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What to Know About Vitamins and Mental Health

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 25, 2021

Vitamins play a vital role in mental health. The absence of some vitamins and nutrients in your diet could lead to some mental health issues. That's why it's important to know the types of vitamins linked to mental health and how they affect the human brain.

Vitamins. Vitamins are types of nutrients found in food. There are 13 types of vitamins including:

  • Vitamin A
  • The B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, B6, B12, and folate)
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin K
  • Vitamin E

Mental health. Any disorder that affects mood, thinking, and behavior can be described as a mental health problem. There are different ways to treat mental health issues including psychotherapy or medication. However, medical treatments do not always work best for some individuals. This creates the need to seek alternative solutions such as nutrition therapy.

Impact of Vitamins on Mental Health

Various mental health conditions could have adverse effects on your lifestyle. Among them is depression, a condition that is associated with a lack of some vitamins. It is the most common mental health condition. Statistics show that more than 19 million Americans — nearly 8% of the U.S. population — have experienced depression. It affects people of all ages, races, socioeconomic backgrounds, and ethnicities.

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A diet that includes vitamin B complex helps boost mental health. Vitamin B deficiency could negatively influence your memory function, and cause cognitive impairment and dementia. Vitamin B contributes to the complexity of depressive symptoms.

Low levels of folate have been linked to depression. Vitamins supplements such as folic acid (a synthetic form of folate also known as vitamin B9) combined with antidepressants can boost relief in women. Folic acid helps the body make healthy red blood cells.

Where to find folic acid. Folic acid can be found in green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, beans, fortified bread, and cereals. Because vitamin supplements do not work as a standalone solution for mental health issues, it's important to include these foods in your daily diet. With folic acid, you should only consume around 1 milligram daily.

Vitamin B1(thiamin) and mental health. Mental health problems such as memory loss, anxiety, depression, irritability, and insomnia are also associated with deficiencies in vitamin B1. The brain uses this vitamin to help convert glucose or blood sugar into energy. This means that without it, the brain may not have enough energy to function normally. Lack of enough vitamins may also lead to fatigue, loss of appetite, and gastrointestinal disorders.

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Vitamin B12 and mental health. Vitamin B12 is a key component in the formation of red blood cells. Its deficiency could lead to an oxygen-transport problem in the blood known as pernicious anemia. This disorder may cause issues like mood swings, paranoia, irritability, confusion, dementia, and hallucinations (or mania).

When Vitamin B12 and folate supplements are combined, they enhance the production of serotonin and dopamine. The two vitamins both play important roles in regulating and maintaining a good mental health state. It is important to note that older people are more susceptible to deficiency of vitamin B12.

Where to get vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 can be found in plenty in animal products such as fish, lean meat, poultry, eggs, and low-fat and fat-free milk. Fortified breakfast cereals also are a good source of B-12 and other B vitamins.

Vitamin D and mental health.Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with active mood disorder and depression. Further investigations point out that vitamin D is important and is used during brain development. Vitamin D can be gotten naturally from the sun, inadequacy of vitamin D has been positively linked to mental problems.

Vitamins and Treatment Of Mental Illnesses

Healthcare practitioners support the therapeutic value of dietary intervention in addressing depression and other psychological disorders. Although vitamin deficiency has been linked to mental health problems, it is important to note that vitamin supplements cannot replace mental illness treatment medication.

Maintaining a healthy diet may help you avoid nutritional deficiencies that cause mental health problems.  It can be quite hard trying to stay on a healthy diet plan. Reducing or avoiding alcohol intake, cigarette smoking, refined sugars, and caffeine may help to maintain good mental health. Consult with a professional before taking vitamin supplements if you are concerned with your mental health.

You should consult your doctor before taking any dietary supplements. If you have any mental health issues, seek help from a professional. Always check with your doctor about the supplements you can take along with prescribed medication for your condition. This can minimize the risk of developing other health issues.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES: 

American Psychiatric Association: "What Is Depression?"

Behavioral Nutrition: "B Vitamins and Mental Health."

Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust: "Vitamins."

Harvard Health Publishing: "Natural Supplements for Mental Health - Harvard Health"

National Center for Biotechnology Information: "Understanding Nutrition, Depression and Mental Illnesses," "Vitamin D and Depression: Where Is All the Sunshine?"

National Institutes of Health: "Risk of Vitamin B12 Deficiency."

National Library of Medicine: "The Effects of Vitamin B in Depression."

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