Deficiencies in These Nutrients May Cause Depression
Is your diet be missing crucial nutrients that could eventually lead to mental health issues?
Today is World Mental Health Day and we’ve come long way in our awareness around mental health issues. We realise that they are just normal ‘health issues’ that need to be treated and deserve our open attention. Raising awareness about the causes of depression and anxiety and talking about it helps normalise it. Awareness leads to acceptance.
Are These Deficiencies Making You Depressed?
Each year people end up taking anti-depressants without being tested for nutrient deficiencies or considering the side effects that could result from medication.
The list is endless, but side-effects could include tremors, anxiety, stomach upset, nausea, insomnia, changes in weight, drowsiness and dizziness. Doctors prescribe these without testing for nutrient deficiencies that may contribute to imbalances. Prescriptions or changes in medication like Prozac, Zoloft and antipsychotics like Seroquel and Zyprexa should always be accompanied by lab tests.
Recently, someone close to me started taking anti-anxiety medication and has been walking around feeling drowsy and out of it. This may be a normal side-effect, but I’m advising them to get lab tests done to identify any deficiencies that could be the culprit. So what are these 7 nutrients that should be considered?
Quick Tip on Testing Nutrients!
If you’re too busy to read further, here’s a quick list. Get these nutrients tested:
- fatty acids
- B vitamins
- vitamin D
- amino acids
Nutrients Deficiencies to Test
These are a few of the nutrients that we’ll consider and when the lab tests come back we’ll do what we can to increase them.
1. Vitamin D
This fat soluble vitamin, or hormone, is important for many aspects of our health. Vitamin D targets tissues in the brain, pancreas, skin, reproductive organs, bones and some cancer cells. As a result, deficiencies may contribute to mood changes and affect the immune system. If the immune system reacts abnormally, the body may attack the brain tissue with devastating effects.
Many of us tend to be low in vitamin D…but what is the right amount? We should have between 30-46 ng/mol (75-115 nmol/L), although doctors tend to recommend maxium of 28 ng/mol (70 nmol/L). The Vitamin D Council recommends taking 5000iu per day to achieve 30ng/mol. The best source is still from the sun, but taken internally it is best used when taken with vitamin A; the best source of both is fish liver, as the oils are a good source of both.
People that are at specific risk of low vitamin D are:
- Obese – as vitamin D loves fat and will stay in the fat deposits rather than go to the tissues that need it in the brain and elsewhere
- Dark skinned – as skin pigment blocks UV rays, lowering how much cholesterol is converted into vitamin D
- Elderly and the sick – tend to remain indoors and have reduced sun exposure
- Sunscreen, clothing & smog – these all block UV rays from getting into the skin
- Those that live in hemispheres far from the equator – receive UV rays for shorter periods during the year
2. Omega 3
Did you know that your brain is made up of 60% fat and every single cell is surrounded by a protective fatty layer? This means it’s crucial to replenish in the body.
Studies show that inflammation is a key factor in the development of and proliferation of depression and bipolar disorder. Omega 3 oils, specifically EPA and DHA components, have been found to lower inflammation through many pathways. These fatty acids play a key role in brain function, specifically memory and mood.
The best sources are from oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines and seeds and nuts like flaxseeds, walnuts and sunflower seeds.
3. B Vitamins
The B vitamins are best known for supporting the production of neurotransmitters are folate, B12 and also B6 (along with magnesium and zinc), but there is more in their relationship to depression and other mental health issues. Many of the B vitamins are involved in lowering homocysteine and (in the same process) increasing levels of glutathione.
High homocysteine levels have been associated with depression. These nutrients help lower homocysteine by metabolising it to cysteine, which ultimately results in the synthesis of glutathione. Glutathione is the body’s most powerful antioxidant, produced by the body itself. As long as it has the right ingredients available to hand. Could you imagine making an omelette without the eggs?
This essential vitamin is for the creation of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and contributes to the structure of neurons in the brain. Eat more whole grains, egs, flax and legumes to increase this vitamin.
Riboflavin contributes to the creation of fatty acids in the brain and also contributes as a cofactor in the creation of glutathione. It’s found in eggs, dairy and meat, but also almonds and wheat germ.
This vitamin is involved in every aspect of brain cell function. Research shows that niacin reduced sleep disturbances in Parkinson’s sufferers. Beets are a great source, as well as turkey, chicken, salmon, tuna, sunflower seeds and peanuts.
Pantothenic acid (B5)
Contributes to the production of Co-enzyme A, which is needed to make certain neurotransmitters. Find this in chicken liver, sunflower seeds and avocados for a start.
Pyridoxine is an essential cofactor to reduce homocysteine and raise glutathione levels. It also is a cofactor in the production of the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA), noradrenaline and the hormone melatonin. These substances help us feel good, stay calm, concentrate, improve our memories and sleep. Deficiencies could result in depression, cognitive decline, dementia, and autonomic dysfunction (inability to regulate balance, exercise intolerance and abnormal sweating). Lentils, avocadoes, bananas and brown rice contain good amounts.
The brain is very sensitive to glucose, which it requires for energy, but not too much. Biotin helps with the conversion of your food into glucose and also regulates its production within the body. Barley, organ meats, corn, eggs, milk and, to a lesser degree, broccoli and cauliflower contain biotin and should be seen regularly in your diet.
Folate (B9) and Cobolamin (B12)
These are essential to the synthesis of serotonin, melatonin, dopamine, noradrenaline and adrenaline. Low levels of vitamin B12 result in low levels of folate.
Best sources of folate are green leafy vegetables such as spinach, artichoke, soy beans, broccoli and also beets. The best sources of vitamin B12 are meat and animal products such as eggs and dairy.
Magnesium is considered the most powerful relaxation mineral that exists. It’s beneficial in the treatment of depression, nervousness, sensitivity to noise and hand tremors. When we are stressed, our bodies require lots of magnesium, which can be found in dark green leafy vegetables, whole grains, seeds and nuts.
People with low levels of magnesium may experience palpitations, high blood pressure, confusion, PMS, panic attacks, agoraphobia, difficulty swallowing, constipation and menstrual cramps (and more). If you suffer from one or more of these symptoms, then get tested or start focussing on the foods mentioned above.
The mineral iron is a cofactor in the production of neurotransmitters serotonin, and noradrenaline. Iron is also critical for dopamine production, which explains why anaemia can lead to symptoms of depression and lack of motivation.
The richest sources of dietary iron are kelp (a sea vegetable), clams, liver and oysters. Red meats, like beef, and other organ meats are also good sources. If you don’t eat meat, you can find iron in lentils, beans and peas along with seeds like sesame, pumpkin, squash and some dried fruits and nuts.
Not only has low zinc been associated with insulin resistance, which contributes to mental health issues, but it’s also associated more directly. Lack of motivation, depression, confusion, loss of appetite, blank mind and poor concentration may be due in part to a deficiency in zinc.
Therefore, as zinc is present in every cell in the body, you should improve levels by eating more nuts and seeds for snacks or in salads, fish and oysters.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein that are used to create the structures in your body (like your brain), but are also essential nutrients in the synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters. Important amino acids are tryptophan (to make serotonin and melatonin), phenylalanine (to make dopamine, noradrenalin and adrenalin) and taurine (to make GABA).
As a result, focus on including enough protein in your diet, especially vegetarians and vegans, who tend to eat less. Include lots of legumes (beans and lentils), eggs, meat, fish, nuts and seeds. For more specifics on protein, check out this post.
If you found this post on nutrients interesting, please share this post. If you want to contact us to see if nutritional testing or a consultation is for you, then book a free 15minute phone consultation.
Food is a tricky one and I find it difficult to know what’s best to eat as there’s so many differing advice out there.
Understandable Clari, there is a lot of conflicting advice out there. The best thing is to go back to the science and evaluate how relevant a study is. That’s not something the average person will do though, right?! So that’s why any therapist should be able to explain what the advice is based on and why it might be correct or not. Then you can decide for yourself. Each of us is unique from the other in terms of biochemistry…meaning we react differently to foods, therapies, supplements etc. My job is to make it easier for you!
When recommending dairy as a vitamin source, do you recommend organic farmed dairy, organic raw dairy? Is there much difference?
Great question Jennifer! Whenever we choose our foods, we want to reduce the toxins and maximise the amount of nutrients we take in. Therefore organic is better than non-organic. Pasteurised dairy has been cooked and may have reduced some nutrients, but there is a tiny risk with raw dairy so that is for each individual to decide for themselves. Personally, I choose raw when possible. Does that answer your question?
Fully! Thanks. I’m not a big milk drinker any more, so I’ve only tried raw dairy in the form of cheese.
Thanks Lorna! I hope that it helps someone that didn’t realise how important diet can be to our mood!
Interesting to see this information as a vegetarian who has suffered in the last. Definitely notice a difference in mood when I am eating better/supplementing consistently
Thanks Bryony for your comment. Did you find you needed to switch back to meat at any time? Or what other improvements did you make to your diet that makes you feel better now? In my clinic I encourage my clients to follow their own ethics and body when determining how they eat, but in certain cases, it may be clear that someone is missing something vital. It’s not uncommon for vegetarians and vegans to decide at a point in their life that they need meat, especially at a time when they are pregnant. Having said that, having meat in the diet is also not necessarily the answer for everyone.
I find this very interesting but also quite confusing. Lots of supplements seem like a good support to healthy eating but I also don’t like the idea of rattling from all these pills! I wonder if you can really get all you need from the food though.
I completely understand Laura and it’s an important comment. I have partly answered your question if you look at my response to Chloe. When I look at the diets of most of my clients, they contain lots of nutrient draining foods. I’ll explain; your body uses nutrients in order to conduct all sorts of processes in the body. In certain cases, it may use more nutrients than normal ie high sugar diets, in times of stress, under extreme exercise conditions etc. Additionally, those diets tend to lack all the nutrients needed to cover normal body processes as well as the extreme situations my clients find themselves in. So, the best thing to do is reduce stress and sugar, and balance everything out with more vegetables (for example). Ask yourself how many vegetables you eat per day…?
Great and insightful post! Is it enough to simply take a multi vitamin to address the nutrients in your post and make sure we get them? I take a multi every day. Or is it best to focus on each individually?
Good question Chloe. It’s a little difficult to give a black or white answer on this one and I’ll explain. Generally, it’s likely you can get what you need from a good diet (and possibly a multi with good fats), but we are all unique. If you have a genetic polymorphism (or variation), you may not be able to easily absorb it and therefore would need extra to make up the pitfall. Additionally, if the soil in your country is depleted of a particular nutrient ie like selenium in Finland, then you may need more as it will be low in foods and a multi may not contain enough. Lastly (to keep it simple), if you have toxins in your body that prevent absorption, then you may also have a greater need. That could include pesticides, fungicides, high phytates etc. I hope that helps answer your question!
Since living in the Netherlands I’ve been diagnosed with a Vitamin D deficiency and once a severe Vitamin B12 deficiency due to work-related stress which left me exhausted, sleeping all the time, unmotivated and depressed. The physical symptoms were so clear, especially with the B12 which was dangerously low at the time, that it left no question in my mind that diet, nutrients, vitamins etc. are critical to health and well-being.
Thanks for sharing Kim! In severe deficiency it is often very clear as you say. What is interesting, is that studies often find that people with severe deficiencies also absorb and use nutrients that come into the body more efficiently.
Since getting way more deliberate with my food, I have found that my mood is better too! So YES, the right food is so important!
Thanks for sharing Maaike! Are there any foods that you find essential for your wellbeing?
Interesting. I recently started taking Vitamin D after my mother was diagnosed with osteoperosis, and I noticed the improvement in my mood and energy. I do feel slightly intrimidated by the length of this list though!
That’s great regarding the vitamin D! I know what you mean about it being a bit overwhelming Marie, but in the end we could easily say that you should eat a widely colourful diet that includes some healthy fats and good amounts of protein. That’s the easy way to see it; I’ve just outlined here WHY they can benefit your mood. Does that help make it manageable?
Thank you for this very helpful article. I’m positive that I’m deficient in some of these vitamins. But I was haut to read about flax seeds as I’ve added them to my smoothies lately. Where can one request a test?
Great that you’re already including flaxseeds, it’s a good way to add fats, fibre and a bit of protein! There are tests that I (or other nutritional therapists) can arrange for you. We can speak about it in a consultation if you like, or you can book a free 15 minute consultation to chat about the options. Just book via the buttons above.
Nutrient deficiency – and depression- could come from a leaky gut. I have been reading Gut and Psychology Syndrome. But it’s so difficult to make the change! Not only practical reasons as it takes so long, it’s hard in a social context and it’s difficult to make very delicious things in a short amount of time… 🙁 the daily struggle.
There are many possible causes and mitigating factors with depression, that’s true. It’s about trying to unwind the causes and testing can help with that, as well as taking your case history during a consultation. Working with a therapist can help you break everything down into manageable steps. Usually when you are motivated and see the benefits it’s easier, but I often work with clients on how to fit with their lifestyles. Don’t lose hope! You could try to find someone to support you…an accountability partner to keep you on track!
I remember I was feeling totally down, tired, I only wanted to sleep and during the night I had insomnia, the doctor found out a big lack of Vitamine D in my body. As a Mexican I am used to the light of the sun and when I came here I had no idea how much impact this will have in my life and in my body. Is great you are doing this post to inform people like me. Thanks
Thanks so much for your comment Rosie! It’s true, if you have darker skin, you have more keratin than people with lighter skin. This means that you don’t absorb UV rays as efficiently and this impacts vitamin D production. People with low fat diets may also suffer with low vitamin D as vitamin D is stored in our fat. If you are supplementing with vitamin D, be sure that you also have enough healthy fats in your diet. You can always have your vitamin D with a small spoon of olive oil or similar. When we lack vitamin D, it impacts us in many ways and, luckily, the public is finally being told by their doctors what we’ve been fighting for in nutrition for years. That’s really positive! So be sure to get in the sun when you can to get regular exposure without burning. Glad you enjoyed this post and thanks for reading!
This article was a very good reminder for me. In the past, I was aware of the connection between mood and nutrient deficiencies. Sadly, I let bad habits take over and find myself with a very serious cancer diagnosis. Prior to this, I saw someone regarding my anxiety. I was diagnosed with agoraphobia and claustrophobia! I definitely think it is time for me to put nutrition at the top of my list of priorities!
So glad this article struck a cord with you Kelly! It is true for all of us, that bad habits love to find their way back into our lives. I’m so sorry to hear about your cancer diagnosis; it’s the time when you need good nutrition most. You’re right to put nutrition as a high priority as the right support is needed while you receive treatment. Thanks for being in contact with us recently and for commenting here.
Really interesting info. I actually experienced myself a serious lack of Vitamin D but quickly realized and sorted but did not now anything about the zinc…so much to learn! Thanx
Thanks for your comment Gessica and I’m glad that you sorted out the vitamin D issue. The latest advice is that everyone (at least in our hemisphere) takes 2000iu per day during the winter. It’s also thought that levels can afford to be much higher than previously thought. Yes, you can test your zinc in clinic! This may affect immunity and also sense of taste. Think about whether your wounds heal quickly or slowly, whether you get colds easily and they seem to stick and whether you tend to go for salty and sugary foods as these things may indicate a zinc deficiency.
Given some foods give me bloating and have a direct impact on my energy levels, I would agree to this link. Great article, Thanks
A personal experience definitely helps convince us, doesn’t it?! You might be interested in my recent article on mint https://joycebergsma.com/mentha-for-peppermint/. Thanks for your comment Ron!
Because I’ve eaten a primarily plant-based diet for so many years, I’ve had my D, Iron, Magnesium and probably B vitamins levels tested when trying to root out the causes of various health issues, but they’ve always come back in the normal/healthy range. Are there different medical opinions about what the right levels are? Because many of my symptoms are the same as those described above, I keep wondering if it is a nutrient issue.
Great that you’re taking these steps Rebecca; researching it is the right way to go. There are definitely standard levels for nutrients that are considered healthy by most practitioners, but there is an argument for optimum levels. I work with a scale that gives me ranges that compare standard ranges with optimum ranges. There could also be other reasons for your symptoms, and that’s worthwhile ruling out with a discussion and possibly other types of testing. Nutrient deficiencies are just one possible cause for the symptoms mentioned above. Book a free 15 minute consultation to see if nutritional therapy may be able to help.
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