Fitness + Well-being

'The Hills' star's confession: Can vitamin deficiencies trigger depression?

Actresses Lauren Conrad (L) and Lauren "Lo" Bosworth pose at 50th annual Grammy Awards kick-off party in Hollywood, California on December 6, 2007.

Actresses Lauren Conrad (L) and Lauren "Lo" Bosworth pose at 50th annual Grammy Awards kick-off party in Hollywood, California on December 6, 2007.  (REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni)

In an honest blog post, reality TV star Lo Bosworth revealed she struggled with depression and anxiety in 2016, but now, after supplementing her diet with vitamins B12 and D, she’s back on her feet again.

“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,” Bosworth, best known for her roles on MTV’s “Laguna Beach” and “The Hills,” wrote in part in the blog post. But “6 months later, after following a strict regime everyday I literally feel 100% back to normal.”

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The 30-year-old wrote that in November 2015, she began exhibiting impulsive behavior, and suffering from insomnia and a racing mind — symptoms that eventually morphed into two months of anxiety that wouldn’t subside.

“I mean, can you imagine having a 60 day long panic attack?” she wrote. “I can now — I lived it.”

Four different conventional medications didn’t help, but in September, Bosworth got a complex blood test that revealed the vitamin deficiencies. A subsequent genetic test indicated she has mutations that don’t allow her body to “process [vitamins] B12 and D in the way that other people can,” she wrote.

A common issue

Although mental illness is complex and no two cases are the same, vitamin deficiencies can indeed do a number on our bodies and minds, Robin Foroutan, M.S., R.D.N., and a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told Fox News.

“It’s totally a common thing,” Foroutan said, “and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that it would make so much sense for doctors to run nutritional labs as part of an initial consult.”

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Foroutan, who specializes in integrative medicine, functional medicine and holistic healing at the Morrison Center in New York City, pointed out that studies suggest deficiencies in vitamin D are linked to an increased risk of depression in women.

In the wintertime, Foroutan advised anyone living north of the line that connects Los Angeles and Atlanta to take a vitamin D supplement due to cold weather and the fact the sun is improperly positioned to generate sufficient vitamin D3. Deficiencies in vitamin D can lead to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or seasonal depression.

Studies have similarly linked vitamin B12 folate and B6 deficiencies to depression,  Foroutan said.

“What’s interesting is a B12 insufficiency or deficiency can look like a psychiatric disorder,” she said, “so if your doctor doesn’t automatically run your [vitamin] B or D levels, you can ask for it. It’s just a simple blood test by a regular lab.”

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For vitamin B12, a normal range is considered above 200pg/mL, but research shows that some patients have exhibited psychiatric symptoms with levels below 400pg/mL. Same thing goes for vitamin D, she pointed out: While the lower acceptable marker for the vitamin is generally 20ng/mL, many integrative medicine specialists, like Foroutan, like to see levels above 50 or even 70.

How certain vitamins energize the body

B12 supports myelin, also called myelin sheath, which is the fatty covering around nerve cells that allow them to communicate. B12 and other B vitamins are used as part of what’s called the citric acid cycle, which is the way mitochondria generate ATP, or cellular energy.

“That’s why B vitamins are perceived as energizing,” Foroutan said.

Fatigue is usually the most commonly reported symptom of a vitamin B12 deficiency, but low levels can also lead to pernicious anemia, fatigue, depression, anxiety, sleep problems, dementia, numbness, heart palpitations and pain conditions, Foroutan said.

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Foroutan added that people taking certain medications, like metformin and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), may be more at risk of a vitamin B12 deficiency, as those drugs lower levels of the vitamin in the body.

In Bosworth’s case, mutations in her MTHFR and MAOA genes, which she learned through raw data from 23andMe, a genetic test, impacted her body’s absorption of vitamin B12, she wrote. That also isn’t uncommon, Foroutan said. 

While some genetic testing can be pricey, Foroutan said that if your blood test indicates high levels of vitamins B6 and folate, yet you don’t take supplements, this may be a sign of the genetic variant single nucleotide polymorphism, which can especially impact vitamin B utilization. If that’s the case, she advised taking a methylated form of vitamin B. Taking the vitamin sublingually also can ensure it goes straight to the bloodstream.

As for vitamin B12-rich foods, animal meats like liver, seafood, shellfish, fortified almond or soy milk are good options.

“I don’t want to say that if somebody is depressed it’s because of a vitamin deficiency,” Foroutan said, “but if somebody is vitamin deficient, I don’t think it can be considered a mental health problem, even though that’s how it shows up.

“I think the easiest thing to tell people to do is get a blood test,” she continued. “They can go to their regular doctor. Insurance typically covers it, and you don’t need a specialty lab or anything like that.”

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