It is once again Monday, which means it is again time for Medication Monday, the weekly series that offers a brief, informative introduction to mental health medications. Medication Monday is not meant as a substitute for medical advice. Questions about any of the medications that I discuss here should always go to your doctor. This series will merely help you be more educated when you have that conversation. This week, the medication we are talking about actually isn’t a medication, but rather a vitamin. Specifically, we are talking about B-12.
B-12 is a vitamin that is important in DNA synthesis and neurological function. It is one of 8 B vitamins and it is known as an essential vitamin because the body cannot produce it on its own, so it must be obtained from food. A small drop in B-12 can have a noticeable impact on mood, even for an individual who does not have mood disorders. Indeed, some evidence shows that individuals with major depressive disorder may also have low levels of B-12 in their system.
Additionally, studies have shown that when taken along with a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or SSRI, B-12 offers a statistically significant improvement for patients with major depressive disorder. This is because SSRIs do not produce serotonin, but merely block serotonin transport, leaving more serotonin active in the brain. To produce new serotonin, however, the neurons must be properly sending signals, and B-12 helps keep the fatty coating on the outside of the neurons healthy.
Given that B-12 is a vitamin that can be obtained from foods rich in B-12, such as seafood, or from over-the-counter supplements, there are not the same issues with side effects that you would have from prescription medications. I can speak to this fact personally, as I take B-12 every morning with breakfast. Unlike the SSRI that I take in the evening though, the B-12 does not seem to cause noticeable side effects. It is hard to say, however, whether the SSRI that I take (Lexapro) is more or less effective because of the B-12. But since it doesn’t seem to hurt, I figure the more science I have on my side the better.
Nevertheless, if you are getting B-12 from a supplement, you should be careful to follow the directions on the bottle. Additionally, if you have questions about your B-12 levels or about adding B-12 supplements to your diet, you should speak with a nutritionist or doctor. I remind readers once again that this series is not meant as a substitute for medical advice, only as a brief informative guide to medications and supplements that are available for mental illness.
And as always, thanks for reading.
Additional sources: Livestrong – B-12 and SSRIs