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Nutrient Deficiencies Linked to Treatment-Resistant Depression and Suicidal Thoughts

Vitamin therapies may help treat root causes, providing new hope against rising suicide rates.

George Citroner, The Epoch Times, Jan 3, 2024

A glimmer of hope has emerged from a gloomy crisis. As suicide rates have soared to unprecedented levels across the United States, researchers at the University of California-San Diego (UC-San Diego) have uncovered a potential breakthrough: certain compounds in the blood that can identify those at highest risk.

They've found clues that something as simple as vitamin supplements may help roll back the dark tide of major depression and suicidal thoughts afflicting the country.

Blood Test Reveals Signs of Suicidal Thoughts

The United States faces a suicide crisis, with 2022 seeing record-high suicide mortality. Rates rose by 36 percent between 2000 and 2021. In 2021, a suicide was reported every 11 minutes. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for those aged 10 to 34, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An estimated 21 million American adults-or more than 8 percent of the U.S. adult population-have experienced major depression, one of the most prevalent mental health disorders.

Symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD) include persistent depressed mood (at least two weeks), loss of interest in activities, sleep and eating issues, low energy, poor concentration, and low self-worth. Women and young adults aged 18 to 25 are most commonly affected.

The recent UC-San Diego study, published in Nature, analyzed the blood of 99 people with treatment-resistant MDD and suicidal thoughts, as well as 94 healthy controls. Researchers identified five biomarkers that differentiated the groups. These markers suggest that mitochondrial dysfunction-impaired energy production in cells-inhibits cellular communication, which may trigger suicidal ideation.

Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the primary molecule that cells use to store energy. Inside cells, ATP powers normal functions. But having ATP outside cells signals that there is damage or stress. This triggers protective reactions to contain the potential threat, according to Dr. Robert Naviaux, a co-author of the study.

The researchers theorize that suicide attempts could stem from an overwhelming biological drive at the cellular level to stop stress that has become intolerable.

Nutrient Deficiencies Linked to Depression

Blood analysis revealed that study participants with MDD had nutritional deficiencies, including deficiency in the antioxidants CoQ10, lutein, and carnitine, which helps turn fat into energy, and folate (vitamin B9). As some nutrients are available in supplements, researchers can explore individualized treatment regimens to address the metabolic issues linked to depression.

However, supplements aren't cures. "None of these metabolites are a magic bullet that will completely reverse somebody's depression," Dr. Naviaux said in a statement. However, doctors may be able to nudge metabolism in the right direction to help patients respond better to therapies. In suicidal individuals, that could be enough to prevent them from attempting, he said.

Connections exist between depression and diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Targeting metabolic factors offers hope of improving outcomes across conditions that increase depression risk.

As the nutritional and metabolic underpinnings of depression become better understood, the condition may eventually shift away from stigma and self-blame toward a medically validated disorder with defined physical causes and effective treatment options.

Diet to Prevent Deficiencies Linked to Depression

Increasing intake of key nutrients such as folate could help reduce depression risk, according to Dr. Naviaux's team. Additionally, vitamin B12 shows promise for relieving depressive symptoms. A 2020 review of studies found that taking B12 early on may delay depression onset and improve antidepressant efficacy.

An estimated 15 percent of the population lives with a B12 deficiency, Emily Feivor, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Northwell Long Island Jewish Forest Hills in New York, told The Epoch Times. "Since B12 is only found naturally in animal products, people who do not eat meat, fish, poultry, or dairy are at risk of becoming deficient," she said, noting that supplements can restore healthy levels.

Lutein, a nutrient identified in the UC-San Diego study, is an antioxidant that supports eye health, with eggs and green leafy vegetables being top food sources.

Carnitine deficiencies are commonly associated with a genetic disorder but can also occur in people whose diets are insufficient in animal products. Symptoms include muscle weakness, fatigue, irritability, hypoglycemia, and shortness of breath or swelling in severe cases when the heart is affected. To maintain adequate carnitine, eating meat, fish, dairy, and poultry regularly is recommended, according to Ms. Feivor.

However, fruits and vegetables remain vital: A 2019 review published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition linked higher fruit and vegetable intake to lower depression severity.

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