Natural Foods Merchandiser

Nutrition Q&A

by Dan Lukczer

Q: It seems like vitamin B12 is important for many bodily functions, and I've heard it works to relieve depression. Is there any proof that it can help someone who is depressed?

A:We know that B12 is important in many ways, including cell reproduction and maturation. It also has some effects specific to the nervous system, including synthesis of myelin (the sheath that covers nerve cells), which allows for normal neurological communication. If myelin synthesis is impaired, neurological problems can result.

Some evidence suggests B12 is effective in relieving depression. This might be since vitamin B12 deficiency can take months or years to become symptomatic because large amounts of it are stored in the body—thus, an undetected lack of vitamin B12 may lead to depression, and supplementation easily helps with it. Vitamin B12 deficiency can especially affect older adults, primarily because of poor diet, poor digestion or lack of intrinsic factor (a glycoprotein necessary for the absorption of vitamin B12). A 2007 double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that taking B12 supplements significantly increased plasma concentrations of the vitamin and reduced depressive symptoms in hospitalized, acutely ill, older adults.1

Another six-month study reported that higher vitamin B12 blood levels were significantly associated with better outcomes in people of varying ages with major depression. Those researchers concluded that vitamin B12 levels were positively associated with the probability of recovery from major depression.2 So while the evidence is not overwhelming, there is some research that suggests Vitamin B12 can help ease depression.

Q:I've heard that inflammation can increase my risk for heart disease. How can I decrease inflammation?

A:You are correct about inflammation, and research is clear about this. A plethora of studies has looked at inflammation markers and the risk for cardiovascular disease.

C-reactive-protein levels—a marker of inflammation in the bloodstream—has been shown to be a strong independent risk factor for both cardiovascular disease and diabetes.3 Your question really deserves a longer answer as there are many things you can do to decrease inflammation in your body, but one of the most effective is to change to an anti-inflammatory diet. This involves simple steps such as increasing your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins and decreasing your intake of simple carbohydrates and processed foods.

If you're not yet ready to tackle your diet, a short and simple start is to take a multiple-vitamin supplement. Researchers had patients take a multiple vitamin and measured C-reactive protein and plasma-vitamin levels at baseline and six months later. At six months, C-reactive protein levels were significantly lower in the multivitamin group than the control group, suggesting that this simple change can help in the overall balance of inflammation in our bodies.4

Q:Can melatonin help with fibromyalgia?

A:I think it's a bit too early to tell. Melatonin is a natural hormone produced in the brain's pineal gland, and it clearly has an effect on circadian rhythms and sleep. Various neuroendocrine abnormalities have been noted in fibromyalgia patients, which have prompted some researchers to suggest that ‘desynchronization' of circadian rhythms may be responsible for some of the symptoms these patients experience. One uncontrolled pilot trial looked at supplementing melatonin in FM patients. The researchers gave 21 patients with FM 3 mg melatonin at bedtime for four weeks and then evaluated the patients for pain, sleep disturbances, fatigue, depression and anxiety before and after supplementation. At day 30, a number of pain parameters were significantly improved.5 However, no further studies have duplicated these results, and other studies have found no relationship with melatonin in FM patients.6, 7 Consequently, I would say there is not yet a lot of information to support this connection.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 9/p. 44

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