Is it possible that depression could be staved off with something as simple as adequate consumption of particular B vitamins? New research out of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago provides some tantalizing clues, at least for men and women age 65 and older. Those who took in vitamin B6 – from supplements, not food – were the least likely to end up depressed down the line. The same benefits resulted from those who took vitamin B12.
There was even some evidence falling just shy of statistically significant that getting enough B12 from foods could help ward off depression with the passing of years.
However, lead researcher Kimberly Skarupski, PhD, says: “We don’t want to be jumping the gun and having consumers go out and buying multivitamins, another study comes out and says ‘no effect, or toxicity from too many B vitamins, or they interfere with other medications older adults take.’”
Instead, she says, people should be “paying attention to their nutrition, not only for their physical health, but for the mental health as well.”
If you’re looking to get plenty of B vitamins in your diet, you can find B6 in a wide variety of healthful foods, including fortified cereals, beans, meat, poultry, fish and fruits and vegetables. In general, only those who consume diets with little variety in the way of nutrient-dense foods are at risk for getting less than the recommended daily allowance, or RDA, of 1.7 milligrams for men 51 and older, and 1.5 milligrams for women in that age group.
A baked potato with skin has 0.7 mg of B6 and a banana has 0.68 mg. Half a chicken breast has 0.52 mg and a packet of fortified instant oatmeal has 0.42 mg.
B12, on the other hand, presents a problem for a number of older adults. It’s not that they don’t consume the RDA of 2.4 micrograms – you can get that in just 3 ounces of top sirloin beef. But an estimated 1 in 5 people older than 60 and 2 in 5 older than 80 have a condition called atrophic gastritis that makes it difficult to absorb vitamin B12 from foods – beef, yogurt, tuna and milk being among the more significant sources.
It’s easier for the body to absorb supplemental B12 because it doesn’t have to be cleaved from food in the digestion process. For that reason, it pays for anyone older than 60 to talk with a doctor about whether a cereal fortified with B12 or a supplement with that vitamin might be in order.
When to See a Doctor About Depression
If you are wondering when to see a doctor about depression, consider, first, that feeling down in the dumps is part of being alive. One day you’re grumpy and out of sorts, spirits low; next day you’re back in the groove, ready to dive into the things you love. But when, for two weeks or more, you feel like sitting out the rest of your life, you may be clinically depressed. Depression is a medical condition that requires treatment – and can be helped – by a doctor. Experts suggest seeking help if you have any of these symptoms of depression:
- Your low spirits persist for two weeks or more.
- Your depression is interfering with your relationships and your job.
- You have thoughts of harming yourself.
- You have persistent physical symptoms such as headaches, digestive disorders and chronic pain not associated with arthritis that do not respond to routine treatment.
- Your symptoms include any five of the following: sleeplessness or oversleeping; loss of appetite or overeating; frequent tears and feelings of sadness; inability to concentrate; little appetite for things you usually enjoy; fatigue; irritability, restlessness or moving about in slow motion; a feeling of worthlessness or pervasive guilt.
The above are typical symptoms of major depression. Less than half of the 10 to 40 percent of people with depressive symptoms have major depression. Other classifications of depression include:
Dysthymia. A less severe form of depression that includes long-lasting symptoms that do not seriously disable a person but keep one in a constant state of feeling down. Symptoms may include all of the above with the additional feeling of hopelessness.
Bipolar disorder. Also called manic-depressive disorder, it is characterized by extreme highs and lows in mood. The disorder affects thinking, judgment and social behavior. Symptoms include the above as well as racing thoughts, increased talking, unusual irritability and abnormal elation.