Depression is a mood disorder characterized by prolonged periods of sadness and negative emotions. It may be caused by heredity, chemical alterations in the brain, or lifestyle factors like stress. Diet is not usually considered a major reason, but nutritional deficiencies are associated with depression-like symptoms, and are known to lengthen their duration and severity. A healthy and balanced diet comprising the following vitamins can help prevent and fight depression.
Best Vitamins to Prevent Depression
The B-Complex Vitamins
The B Vitamins are powerful mood regulators, and people suffering from depression tend to lack one or some of them. They are essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system, and for mental and emotional health. These vitamins are not produced by or stored in the body, hence the need for constant replenishment through diet.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)
This vitamin helps convert glucose to energy, stimulate the nervous system, and build stamina. A lack of it causes memory loss, nervous exhaustion, irritability, anxiety, fatigue, sleeplessness, loss of appetite and digestive disorders, depression and suicidal thoughts. Alcohol, refined carbohydrates like sugar, and pregnancy are some factors that deplete the body of Vitamin B1. Its best sources are organ meat, pork, yeast, peas and beans. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for adults is 1.2 mg.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Riboflavin is important for red blood cell production, and helps metabolize proteins, fats and carbohydrates. It factors in a number of chemical reactions in the body, and is essential for cell and tissue health. Its deficiency is believed to cause depression symptoms. It can be found in milk and dairy products, lean meats, eggs, nuts, fortified cereals, and green leafy vegetables. The RDA for adults is 1.3 mg.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
This vitamin is essential for the proper working of the nervous system, for blood circulation and carbohydrate metabolism, and it helps reduce cholesterol, improve digestion and keep nails, skin and hair healthy. Its deficiency causes irritability, agitation, anxiety, physical and mental lethargy, and a disease called Pellagra which causes psychosis and dementia. Lean meats, nuts, potatoes and legumes are rich in this vitamin. The RDA for adults is 15 mg.
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)
This vitamin converts carbohydrates, fats and even proteins to energy, regulates the stress hormone cortisone, helps reduce stress and enhance alertness, and is important for nerve development. It is involved with the absorption of amino acids and the production of the brain chemical acetylcholine, which together prevent some types of depression.
Vitamin B5 facilitates the functions of the brain like memory, learning and cognition. Its deficiency results in fatigue, chronic stress, sleep problems, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular diseases. Eggs, milk, pork, beef, fish, and most fruits and vegetables are replete with this vitamin. The RDA for adults is 5 mg.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
This is an important vitamin for fighting depression. It is required for processing amino acids, for the production of serotonin (the feel-good hormone), melatonin and dopamine – which are linked to emotional health, and it helps in the functioning of the nervous system and other organs. Its deficiency causes irritability, confusion, anxiety and depression.
Alcohol, kidney problems, and contraceptive pills tend to deplete the body of this vitamin. It is plenty in chicken, fish, liver, kidney, eggs, walnuts, bananas and lima beans. The RDA for adults is 1.3 mg.
Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid)
Termed “brain food”, it is essential for brain function and crucial for mental and emotional well-being. It lowers the levels of homocysteine in the body, which is associated with depression and heart disease. As such, the deficiency of folic acid is a major cause of depression. Alcohol, kidney problems, old age and drugs like aspirin, barbiturates, anticonvulsants and contraceptive pills can cause its deficiency. Lamb, pork, beef, chicken liver, salmon, eggs, and green leafy vegetables are rich sources of Vitamin B9. The RDA for adults is 400 mcg.
Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin)
This vitamin is very important for the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen to all organs of the body; hence its deficiency leads to the oxygen-transport disorder called Pernicious Anemia, which causes irritability, mood swings, confusion, paranoia, dementia, hallucinations, followed by loss of appetite, diarrhea, dizziness, weakness, palpitations, weight loss and severe depression. It is also important for the production of chemicals that regulate brain function.
B12 helps reduce shrinkage of brain and memory loss in seniors. However, the elderly are prone to B12 deficiency due to lack of an enzyme that facilitates its absorption. B12 is present in foods like eggs, milk, meat, fish, chicken, clams, mussels and fortified cereals. The RDA of vitamin B-12 is 2.4 mcg per day. The B-group vitamins are crucial for the chemistry of the body and particularly the brain. Apart from consuming foods containing the various B vitamins, a supplement containing all of them – called B-complex – may be taken by patients as per the doctor’s advice. The supplement must include folic acid which essential for vitamin B metabolism and is thus necessary for getting the full benefits of the B vitamins.
It aids the production of serotonin – the feel-good hormone that gives the sense of well-being. Fatigue and depression are symptoms of its deficiency, which can be caused by the use of drugs like aspirin and tetracycline. It is abundant in citrus fruits – oranges, limes, lemons, in watermelon, guava, papaya, and strawberries, and in vegetables like broccoli, tomatoes and bell peppers. 75 and 90 mg is required each day.
Research has linked the lack of Vitamin D, and diseases caused by deficiency of D, to depression. It decreases the production of proteins called cytokines that aid inflammation and can potentially cause depression. Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, fish liver oils, fortified dairy products and cereals are the best sources. Small amounts are present in eggs, cheese and beef liver. Since few foods are naturally rich in vitamin D, fortified foods and vitamin supplements (on physician’s advice) can be consumed.
The RDA for adults is 5 – 10 mcg. Apart from food sources, the body itself produces Vitamin D in the presence of sunlight, and seasonal affective disorder or SAD is a type of depression prevalent in winters due to the absence of sunlight in cold countries during this season.