Depression in Elderly Women Linked to Vitamin B-12 Deficiency
Alpert says the study raises the awareness of both physicians and the public
that there may be an association between vitamin B-12 levels and depression.
"If one is severely depressed, you can have your B-12 levels checked,"
he says. "However, it won't tell you if taking B-12 would help or change
your depression. It tells you that you have a nutritional deficiency that
should be corrected."
Noting the 17% incidence of B-12 deficiency in the sample, Penninx agrees.
"In this [elderly, disabled] population, depression is common and vitamin
B-12 deficiency is common. If there's really a causal link between the two, we
should be screening for vitamin B-12 deficiency because it is easily
Alpert says that the study leaves open some important questions: Would
taking vitamin B-12 have prevented the depression, or could it treat the
depression? "It's a reasonable speculation," Alpert says.
Says Lon S. Schneider, MD, of the University of Southern California Keck
School of Medicine in Los Angeles: "There's absolutely no evidence from the
way this study was done that taking vitamin B-12 would prevent depression."
What the study does tend to show, he says, is something many physicians already
know: that depression in the elderly is often accompanied by other medical
Schneider says that normal doses of vitamins contain enough vitamin B-12 to
prevent deficiency, as does a normal diet. People who are deficient in B-12
despite eating well and taking a multivitamin need further evaluation.
"Treating B-12 deficiency isn't automatically giving vitamin
B-12, because some people may not be able to absorb it," he
Alpert says he often recommends that depressed patients take a multivitamin:
"One of the core symptoms of depression is that people eat poorly. Often
I'll advise people both to try to improve their eating habits in general and
take a multivitamin in the hope that will help, along with other treatments.
... It can't hurt."
- New research shows that elderly women who have a vitamin B-12 deficiency
are twice as likely to be severely depressed as those without this
- People who are depressed often have poor eating habits, so it is difficult
to determine whether the vitamin deficiency is a cause or result of
- One expert says he often recommends that his depressed patients try to
improve their eating habits and take a multivitamin.