Vitamins That Boost Mental Health
It's more than just what's in your head
Posted August 28, 2020 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
Here's something that may surprise you: those lingering symptoms of depression, anxiety, or obsessive mannerisms you can't seem to shake may not be solely related to messy genes, poor coping mechanisms, or faulty brain chemistry—they may be related vitamin deficiencies, such as zinc, B vitamins, and vitamin D, among others. The following provides some information on key nutrients and their role in regulating our mental health.
Please remember that nothing in this post should take the place of your own doctor's advice or recommendations. Do not make any changes with your treatment without first consulting with your provider.
The Role of Zinc
Zinc serves as one of the core nutrients that helps regulate many biological processes, including our mood. Zinc is found in various dietary sources, especially in red meat, poultry, and fish. When individuals experience low zinc levels, conditions such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, and mood disorders may arise. Previous studies have uncovered low zinc concentrations in patients with depression and psychiatric presentations (Petrilli et al. 2017). Zinc dysregulation has also been identified in patients with Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, Down syndrome, and ADHD (Grabrucker et. al., 2011).
For patients with a zinc deficiency, zinc supplementation has been shown to help improve depressive symptoms and has been deemed "nature's antidepressant." One study demonstrated that zinc supplementation together with SSRI's improved major depressive disorders more effectively than patients receiving SSRI treatment alone (Ranjbar et al. 2013). In fact, long-term treatments with zinc in laboratory animals presented with the same effects as antidepressant drugs (McLoughin & Hodge, 1990).
There are many additional factors to consider when assessing zinc levels and the need for supplementation (such as the role of inflammation, copper absorption, etc.), therefore, it's important to discuss these areas with your doctor prior to making any changes or adjustments.
B vitamins also serve an important role in regulating our mental health. The term, "B vitamins" refers to eight essential nutrients that help the body's cells function properly. They all work together but also carry out their own unique functions. The eight types of B Vitamins include:
- B1 (thiamin)
- B2 (riboflavin)
- B3 (niacin)
- B5 (pantothenic acid)
- B6 (pyridoxine)
- B7 (biotin)
- B9 (folate)
- B12 (cobalamin)
Certain mental health-related conditions can also coexist with deficiencies in B vitamins. For example, early studies have shown that children with autism present with low B6, and after supplementation of B6, some showed marked improvements and started to speak for the very first time (Kotsanis et al. 1984).
Thiamine (vitamin B1), niacinamide (vitamin B3), and pyridoxine (vitamin B6) have all been used to successfully treat many individuals with anxiety disorders and other mental health-related conditions (Cornish & Mehl-Madrona, 2008). In mice studies, niacinamide was actually found to have properties in common with benzodiazepines and barbiturates (Voronina, 1981).
Additionally, patients with depression are known to present with deficiencies in B12, and people with B12 deficiencies are more likely to be severely depressed than non-deficient individuals (Cornish & Mehl-Madrona, 2008). Additional symptoms of B12 deficiency can include fatigue, lethargy, poor memory, mania, and psychosis. B vitamins including riboflavin, B12, folate, and B6 have even been shown to help manage symptoms of schizophrenia.
And last but not least, vitamin D, also known as the "sun" vitamin, is also essential for our mental health. Vitamin D helps support healthy growth and development. About 50-90% of vitamin D is produced by sunshine exposure and the rest actually comes from our diet (Naeem, 2010).
Due to the estimated number of individuals presenting with vitamin D deficiencies, some experts describe vitamin D deficiency as a "global health problem" and a worldwide epidemic. While the exact relationship between vitamin D and mental disorders is not yet clearly understood, populations who are at risk for vitamin D deficiency have been found to have an increased risk for depression, and lower levels of vitamin D could contribute to or exacerbate depressive symptoms (Penckofer et al. 2010). Neuro-degenerative diseases, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and osteoporosis have also been linked to vitamin D deficiencies (Naeem, 2010).
If you're interested in naturally increasing vitamin D levels, some recommend supplementing with vitamin D (only if your vitamin D levels are low) and increasing your daily exposure to sunlight. If you don't have much access to direct sunlight, incorporating light therapy into your daily routine, especially in the morning, could serve as a helpful remedy.
Holistically Target the Mind and Body
For anyone struggling with symptoms of depression, anxiety, OCD, mood disorders, and even schizophrenia, there is hope. Despite popular belief, mental struggles may not exist solely "in your head," but may have roots elsewhere throughout the body. Research is continuing to uncover links between vitamin deficiencies and mental ill-health, which can be further addressed through dietary approaches or supplementation, potentially lessening the need for increased pharmaceutical treatments. Keep in mind, targeting nutritional deficits won't solve all your problems, but it could be an important step in your treatment or recovery.
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