover your B6 needs.


2. Vitamin B12

Sources: Meat, fish, dairy products, eggs, fortified cereals, nutritional yeast.
Tips: If you're a vegetarian or vegan, focus on fortified cereals and nutritional yeast. Non-vegans can incorporate dairy and eggs into their diet.


3. Folate (Vitamin B9)

Sources: Leafy green vegetables (spinach, kale), legumes (beans, lentils), seeds, nuts, and fortified grains.
Tips: Add spinach to smoothies, salads, and omelettes. Include beans and lentils in soups and stews.


4. Additional supplements

B vitamins are available in various forms, including individual supplements (like B12 or folate) and B-complex vitamins, which contain all eight B vitamins. Follow the recommended dosage on the supplement label or as advised by your healthcare provider. Avoid high doses unless specifically prescribed, as excessive intake can have side effects.

The connection between B vitamins and mental health is clear: these essential nutrients play a critical role in brain function, neurotransmitter production, mood regulation, and cognitive processes. Ensuring you get enough B vitamins through diet or supplements can help maintain your mental well-being and potentially reduce the risk of mental health conditions. If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, or cognitive issues, consider discussing your B vitamin levels with your healthcare provider to see if a deficiency might be contributing to your condition.

Consult a Psychiatrist with UR.Life 

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