Monday, June 3, 2013

Depression and Nutritional Deficiencies

Nutritional Deficiencies

Anyone with depressed feelings should be evaluated for nutritional deficiencies. Anyone can pick up a book on vitamins, minerals and other nutrients at a health food store or bookstore and read more about the benefits of nutritional supplementation. If you have a nutritional deficiency causing the depressed symptoms, I believe it is better to restore balance to the body by taking the supplement than masking symptoms with unnecessary psychiatric medications.

Balance Diet Is Not Enough

I have heard many doctors say, "If you eat a balanced diet, you don't need to take nutritional supplements." I am not convinced that anyone really knows what a balanced diet consists of and even if we did know, I doubt many individuals would eat accordingly.

The following are nutrients have been found to be low in patients who have feelings of depression:


While searching the medical literature for a link between depression and magnesium deficiency I found many articles connecting the two. Previously in my own practice I used magnesium to treat asthma, migraine headaches, muscle aches and pain. Several patients also reported that their depressed feelings vanished when taking the supplement. My subsequent research yielded many articles establishing the link between magnesium depletion and depression.

Studies done with depressed patients discovered low plasma magnesium levels that began to normalize during recovery. In some individuals, treatment with intravenous magnesium led to faster improvement of their condition. (Frizel D., et al, 1969)

Magnesium depletion has been found to be an underlying cause of many other medical disorders, including allergies, chronic fatigue, cardiac arrhythmias, diabetes, hyperactivity, premenstrual symptoms, cancer, high blood pressure, seizures, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, osteoporosis, stroke, Alzheimer's, hormone abnormalities, and decreased immune system function.

Causes of Magnesium Depletion

The causes of magnesium depletion are many: pregnancy, lactation, calcium ingestion, alcohol, estrogen, kidney dysfunction, stress, chronic disease, pain, diabetes, gastrointestinal problems, hyperthyroidism, diuretics, and as a side effect of a number of medications. It is thought that most Americans are deficient in magnesium.

Magnesium Supplements

In my experience taking oral magnesium will help keep the levels from falling further but I am not convinced that supplements will bring a low level back to normal. When one of my patients is particularly deficient, I recommend intravenous treatment or injections for a few weeks.

Depression and Other Nutrients

A patient of mine went to see her regular doctor with a complaint of feeling depressed. The doctor did no lab work or physical exam. Instead, he just listened to her symptom and prescribed an antidepressant. She was uncomfortable with this and came to see me instead of taking the antidepressant. I did a blood test and found that she was anemic. Her iron level was extremely low. Iron treatment relieved her symptom of depression. Depression has also been linked to folic acid deficiency. Researchers from Tufts University studied 3,000 subjects ranging in age from fifteen to 39. Blood tests showed that the depressed individuals had folate serum concentrations lower than those with no depression. The lead researcher, Martha Morris, Ph.D. concluded, "Folate supplementation may be indicated during the year following a depressive episode." (Morris, 2003).

Vitamin B 6

In similar studies depressed patients were found to have inadequate levels of pyridoxine or Vitamin B6, which is necessary for the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin, a neurotransmitter that, when deficient, is believed to cause depression. Both estrogen and oral contraceptives can deplete the body's supply of B6.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C deficiency has always been associated with scurvy, which first manifests itself as depression. Studies have shown that 32% of patients in psychiatric hospitals registered low levels of Vitamin C and that such individuals may be in a "sub-scurvy" state calling for ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) supplementation. (Am J Clin Nutrition, 1971)

Vitamin B 12

Other research has linked depression to Vitamin B12 deficiency and to severe obesity. (BMC Psychiatry, 2003; Archives of Internal Medicine, 2003)

Other Nutrients

Other nutrient deficiencies that have been shown to affect depression are iron, omega-6 fatty acids, biotin, copper and potassium. Also found to be associated with depression are 5-HTP, the immediate precursor to serotonin, hypericin (the active ingredient in St. John's Wort), SAMe and Ltryptophan (another precursor to serotonin). (Werbach, M.)


All material provided is for educational purposes only. Reading this material does not create a doctor-patient relationship nor should the information contained in it be considered specific medical advice with respect to a specific patient and/or a specific condition. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness. Consult your own physician regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations with respect to your symptoms or medical condition. Dr. Block specifically disclaims any liability, loss or risk personal or otherwise, that is or may be incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly of use or application of any of the information provided in this material.

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