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Depressed? Check your vitamin B12 levels

Posted on 05-25-15 in Behavioral Health, Mental Health

Depressed? Check your vitamin B12 levels

Major depression is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in the United States. Every year, approximately 7 percent of adults suffer from a depressive episode. Symptoms of depression include fatigue, poor concentration, anxiety, muscle aches and an inability to feel pleasure. The negative effects of this illness have the ability to permeate a person’s life, harming not only their work performance but also their social relationships. An estimated 15 percent of people with depression ultimately commit suicide.

For some people, however, depression is not a disease – it’s a symptom.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is an insidious, often ignored condition that can produce symptoms that mimic major depressive disorder and other mental illnesses. People with B12 deficiency might find that their feelings of despair and self-loathing vanish with something as simple as a change in diet. This is why, when it comes to diagnosing major depression, a simple blood test can save a person’s life.

What is B12?

Vitamin B12 is a vitamin that participates in many essential biological functions. It helps form red blood cells and DNA. It also contributes to nerve cell health. B12 is responsible for forming myelin, a protein that aids neuron-to-neuron communication.

Like all vitamins, the body cannot make B12 on its own; it must receive it through food or supplements. Vitamin B12 is naturally plentiful in meat and animal products such as fish, poultry, eggs and low-fat milk. Plant products do not contain B12.

What is B12 deficiency?

When people fail to receive an adequate amount of B12, their body and their mind suffer. Some people do not receive the proper amount of B12 in their diet, whereas others have difficulties absorbing the B12 they do consume. In both cases, symptoms appear gradually and can eventually become severe or even permanent.

Symptoms of B12 deficiency include:

  • Numbness or tingling in the extremities
  • Jaundice, i.e., yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • Difficulty thinking
  • Memory loss
  • Fatigue
  • Paranoia or hallucinations
  • Low mood

Many of these symptoms resemble major depression, leading a person to seek treatment for depression but not B12 deficiency. Before diagnosis, clinicians should perform a blood test to measure the amount of B12 in the body. Most routine exams will include this step.

Who is at risk for B12 deficiency?

Vegetarians, older adults and people with digestive ailments, such as Crohn’s disease or celiac disease, are especially prone to B12 deficiency. There are other issues that can lead to this deficiency. Other risk factors include:

  • Weight loss surgery that involves removing part of the stomach or small intestine
  • Heavy drinking
  • Immune system disorders
  • Pernicious anemia, a disease that hampers B12 absorption
  • Poor diet

Alternative sources for B12

For people who cannot get B12 in their diet, for instance, strict vegans or vegetarians, a number of supplements are available. B12 can also be found in fortified grains, such as cereal. People who have difficulties absorbing B12 can receive an injection that bypasses the lining of the stomach.

Other conditions that can cause or mimic depression

Vitamin B12 deficiency is not the only physical condition that affects mood. Other conditions that mimic depression include:

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Dehydration
  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • Heavy metal poisoning
  • Omega-3 deficiency
  • Hypoglycemia

Before diagnosis, patients should request a full physical exam to rule out any other physical ailments that could be contributing to their low mood. By treating this underlying condition, patients will not only be able to escape their depression, but avoid other complications down the road.

Sovereign Health Group conducts a thorough assessment of each patient during the admission process to make sure that no condition remains untreated. For this reason, Sovereign leads the way in treatment for addiction, mental health disorders and dual diagnosis. For further questions, please contact 866-524-5504.

Written by Courtney Lopresti, Sovereign Health Group writer