No one wants his/her child to feel depressed and/or anxious. No one wants a child to suffer needlessly. Many times we look for complicated answers to simple questions. Is my child depressed? Is my child struggling with anxiety? Sometimes we can find the answer with an easy test. Depression and anxiety can occur as a result of an undetected nutritional deficiency. Unfortunately, most doctors will not screen for this routinely nor will therapists suggest this in most cases. Hopefully, we can change that dialogue. So until your practitioners suggest these guidelines; I will suggest them for you. If you or a loved one is suffering from symptoms of depression or anxiety, please go to your doctor and request the following lab work:
Even moderate B-12 deficiency can cause depressive symptoms such as lethargy, tearfulness, irritability, forgetfulness, and the inability to focus. Dr. Brogan reiterates a case that changed the way she practiced psychiatry: “In 2003 a case report discussed a progressively worsening case of depression in a 52-year old woman who eventually began to hear voices and feel paranoia. Ultimately, she became catatonic, which meant she was alive but nonresponsive, and largely in a an otherwise vegetative state. One would automatically assume this was a serious case of severe pathology. She was treated with electroconvulsive therapy and antipsychotics to no avail. And then when transferred to another hospital, where they happened to test her levels of vitamin B-12 she was found to be a tad on the low side and after receiving a vitamin B-12 injection, she fully recovered.”
Vegetarians and vegans are more susceptible to a B-12 deficiency as this is one of the few vitamins found primarily in animal products. Nutritional yeast is a good alternative for those who do not consume animal products. Sugar and alcohol and antacids reduce B-12 in the body so children who have a high sugar and high simple carbohydrate diet are at greater risk of suffering from this deficiency as well – another reason to avoid the Modern American Diet.
We all hear about Vitamin D all the time but there is sufficient reason for this when it comes to your mental health. A deficiency in Vitamin D can cause symptoms of anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, a large portion of our population is suffering as a result of sun avoidance. We are remaining indoors at alarming rates. Our children plant themselves in front of a screen rather than the great outdoors and they are paying the consequences. We have to look at the environmental root of pathology. Our genetics cannot be solely responsible for the 30% increase in anxiety and depression in American teens. So we must look at environmental triggers. Vitamin D is one source. Take your child to the doctor and run the labs. If you find your child is deficient immediately enact sensible sun exposure. Dr. Mercola suggests 15-20 minutes of sun exposure over 40% of your body daily – after that apply your sunscreen. Mushrooms, egg yolks and fortified orange juice and dairy products and wild sockeye salmon are food sources of Vitamin D. If your doctor suggests supplementing; I would follow his/her recommendations. My children currently take between 400-600 I.U. in their probiotic. I take 2,000 I.U. routinely.
“So how much of what we call mental illness is actually driven by the thyroid and, one step back, the immune system? In my experience, a vast majority is,” American psychiatrist, Dr. Kelly Brogan. While thyroid issues may be less likely with children, I would still encourage the lab tests as we are seeing what were previously considered adult diseases like Type-2 Diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity and depression and anxiety in children now. If children are now susceptible to these diseases I do not believe it is unreasonable to conclude they may also be struggling with a thyroid imbalance. Your pediatrician may conduct a “standard thyroid test” in which case you may want to find a functional medicine doctor or naturopath who conducts an extensive blood panel. The thyroid can be adversely affected by gluten, fluoride, sugar, endocrine disruptors (think flame retardants, plastic water bottles, PCBs and phthalates) and birth control pills. For further information about your thyroid and mental health, please read A Mind of Your Own.
Today’s take-away: The answer to your problem has the potential to be a simple one. Before taking on medications and dangerous side effects, consult your physician and request lab work for Vitamin B-12, Vitamin D and Thyroid. Once you have your results you can adapt your lifestyle accordingly. Remember there is a biological and environmental root to your mental health and it is vital we begin to look beyond suppressing symptoms and become more holistic in our approach. For more information about navigating the mental health system, please check out my resources section: www.moodsandfoods.com/resources.
Side note: Remember when people suffered from scurvy? Scurvy symptoms may begin with appetite loss, poor weight gain, diarrhea, rapid breathing, fever, irritability, tenderness and discomfort in legs, bleeding (hemorrhaging), and feelings of paralysis. Infants with scurvy will become apprehensive, anxious, and progressively irritable. What is my point? Guess what caused it? A nutritional deficiency! All the patient needed was Vitamin C provided by fresh fruits and vegetables. We have to start looking at mental health as our physical health – the physical health of our brain, a brain that is susceptible to deficiencies like the rest of our organs. The answer doesn’t always have to be complicated.