Updated: Mar 31, 2022
It is well known that nutrition promotes physical health, yet, few people know that nutrients, like vitamins and minerals, have a potentially profound impact on mental health. Actually, when it comes to health and nutrition, it is impossible to separate our minds from our bodies. Due to this undeniable link, when one is neglected, the other may feel such effects. Taking supplements that support a healthy body can also support the health of your mind and brain function.
The presence of nutrient deficiency can cause impairment to the functioning of our organs. When our organs aren’t functioning properly, we are more likely to develop multiple conditions that can drastically threaten our physical and mental well-being.
The brain is also an organ, and it requires certain nutrients to function, since there are several important vitamins and minerals that support the body’s biochemical reactions and promote the healthy function of brain cells and neurotransmitter pathways.
What are the best nutrients for mental health?
In addition to therapy and medication management, here are some key nutrients that may positively influence mental health.
B vitamins and folate
A diet that includes vitamin B complex helps boost mental health due to the critical role in the production of important brain chemicals. As a result, they can help you combat fatigue, improve memory, and function with greater clarity. Foods like fish, lean pork or beef, poultry, eggs, whole-grains, nuts, and milk are great sources of B vitamins.
An increase in oxidative stress has been implicated on a range of mental disorders, including depression and dementia. Oxidative stress refers to the damage that excessive amounts of free radicals can provoke on cells and tissues in the body. Antioxidant compounds may neutralize free radicals that damage cells and prevent oxidative stress.
Keep in mind that it is better for you to consume natural antioxidant compounds through your diet rather than taking synthetic vitamin A, C, or E supplements, since the oxidative system is finely tuned, and an excess intake may actually be harmful.
You can find these antioxidant compounds in relative abundance in fruits and vegetables, especially blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and goji berries; grapes; mangos; onions; garlic; kale; green and black tea; other herbal teas; and dark chocolate.
Data suggests that vitamin D deficiency is linked to increased depressive symptoms. But, it is important to share that, there’s little evidence to support the use of vitamin D supplements for preventing depression.
Vitamin D can be synthesized via sunlight: 15 minutes a day on the skin, although you need to be sure to seek professional health advice regarding skin cancer concerns. Aside from sunlight, vitamin D can also be found in oily fish, UVB-exposed mushrooms and fortified milk.
Various minerals in the body, such as zinc, magnesium, and iron, promote optimal functioning of multiple cognitive skills and mental well-being, as they regulate the nervous system and stimulate dopamine and serotonin synthesis.
Zinc is abundant in lean meats, oysters, whole grains, pumpkin seeds and nuts, while magnesium is richest in nuts, legumes, whole grains, leafy greens and soy. Iron can be found in higher amounts in unprocessed meats and organ meats, such as liver, and in modest amounts in grains, nuts and leafy greens, such as spinach.
Omega-3 fatty acids
In addition to maintaining neuronal structure and function, omega-3 fatty acids also help modulate critical aspects of inflammation in the body. Taking omega-3 supplements appears beneficial for addressing symptoms of depression, bipolar depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Omega-3 fats can be found in nuts, seeds and oysters, although the highest amounts exist in oily fish such as sardines, salmon, anchovies and mackerel. Due to higher levels of mercury, larger fish, such as mackerel, should be consumed in moderation.
A connection has been found between the bacteria in our guts and brain health, which may impact mental health. When the composition of the gut microbiota is less than optimal, it can result in inflammatory responses that may negatively affect the nervous system and the brain function.
Fermented foods like tempeh, sauerkraut, kefir, and yogurt, as well as pectin-rich foods like fruit skin, can support a healthy gut flora.
Although nutrient deficiency has been linked to mental health problems, it is imperative to understand that vitamin supplements cannot replace mental illness treatment medication. In fact, supplements and vitamins alone are not sufficient for preventing or treating mental illness, but eating a balanced and nutrient-rich diet can promote physical and mental wellness.
Finally, remember that it is important to seek help from a professional before taking dietary supplements, especially if you are dealing with mental health issues.