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Suicide Starts in the Brain

profile of a man with close up of magnifying glass on SADNESS  made in 3d software

Suicide is a sensitive, difficult and important topic. It is a common misconception that most suicides occur in the wintertime, especially around the Christmas holidays. While the holidays can be a sad and lonely time for many people, according to The Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics, more suicides occur in the spring and summer. Late April and early May is when suicide rates are highest.

Pyschiatric Medications Don’t Work for Everyone

Depression is often characterized by negative thoughts such as guilt, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, low self-worth, and suicide.  Depression changes the way we perceive and respond to the world. Because there is no singular cause of depression, there is no one “cure”. But the link between nutrition and depression is clear. Proper nutrition can prevent and, often, reverse depression. Fortified with important nutrients, we are more resilient to life’s stressors.

There are many things that can lead a person to contemplate suicide. Sometimes life circumstances can seem unbearable. In some cases, a long-term chronic illness can lead a person to end their life. I think most would agree that depression is the most common precursor to suicide. Commonly prescribed antidepressant medications do not work for everyone. In fact, for some people, antidepressants make them feel worse. Modern psychiatric medications are increasingly coming under fire. Their effectiveness for many people is being challenged by researchers and major scientific publications.

Nutrition and Suicide

Adelle Davis was a nutritionist who came to the forefront in the 1950’s and was the most popular and influential nutritionist during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Some of her, at the time “radical”, ideas were heavily criticized. She believed that besides many physical illnesses, mental and social ills like alcoholism and suicide could be prevented with proper nutrition. Now, 50 years after her original assertions, alcoholism and suicide have been linked to nutritional deficiencies.

At first glance it seems incredible that something as serious as suicide could be related to nutritional deficiency. That is, until you consider that the neurotransmitters making up our neurochemistry are affected, and even created, by the nutrients we get from food. If we are not giving our brain what it needs to function correctly, our neurochemistry can get seriously out of balance. This can lead to depression and irrational thinking.

When nutritional deficiency leads to depression, a vicious cycle of nutritional depletion can be perpetuated.

B Vitamins Play a Crucial Role

A deficiency in B vitamins can cause the psychiatric disorders of dementia and psychosis with symptoms including depression, a lack of self-control, paranoia, immodesty and hallucinations, according to Roger Simon, M.D., et al, in a 2009 article in “Clinical Neurology.” A vitamin B12 deficiency can cause dementia and psychosis, as explained by Dr. Simon. The symptoms of dementia include various memory problems, inability to concentrate and focus, and a difficulty with mathematical calculations. People with this vitamin deficiency have manic mood swings, where they are depressed or overconfident. They are quick to anger, impulsive, and paranoid. They may also hear voices and hallucinate. Vitamin B12 and folic acid (vitamin B9) are involved in the production of the neurotransmitters, dopamine and noradrenaline. People who are depressed often don’t have enough of these chemicals. Increasing the levels of vitamin B12 and folic acid may help alleviate symptoms of depression and increase the response to medicines that treat depression.

Niacin is vitamin B3, and a deficiency in this vitamin can also lead to psychiatric disorders, explains Larry Johnson, M.D., Ph.D., attending physician at the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System. People may become psychotic, have problems with their memory and create stories to fill in their gaps of memory loss, a phenomenon referred to as confabulation.  They can become confused and disoriented. Some may show signs of paranoia and depression, or become impulsive, extremely happy and full of self-importance. Deficiencies in niacin can also cause headaches, irritability, and inability to sleep. We know that sleep deprivation can have serious effects on our feelings of well-being and can contribute to irrational thoughts and behaviors.

A vitamin B6 deficiency is characterized by mental changes such as fatigue, nervousness, irritability, depression, insomnia, dizziness, confusion, and nerve changes. These mental changes are related to the body’s decreased ability to manufacture neurotransmitters. Vitamin B6 is needed by the body to produce most of the brain’s neurotransmitters inclucing serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and GABA.

Deficiencies in thiamin (B1) and biotin can also lead to serious symptoms including fatigue, depression, confusion, and memory loss.

B-vitamin deficiencies are common in the U.S.  Some estimates indicate that as many as 40% of Americans are deficient in vitamin B12. Those who follow a vegan diet, have Celiac disease, and the elderly are especially at risk. Many things can interfere with the absorption of B vitamins. These things include oral contraceptives, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and many common medications including anti-depressants!

Education is Key

Vitamin D has also been linked to depression. Since suicide rates are higher in northern latitudes, it may because our store of vitamin D is depleted by late spring. North of the 42nd parallel, we cannot get vitamin D from the sun from November to March. This may contribute to feelings of despair, isolation, and hopelessness because the body has not replenished its reserve of vitamin D by late April or early May.

Nutrition’s relationship to depression, sometimes resulting in suicide, is too often overlooked.  Nutritional deficiencies, especially B vitamins, can lead to serious thought disturbances. We are entering the critical time of year for people suffering from depression and who may be especially vulnerable to thoughts of suicide. Education about the importance of treating nutritional deficiencies in depression is key to preventing suicide.


9 Responses to “Suicide Starts in the Brain”

  1. As an MSW and holistic nutrition professional who specializes in nutrition therapy for depression, this article is right on the mark. Yet so many people still go only the traditional route of talk therapy and meds while continuing to eat a diet filled with processed, refined, sugar laden foods. I volunteer in my local community to get this word out about food and mood. I agree, we need to continue to educate the public and also show them how to eat healthy!

  2. Liz Allen says:

    As a person who has personally suffered from severe depression, this IS right on the mark! What got me out of it was a large increase in inositol.

    • admin says:

      Yes! I almost included inositol in this article. I’m so glad you mentioned it and had a good experience with it.

  3. Kathryn Kemple-McLaughlin says:

    I am heartbroken. One of my twin sons just comitted suicide on May 1st. I know he was having nutrition, physical issues and mental health issues resulting from this. I even got him to the emergency hospital… they did no testing, just an hour of psychotherapy?! He was gone 10 days later.

  4. Martin says:

    I lost my brother in December 2015, he took his own life while suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder. This is caused by a deficiency of vitamin D, a lack of sunlight in the winter months. A simple supplement of High Strength Cod Liver Oil 1000mg with Omega-3 and Vitamins A&D (NRV 100%) would have prevented this terrible event. More education of the public and GP’s is required to the importance of essential nutrition for good mental health.

    • admin says:

      Martin, I’m so sorry about your brother. I agree that many cases of depression are due to a nutritional deficiency that is easily corrected. Getting the information to sufferers, their families, and health and mental health practitioners is critical. Thank you for your post. Angela

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