Vitamins for Depression


Vitamins for Depression

It seems logical to explore vitamins for depression.Vitamins help build the brain and ensure that it’s functioning correctly. Orthomolecular psychiatry is the study of micronutrients and their effect on mental health.

For decades the psychiatric profession has denounced orthomolecular psychiatry, and therefore the motivation to do good research on the effects of vitamins for depression and mental health has been lacking. However, as interest in alternative medicine continues to grow, researchers have more interest in determining just how vitamins for depression might be used (Freinkel 2005). Hopefully in the future we will have a better idea of how vitamins for depression can be used.

No one really wants to take antidepressants. Many people believe they should be able to feel better on their own or they have concerns about just what these pills may do to them. Antidepressants can cause unpleasant side effects such as weight gain, decreased sex drive, and various other health problems. For women in particular the weight gain can make their depression worse! It makes sense to try vitamins for depression, first, if there are any out there.

In order to understand why vitamins for depression might be helpful, three theories of depression become important. They can get kind of complex, but it’s important to understand there are real biological reasons why vitamins should be explored as treatment.

If you are uninterested in the biological explanation for why vitamins for depression might be helpful, please scroll down past the next few paragraphs.


Vitamins for depression: The Monamine Deficiency Hypothesis


Depression has been linked with monamine neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine. 


This relationship is so complex that researchers are continuously trying to refine their understanding of it.

One thing we do know is that antidepressants act to increase the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine and noradrenaline. The theory is that dysfunction in the processes that regulate these neurotransmitters are different or dysfunctional in people who have depression. Low levels some how cause depression. Increasing the neurotransmitters decrease depression.

Current  drugs prescribed  the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), the older tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) all impact these neurotransmitters.

Vitamins for depression:Dysfunction in the HPA Axis


We know that when we are under stress the brain releases the corticotrophin- releasing hormone (CRH) which stimulates the pituitary gland to release corticotrophins, which stimulate the adrenals to release cortisol.  The hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis is the name of this pathway, and it is theorized that dysfunction in this axis also is related to depression.


Why? Some studies have demonstrated that people with depression have an increase in CRH in spinal fluid and an increase in cortisol in the bloodstream.  ( Betrone 2009).



Vitamins for depression:Homocysteine Hypothesis of Depression


Homocysteine is an amino acid produced when food rich in methionine is eaten ( cheese, fish, meat poulty).

Methionine is converted to S-adenosylmethionine( SAMe) which is then converted to S adenosyl-homocycteine ( SAH). This is then converted to homocysteine and then back to methionine and SAMe using Folate and B12. SAMe has natural antidepressant properties. Deficiencies in B12 B6 or folate can lead to elevated homocysteine levels which are associated with depression (America 2008).


Vitamin D

One of the most commonly referred to vitamins for depression is Vitamin D. Vitamin D has an essential function in the brain, although it is not entirely understood. Studies of rats have shown dysfunction in how the brain develops when deprived of Vitamin D in utero. Studies of mice without receptors for Vitamin D show increased anxiety and behavioral problems. Some studies suggest relationships between Vitamin D and mental health. There is some limited animal evidence that Vitamin D plays a role in both the HPA axis and related to dopamine(Betrone 2009).

In 2008 a Dutch study found that older adults with depression had significantly lower levels of Vitamin D. (Hoogendijk 2008). One study of fibromyalgia patients with depression demonstrated deficiencies in Vitamin D. Also, studies have shown that PMS is associated with lower levels of dietary intake of Vitamin D. Most of the evidence is circumstantial, and it is unclear what relationship Vitamin D has to depression. The most compelling evidence comes from a study on obese subjects with depression, who showed improvement after high doses of vitamin D. (Jorde et al 2008).

Sources in our diet of Vitamin D include orange juice,milk, and fortified cereals, meats, fish, eggs, and vitamin supplements. Most people in most parts of the world can achieve the correct levels by spending about fifteen minutes in the sunlight daily( Challem 2009).

Omega 3

Omega 3 ( fish oil)is one of the vitamins for depression with the best research. Omega 3 appears to work on the levels of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin. We aren’t sure how. Evidence demonstrates it is useful as an adjunct treatment with antidepressants. Studies have shown omega 3 to help with childhood depression, postpartum depression, and depression during pregnancy. Ask your doctor about omega-three if you are suffering from depression.

Vitamin B

Folate is a B vitamin that occurs naturally in food. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate that is found in supplements. Folate deficiencies are associated with depression. Some studies suggest depressed patients who have folate added to their antidepressant receive more relief in symptoms 2008). If you have depression, it makes sense to ask your doctor about folic acid.


SAMe is not a vitamin but a molecule we produce in the homocysteine hypothesis of depression outlined above. Trials using SAMe in people with Major depressive disorder consistently demonstrate a beneficial effect. Some studies show that when taken along with antidepressants, people are more likely to respond, and some more likely to respond quickly. There are concerns over proper dosage, administration, and the possibility it will induce hypomania(America 2008).


Inositol is another molecule that appears to make the brain’s receptors more sensitive to serotonin. Research has been mixed and inclusive (Sarris 2009).

Amino Acids

Amino acids are required to create serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.

L tryptophan

L tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin. There are no high-quality studies to demonstrate the relationship between supplements and relief of depression.

One study showed L tryptophan to be superior to placebo and as effective as antidepressants. Other studies have suggested that it can augment the effect of some antidepressants ( meaning that when taken along with an antidepressant, the result is more significant (Sarris 2009).


L tryptophan first becomes 5 HTP before it is converted to serotonin. Studies have shown that some adult patients have improved their depressive symptoms when they have taken 5HTP. Thus, it may be important to consider combining 5 HTP and magnesium, zinc, and vitamin B6 in future studies ( Sarris 2009).


Folate, Omega 3, SAM-e, and tryptophan have some evidence for effectiveness for depression, mainly when used with an antidepressant. Omega 3 studies have in the past demonstrated effectiveness when used as a monotherapy (alone without an antidepressant).

There is no good research suggesting these vitamins for depression can be used alone (Sarris 2009). Currently taking an antidepressant or experiencing mild depression and do not want to take an antidepressant? It might make sense to ask your doctor about vitamins for depression.

Other Pages on Depression on this Website




America A, Milling LS.“ The efficacy of vitamins for reducing or preventing depression symptoms in healthy individuals: natural remedy or placebo?” J Behave Med. 2008. 157-167

Bertone-Johnson ER. “Vitamin D and the occurrence of depression: causal association or circumstantial evidence?” Nutr Rev. 2009 Aug;67(8):481-92.

Challem,J. “Be well with vitamin B: B-complex vitamins are essential for myriad physical and mental functions. Find out just how much you need”.Better Nutrition. 2009 June.

Freinkel, Susan, “Vitamin Cure?” Discover. 2005 May;26 (5) Jorde R, Sneve M, Figenschau Y, Svartberg J, Waterloo K” Effects of vitamin D supplementation on symptoms of depression in overweight and obese subjects: randomized double blind trial”.J Intern Med. 2008 264(6) 599-609. Epub 2008 Sep 10.

Hoogendijk WJG, et al “Depression is associated with decreased 25-hydroxyvitamin D and increased parathyroid hormone levels in older adults”. Arch Gen Psychiatry 2008; 65: 508-512.

Sarris J, Schoendorfer N, Kavanagh D. “Major Depressive Disorder and nutritional medicine: a review of the monotherapies and adjuvant treatments”.Nutrition Reviews 2009;67(3): 125-131.

Medical information obtained from this website is not intended as a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you have a problem, you should consult a healthcare provider.

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