Dealing with depression and anxiety can be wildly isolating, which is why it's great when those with a public platform use their voices to make others feel less alone with their struggles. Last week, The Hills alum Lo Bosworth penned a post on her blog The Lo Down chronicling her struggles with depression and anxiety in 2016. After therapy and antidepressants proved ineffective, Bosworth (who’s now a professional chef and founder of a female wellness company) says she found out severe deficiencies in vitamins B12 and D were to blame.
“B12 and D are both necessary for neurons to function properly,” says Niket Sonpal, M.D., assistant clinical professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York City. “Without B12, you can develop a lot of neurologic problems pertaining to mood and deficiencies of vitamin D are recently being looked at in connection with lethargy. We know that there is a relationship between low vitamin D and depression, but research is still establishing what the exact cause and effect is.”
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In her post, Bosworth notes her initial shock at the diagnosis revealed by a blood test. “How can a seemingly healthy 30-year-old woman, who is a professional chef and makes quite a point to [eat] responsibly sourced food and eat healthy have vitamin deficiencies?” she writes. Since she knew the cause wasn’t a dietary issue, she went in search of more tests. Later, genetic testing revealed two genetic mutations that make Bosworth’s body unable to absorb B12 and D as efficiently as most people can.
But there are a few other common causes of these deficiencies that people should be aware of, notes Sonpal.
“In the U.S., the most common cause of this issue is an autoimmune condition called pernicious anemia,” says Sonpal. Typically, to absorb B12 properly, your body creates a protein compound that binds to the B12 in your diet and acts as an usher to get the vitamin into the small intestine where it can be absorbed. “With pernicious anemia, your body creates antibodies over time that destroy those usher cells. Without a date to the prom, the B12 just gets pooped out,” Sonpal says.
Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and a condition called small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) are also fairly common issues that make your body unable to properly absorb vitamins.
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So how is it treated? It depends on the specific cause. In a majority of cases where your body is having issues absorbing, your GI tract (where vitamins are typically absorbed into your body in order to process them properly) becomes useless. If this is the case, you can talk to your doc about getting vitamins another way—through a nasal spray or shot that allows your body to absorb the nutrients through your muscle, says Sonpal.
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“I always kind of scoffed at people who gulped down 30 vitamins a day, thinking of them as snake oil pills, and fools for being suckered by the vitamin industry, but f*ck man, this shit works,” writes Bosworth. “Six months later, after following a strict regime everyday, I literally feel 100 percent back to normal.”
Sonpal points out that mental health issues are usually a result of multiple factors—though getting the right vitamins can be a massive help, there’s no magic cure-all pill. “Anxiety and depression aren’t necessarily caused by vitamin deficiencies but they can definitely contribute,” he says. “When people blame vitamin deficiencies for these symptoms, I think they play a role, but they aren’t the only cause.”
The bottom line: If you’re having issues with depression or unexplained anxiety, talk to your doctor to pinpoint what's really going on.