I’ve just recovered from a short bout of what I call “depression lite”. It’s real depression, but I’m aware while going through it that it’s not severe; I know that I’ll be well again. I can get out of bed and function fairly normally, even though my body has slowed right down and people know to steer clear of me.
It may be counter-intuitive but I’ve come to believe that depressive episodes are predictable if you know the things that trigger them and you can pick the early signs. That knowledge has helped me stay well for long periods of time. But this recent episode came as a big surprise.
The brain is arguably the most nutritionally sensitive organ in the body, so food plays a big role in maintaining its health. As I’ve mentioned before I have some food intolerances. But I don’t break out in hives, I break out in irrational behavior. In a similar way, many people react with mental meltdown to excessive coffee, alcohol, too much or too little fat, additives like artificial colors, flavors and preservatives and many other things. Red cordial and kids don’t mix, for example.
I’ve been taking the same multi-vitamin for about 3 years, due to nutritional advice specific to my diet (or lack thereof). It has a different formula to most multi-vitamins. In particular it contains a high dose of the B group vitamins.
So I ran out of these harmless, benign, unimportant pills about 10 days ago, and discovered that the manufacturer had gone out of business and the line had been stopped.
That first evening, after not taking the multi-vitamin in the morning for the first time, my mood tanked. I was puzzled by it, but I didn’t make a connection with the vitamin. Over a week later I started on a new, similar product, and shazam! I’m back to normal.
Here is the nutrient breakdown:
Recommended Daily Intake Vitamin B6 (Australia and New Zealand)
RDI 1.3 mg
Upper Limit 50 mg
Macro M 5 mg
Men’s Ultivite 30mg
I don’t know what my normal daily intake is, but on the day my mood dropped I had reduced my B6 intake by 4 times the recommended daily amount, and the day I went up I had increased it by over 20 times. Now that’s interesting.
As an aside, the Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand has an excellent calculator that will give you all of your RDI values by sex and age at the click of a button.
It is well-established by research that B6 is a commonly, perhaps the most commonly, found vitamin deficiency in people with depression. It has a crucial role in putting the final touches on serotonin production, serotonin being one of our favorite mood-enhancing neurotransmitters. There’s no coincidence there.
But the jury is still out on whether increasing B6 will relieve symptoms or by how much. I have my own anecdotal evidence based on a one-person trial in my home, but that won’t convince the medical community.
And the bad news? Only one person in five consumes an adequate amount of vitamin B6.
The major sources of vitamin B6 include: cereal grains, potatoes, bananas, vegetables (carrots, spinach, peas), potatoes, milk, cheese, eggs, fish, pork, beef.
Sources and Further Reading
Factsheet of Vitamin B6
Medline Plus (US National Library and National Institutes of Health)
Develop a Personal Pyramid Plan
United States Department of Agriculture
Healthy Eating and Depression
Mental Health Foundation
Mind Guide to Food and Mood
Mind (National Association for Mental Health UK)
McMan’s Depression and Bipolar Web
Foods to Fight It
Dr Melvyn Werbach