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Vitamin Bs Beat Blues

The vitamin B-complex refers to all of the known essential water-soluble vitamins except for vitamin C. These include thiamine (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), pyridoxine (vitamin B6), biotin, folic acid, and the cobalamins (vitamin B12).

Each member of the B-complex has a unique structure and performs unique functions in the human body.

Vitamin B6, B12, and folic acid have all been implicated in depression. Depression is a condition characterized by unhappy, hopeless feelings. It can be a response to stressful events, hormonal imbalances, biochemical abnormalities, or other causes.

Vitamin B6 is the master vitamin for processing amino acids-the building blocks of all proteins and some hormones. Vitamin B6 helps to make and take apart many amino acids and is also needed to make the hormones serotonin, melatonin, and dopamine. Potatoes, bananas, raisin bran cereal, lentils, liver, turkey, and tuna are all good sources of vitamin B6.

Who is likely to be deficient in B6?
Vitamin B6 deficiencies are very rare; however, oral contraceptives can deplete the body of vitamin B6. Double-blind research shows that women who are depressed and who have become depleted of vitamin B6 while taking oral contraceptives typically respond to vitamin B6 supplementation. Some evidence suggests that people who are depressed-even when not taking the oral contraceptive-are still more likely to be B6 deficient than people who are not depressed. Several clinical trials also indicate that vitamin B6 supplementation helps alleviate depression associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS), although the research remains inconsistent.

How much B6 is usually taken?
The most common supplemental intake is 10-25 mg per day. However, high amounts (100-200 mg per day or even more) may be recommended for certain conditions.

Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin needed for normal nerve cell activity, DNA replication, and production of the mood-affecting substance SAMe (S-adenosyl-L-methionine). Vitamin B12 acts with folic acid and vitamin B6 to control homocysteine levels. An excess of homocysteine is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and potentially other diseases such as osteoporosis and Alzheimer's disease. Vitamin B12 is found in all foods of animal origin, including dairy, eggs, meat, poultry, and fish.

Who is likely to be deficient in B12?
Vegans (vegetarians who also avoid dairy and eggs) frequently become deficient. People with malabsorption conditions, including those with tapeworm infestation and those with bacterial overgrowth in the intestines, often suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency. Malabsorption of vitamin B12 can also result from pancreatic disease, the effects of gastrointestinal surgery, or various prescription drugs.

Deficiency of vitamin B12 can create disturbances in mood that respond to B12 supplementation. Significant vitamin B12 deficiency is associated with a doubled risk of severe depression. Depression caused by vitamin B12 deficiency can occur even if there is no B12 deficiency-related anemia.

Mood has been reported to sometimes improve with high amounts of vitamin B12 (given by injection), even in the absence of a B12 deficiency. Supplying the body with high amounts of vitamin B12 can only be done by injection. However, in the case of overcoming a diagnosed B12 deficiency, one can follow an initial injection with oral maintenance supplementation (1 mg per day).

How much B12 is usually taken?
Most people do not require vitamin B12 supplements. However, vegans should supplement with at least 2 to 3 mcg per day.

Absorption of vitamin B12 is reduced with increasing age. Some research suggests that elderly people may benefit from 10 to 25 mcg per day of vitamin B12.

When vitamin B12 is used for therapeutic purposes other than correcting a deficiency, injections are usually necessary to achieve results. Oral vitamin B12 supplements are not generally associated with any side effects.

Folic acid is a B vitamin needed for cell replication and growth. Folic acid helps form building blocks of DNA, the body's genetic information, and building blocks of RNA, needed for protein synthesis in all cells. Therefore, rapidly growing tissues, such as those of a fetus, and rapidly regenerating cells, like red blood cells and immune cells, have a high need for folic acid. Folic acid deficiency results in a form of anemia that responds quickly to folic acid supplementation.

Who is likely to be deficient in folic acid?
Since the addition of folic acid to cereal and grain products was mandated in 1998, true folic acid deficiency has become uncommon. However, some people may still have borderline folic acid deficiency that increases the risk of birth defects and raises blood levels of homocysteine, which is associated with heart disease and other health problems.

Deficiency of folic acid can be precipitated by situations wherein the body requires greater than normal amounts of the vitamin, such as pregnancy, infancy, leukemia, exfoliative dermatitis, and diseases that cause the destruction of blood cells.

A folic acid deficiency can also disturb mood. A large percentage of depressed people have low folic acid levels. Folic acid supplements appear to improve the effects of lithium in treating manic-depressives. Depressed alcoholics report feeling better with large amounts of a modified form of folic acid. Anyone suffering from chronic depression should be evaluated for possible folic acid deficiency by a doctor.

Which form of folic acid is best?
Folic acid naturally found in food is much less available to the body compared with synthetic folic acid found both in supplements and added to grain products in the United States. Women with a recent history of giving birth to babies with neural tube defects participated in a study to determine which form of folic acid is best absorbed-dietary folic acid or folic acid from supplements. Overall, the supplement folic acid was better absorbed than the folic acid from orange juice.

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