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Vitamins & Depression: Is there a link?

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 5 minutes read

Life can feel rather grey at times and as a result, it can cause your mood to suffer. Sometimes you can work out the exact reason you are feeling down. It could be caused by things such as stress at work, problems in relationships with family, friends or partners, or financial worries. When you know what is making you feel this way it’s easier to try and deal with it.

There are times however when your mood can feel low for no particular reason and this is harder to tackle. It may help to boost certain vitamins, which when they run low can have a negative impact on your mood.

The following may be helpful for you to try for mild symptoms of depression – for more severe symptoms that are impacting your everyday life, you should see your doctor.

What vitamins may work for depression?

There are a few important vitamins the body needs that can have a positive impact on your mood. Eating a diet that contains lots of vitamin B-rich foods is strongly recommended. Daily supplements can also help you make sure you are getting enough vitamins. Here are the main vitamins that can help improve mood and reduce depression and anxiety.

B vitamins:

B vitamins play a role in creating brain chemicals that affect our mood and other brain functions. They’re water-soluble which means your body can’t store them in their fatty deposits. Which means you need to get these vitamins through your daily food intake.

B vitamins absorption can also be decreased by alcohol, refined sugars, nicotine and caffeine, so too much of these can have a negative impact on your emotional well-being. Vitamin B deficiencies can be caused by a poor diet or your body being unable to absorb the vitamins you consume. If you feel like you have tried supplementing your B vitamins and seen no improvements, then you will need to see your doctor. Most B vitamins are poorly absorbed and therefore often require injections when deficient.

  • Vitamin B12

Of the B vitamins, Vitamin B12 is one of the more important related vitamins, as it helps with cognitive function, which relates to your mental abilities.

Older people may have trouble getting enough B12 and are more likely to develop a B12 deficiency. Levels can also run low in those who are vegetarian or who suffer from digestive disorders like coeliac disease or Crohn's disease. People who have Alzheimer’s disease and dementia also have lower B12 levels.

Research suggests boosting your B12 levels may help improve one's mood as it increases brain function.

B12 can be found in foods such as meats, chicken, eggs, fish, milk and yoghurt.

  • Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)

Vitamin B1 is used by the brain to help turn glucose into fuel it can use.

Foods that are high in this vitamin include asparagus, beans, brussel sprouts, spinach, eggs, meat, fish, nuts and whole grains.

  • Vitamin B3 (Niacin)

A vitamin B3 deficiency can lead to pellagra, a disease responsible for psychosis and dementia. Lots of commercial food contains niacin so this is extremely rare today. A B3 deficiency can result in anxiety and slow your mental and physical abilities.

Sources of B3 include dairy products, eggs, fish, lean meats and nuts.

  • Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)

A B5 vitamin deficiency can cause fatigue, depression, insomnia, skin irritation, and discomfort in hands and feet. They are very rare and there are lots of foods that provide B5 including broccoli, chicken, cod, eggs, milk, whole-wheat bread.

  • Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)

Vitamin B6 assists the body in processing amino acids which are the foundations for proteins and some hormones. It is needed for the body to make serotonin, melatonin, and dopamine. All three of these hormones have an impact on a person's emotional wellbeing.

B6 can be found in foods such as beef liver, chicken, chickpeas, fish, non-citrus fruits like bananas and potatoes.

Vitamin C:

Most research is currently around how it impacts animals although some studies have suggested that higher vitamin C levels can improve overall mood in humans too, helping to reduce feelings of depression, anger and anxiety.

Fruit and vegetables are the main food source for vitamin C including broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, kiwi, melon, oranges, peppers and tomatoes.

Vitamin D:

We get most of our vitamin D from sunlight, so the darker days of winter mean we risk getting a vitamin D deficiency. It’s thought that these vitamins boost our serotonin levels, which work in the brain to elevate mood. This could well play a role in the ‘winter blues’ we hear so much about.

Vitamin D is also needed to absorb calcium. It also benefits our bones, teeth and muscles. It’s recommended that everyone takes a vitamin D supplement through the winter and those spending lots of time indoors or of darker skin colour should take one all year round.

Food sources that contain vitamin D include beef liver, cheese, egg yolks, fatty fish, milk, and yoghurt.


It's known to help relax the blood vessels and reduce inflammation when used as a relaxing foot soak, but can it influence mood? Some studies suggest a link, but further research is needed to determine how strong this link is. Magnesium generally has limited bioavailability when taken orally, but topical treatments such as salts dissolved in baths can be a useful source of magnesium. If nothing else, a lovely relaxing bath may be just the ticket to help you unwind and get a good night’s sleep.

Other minerals such as calcium, selenium, zinc, iron, manganese and potassium have been linked to depression.

Should I get a blood test first?

If you suspect that you have a vitamin deficiency, you can either buy products to replace it, and seek out foods rich in certain vitamins, or you can consider a blood test. Your doctor will likely only order this if you have symptoms, or alternatively, you can order a private blood test for yourself.

When should I see my doctor?

You should see your doctor if negative thoughts and depression are impacting on your everyday life. You may be finding it hard to function at work or in your family life, your colleagues, friends and loved ones may have noticed, you may experience difficulty sleeping, have either lost or gained weight with appetite changes, and you may even be experiencing thoughts of harming yourself or suicide.

In this case, it’s worth booking an appointment with your doctor, who can assess you. They may consider blood tests, depending on any other symptoms, but they may also talk things through with you and together you can decide on the best course of action to get you feeling better.

Am I fit for work with mild depression?

With symptoms of mild depression that are not affecting your work, it may be beneficial to continue to keep a working routine. If not, you can discuss this with your doctor.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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