Depression – Is it a Vitamin Deficiency?

Everyone has experienced depression to some extent. It is a natural emotion we as humans feel; just like laughter and anger, it is completely normal and nothing to be ashamed about. It is when depression begins to run your life and holds you back from enjoying life that further steps must be taken. Depression can simply be a symptom of what’s happening in your body, or perhaps, what isn’t going into your body...

Vitamin D

The most common deficiency most people have is vitamin D. Especially in the desert, this sounds impossible, right? Because the sun is always shining, and we get vitamin D from the sun, however some people have trouble synthesizing vitamin D from the sun through their skin, or they are not exposing enough of their body to the sun. World famous physician Dr. Joseph Mercola states that the UV rays we need to get vitamin D from are UVB rays. The difference between UVA and UVB rays lies in what layer of the skin they reach. UVA rays are able to penetrate through clouds and windows and go deeper into layers of skin.  This will give you a tan, but is also the main culprit for skin cancer. UVA penetrates into the dermis, the deepest and thickets layer of your skin whereas UVB only reaches the superficial skin surface.

UVA is available all day long, so this is why you can get a tan without synthesizing vitamin D. UVB rays are only available during the mid-day (roughly 10am – 2pm). This is also the time of day when most people are inside at work or school, or perhaps sleeping if they work at night, so when you are out in the sun it may not be for long enough or when UVB rays are even available. If you cannot go outside during this time of day, or if you live in an area where it is dark during the winter time, it is suggested you take a vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) supplement by mouth as getting enough vitamin D through your foods is not an easy task. This study by Penckofer, Kouba, Byrn & Ferrans showed patients with depression had a 14% lower level of serum vitamin D than patients who did not have depression, and that supplementation with daily cholecalciferol had a 60-80% success rate. It was shown that the lower success rates were patients who did not comply with their medical treatment.

Vitamin C

When you hear the word "scurvy" you think “argh…pirates!” right?  Believe it or not, many people have a vitamin C deficiency.  Scurvy is something that still affects people – bleeding, swollen, and achy gums are all signs of a vitamin C deficiency, but not everyone has to have scurvy to be considered deficient.  Great food sources of vitamin C are citrus fruits, bell peppers,and strawberries, however according to Doug Cook a registered dietitian, 20% of the population have a gene mutation that does not allow the absorption and metabolization of vitamin C, putting these people at a much higher risk of being vitamin C deficient. Unlike vitamin D, vitamin C is not synthesized by the body, so exogenous sources of IT are extremely important. A recent study showed a decrease in vitamin C is a leading cause for depression and suicidal thought. A deficiency is also linked with decreased mitochondrial functioning. Patients who were on a vitamin C supplement routine showed an increase in their mood and quality of life.


There are eight B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12), and all of them are involved in neurotransmitter production and function. B vitamins are found in whole grains, seeds, nuts, dark green vegetables and meat. Most people get an appropriate amount of their B-complex through a well-balanced diet, as these vitamins are available in many animal sources, vegetables, and grains.  However, there are several things which can inhibit the absorption or conversion to active vitamins.  People who eat sushi and drink coffee are at risk of being deficient in thiamin (B1) because raw fish and coffee contain an enzyme known as thiaminase which will inhibit the absorption of thiamin.  Coffee, being a natural diuretic, increases excretion of water-soluble vitamins.  Caffeine is also a mood aggravator and can feed into symptoms of depression.  Decreasing caffeine consumption while increasing the intake of your B-complex will guarantee your body will synthesize more of the “feel good” chemicals dopamine and serotonin, which can help decrease depression.   

Where do I get them?

So now that we have talked about some vitamin deficiencies that can cause depression, how do you increase our consumption of them?  Supplementation isn’t a bad idea, but there are many people who prefer to get their nutrition from the food they eat.  If you choose to go the supplementation route, ensure you are getting a high quality supplement and that you are getting the most bioavailable forms of the vitamins.  Bioavailability means your body is better able to absorb them.  For vitamin D, it is best to find it in a cholecalciferol form.  For vitamin C, it is best to find higher dose ascorbic acid (around 1,000mg per dose), but taking too much may cause some gastrointestinal upset (this is more for doses of 3,000-4,000mg daily).  B-complexes come in many forms so it is difficult to know what you are looking for.  Make sure to find a complex with all the B vitamins: B1 – thiamin, B2 – riboflavin, B3 – niacin, B5 – pantothenic acid, B6 – pyridoxine, B7 – biotin, B9 – folate, B12 – cobalamin.

If you prefer to get your nutrition from your food, here is a great list of some vitamin rich foods:

Vitamin D

  • Salmon, tuna, milk, eggs, & mushrooms


Vitamin C

  • Bell Peppers, strawberries, pineapple, mango, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, kiwi, & papaya


B Vitamins

  • Thiamin
    • Pork, ham, dark green leafy vegetables, fortified whole-grains, lentils, & nuts
  • Riboflavin
    • Asparagus, spinach, dark green leafy vegetables, chicken, fish, eggs, & fortified whole-grains
  • Niacin
    • Chicken, turkey, salmon, fortified whole-grains, peanuts, & legumes
  • Pantothenic Acid
    • Yogurt, avocados, legumes, mushrooms, & broccoli
  • Pyridoxine
    • Poultry, seafood, bananas, leafy dark greens, & potatoes
  • Biotin
    • Liver, eggs, seafood, poultry, avocado, most fruits and vegetables, & cheese
  • Folate
    • Dark leafy greens, spinach, turnip greens, various fresh fruit and other vegetables. All grain products are fortified with folate.
  • Cobalamin
    • Soy products, shellfish, fin fish, & beef


If you want to learn more about supplementation contact the SCNM Medical Center or stop by the SCNM Medicinary!