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.
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