Depression is a mood disorder, and it’s one of the most common mental health conditions that people experience. Different terms used to refer to depression include major depressive disorder and clinical depression. While many people require clinical treatment and perhaps pharmaceutical medications to treat the symptoms of depression, there are also certain vitamins that can be helpful for depression. Along with vitamins for depression, there are also certain vitamins for anxiety and depression that can be helpful for treating symptoms of these co-occurring disorders.
Symptoms of depression include significant changes in feelings, thoughts and behaviors, including loss of interest in activities that a person previously enjoyed and an ongoing, persistent feeling of sadness. Depending on the severity of the depression, a person may experience different physical and emotional problems related to the disorder.
Depression isn’t something that a person can snap out of, and it’s more than situational or temporary sadness. Along with the sadness and loss of interest, other symptoms of depression can include:
• Feeling a sense of emptiness or unhappiness
• Changes in appetite including eating more or less than is typical
• Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
• Changes in sleep patterns
• Feelings of anger or irrational outbursts
• Problems with concentration or decision-making
• Thoughts of suicide or death
• Pain that isn’t explained or doesn’t seem to have an apparent cause
While the reasons for depression aren’t fully understood, certain factors may play a role in combination with one another. Some of the factors that could contribute to depression include:
• Changes in the brain
• Imbalances of certain brain chemicals and neurotransmitters
• Changes in hormones related to pregnancy, thyroid issues, menopause or other similar conditions.
• A family history of depression
When someone has untreated depression, it can lead to serious complications related to lifestyle as well as physical and mental health. Possible complications of depression may include:
• Excessive weight gain
• Physical pain
• Development of a co-occurring substance use disorder involving alcohol, drugs or both
• Problems with relationships and family
• Self-harming behaviors, such as cutting
• Suicidal thoughts, attempts or suicide
There are different treatments for depression. Many people find that a combination of treatments works well, but they should always follow the advice of their doctor. Some people may use antidepressants, which can alleviate some of the underlying issues that contribute to depression, such as chemical imbalances in the brain. Counseling can help people with depression cope with stress and other triggers.
It may be beneficial to combine traditional treatments like antidepressants and therapy with natural remedies as well. A medical professional may recommend certain supplements, herbs and vitamins for someone with depression. It is important to work with a doctor or therapist to determine which supplements and vitamins could be most helpful for the treatment of depression symptoms. So, what vitamins are good for depression?
Best Vitamins for Depression
B vitamins play an important role in helping the brain produce adequate levels of the chemicals required to manage mood and other functions, according to the Mayo Clinic. If someone has low levels of B-vitamins and in particular B-12, they may be more likely to experience symptoms of depression. B-vitamin deficiencies are often seen in people who have depression.
Even without a specific disorder, it can become increasingly difficult for a person’s body to absorb enough vitamin B-12 as they age. Depression can often include symptoms of fatigue, and B-vitamins can help combat that. B-12, in particular, is known for being important to reduce fatigue.
Some of the foods that contain high levels of B-12 include fish, lean meats, eggs, poultry and milk. Certain breakfast cereals may be fortified with B-12 as well. B-12 supplementation can help if someone is a vegan or vegetarian or may not be getting enough of the vitamin for any reason.
Other B vitamins for depression, or vitamins that play a role in brain health include:
• Vitamin B-3. Also referred to as niacin, Vitamin B-3 is relevant to the production of serotonin, which is an important brain neurotransmitter that helps with the communication between brain cells. In people with depression, serotonin levels may be low. If someone has a deficiency of vitamin B3, they may see a negative effect on their mood. For people with depressive symptoms, a dose of 20 mg of B-3 each day can be helpful.
• Vitamin B-9. Folate and folic acid are also called vitamin B-9. Vitamin B-9 is something pregnant women are advised to supplement with, and even women who aren’t actively trying to become pregnant but could are often told to take it as a supplement. During pregnancy, vitamin B-9 can help lower the risk of certain brain-related birth defects. This vitamin is also important for mood regulation because it helps with the synthesis of serotonin.
Vitamins for Seasonal Depression
Seasonal depression is something many people experience. Also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), this mental health condition is linked to changes in seasons. Many people will start to experience symptoms of SAD in the fall, and these symptoms may continue through the winter. Someone with SAD may feel moody, fatigued or low in energy.
Some of the reasons a person may experience seasonal depression include low serotonin levels that may be related to reduced exposure to sunlight and changes in a person’s biological rhythms that can occur in the fall and winter. If someone has major depression or bipolar disorder, their symptoms may become worse in the fall and winter, and people who live further from the equator may be more likely to have this disorder.
Treatments for seasonal depression can include medication, exposure to light and therapy. Vitamins for seasonal depression can also help alleviate or reduce symptoms. Vitamin D is one vitamin in particular that a doctor may recommend for someone experiencing seasonal depression. Vitamin D is produced by the body after sunlight exposure. During fall and winter months when sunlight exposure may be minimal, supplementing vitamin D can improve mood and reduce the symptoms of SAD.
Along with vitamins, other supplements could be useful to treat symptoms of SAD. These supplements include 5-hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP. This nutritional supplement can help increase the brain’s production of serotonin, alleviating general symptoms of depression. Tyrosine is another supplement that may help the brain create chemicals called enkephalins that can boost mood.
Melatonin helps the body know when to sleep and when to be awake. Imbalanced melatonin levels can contribute to symptoms of seasonal depression and fatigue. While this hormone is created in the body naturally, it can also be taken in supplement form to reduce symptoms of SAD.
St. John’s Wort is another herbal supplement that has long been used to help with symptoms of depression and SAD. However, because St. John’s Wort may interfere with the effectiveness of certain medications, it’s important to consult with a medical professional before using it.
Other Natural Vitamins for Depression
Along with the vitamins and supplements listed above, other natural vitamins for depression may include:
• Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the function and health of the brain. Natural sources of Omega-3s include certain fatty fish such as salmon, as well as seeds and nuts.
• Magnesium. According to the Nutrition Reviews journal, nearly half of all adults in the U.S. experience some level of magnesium deficiency. This deficiency can cause sleep problems like insomnia, constipation and muscle tension. It can also cause symptoms of depression and other mood disorders because magnesium is important for the production of feel-good hormones in the brain.
• Vitamin C. Supplementing with vitamin C can help improve both mood and cognitive function. Studies have also indicated vitamin C may help reduce symptoms of anxiety as well as depression.
While depression is a serious medical condition, it is fortunately treatable. Vitamins for depression shouldn’t be used as a replacement for medical treatment, but they can be used in conjunction with professional treatment to improve its effectiveness. Nutrition often plays a critical role not only in physical but also mental health.
American Psychiatric Association. “What Is Depression?” January 2017. Accessed January 3, 2019.
Sinrich, Jenn. “10 Vitamins for Depression That Could Boost Your Mood.” Reader’s Digest. Accessed January 3, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.