Do you eat a great diet but feel you’re not quite getting the right nutrients to lessen depression?
Sometimes eating a nourishing, wholefood diet isn’t enough and we need to focus on key nutrients. Here’s a list of my favourite all-rounders:
1 – Omega 3 Fatty Acids
You might be familiar with fish oil but unfortunately not all fish oils are created equally when it comes to their omega 3 quality and quantity. These Essential Fatty Acids can’t be made by the body, so need to be included in your diet or through supplementation.
The two main fatty acids to look out for are Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA). These are amongst the most widely researched nutrients for mental health issues, from depression to schizophrenia to bipolar.
Here’s how omega 3’s may help alleviate depression:
- By transporting the amino acids into the brain so that it can make the serotonin, dopamine and GABA to help regulate brain function;
- By supporting the gene expression of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) which is needed to grow and support nerve cells;
- By reducing brain inflammation, which is indicated in mood disorders.
Whilst omega 3 fatty acids may be found in wild salmon and other oily fish as well as chia and flaxseeds, a high quality and high dose supplement may be more useful.
2 – The Brain-Boosting B Vitamins
Mention B Vitamins and most people automatically think of energy. However, their talents run deep as they play an integral role in brain function. Most research relates to B6, B12 and folate, with deficiencies in these nutrients linked to depression and poorer cognitive function.
Here’s how B Vitamins may help with mood disorders:
- B6, B12 and folate are involved as cofactors in DNA synthesis and repair;
- Involved in the metabolism of amino acids which make the important mood neurotransmitters such as serotonin, the happy hormone and GABA, the calming neurotransmitter;
- Folate also improves response to anti-depressants;
- Folate supports the expression of the BDNF gene, that helps with the growth and maintenance of nerve cells.
One hot topic in recent years is the MTHFR gene, which I’ll discuss in more depth in a later article about genes. Having the MTHFR gene doesn’t automatically mean that you need to supplement with high-dose activated folate but it may be worth researching. If you suffer from pyroluria you may need to find out more about B6.
Aside from including lots of leafy veggies in your diet, you may want to consider a multi-B vitamin with therapeutic levels of these key nutrients, as well as making sure that your digestive system is working well.
3 – Vitamin C: more than just for colds
Most of us tend to think of colds and the like when Vitamin C is mentioned. But research has proven that this everyday nutrient also has extensive positive effects on depression and may also improve the efficacy of anti-depressants.
Here’s how the humble Vitamin C may help with mental health:
- Activates the serotonin receptor thus keeping this natural anti-depressant elevated and lessening depressive symptoms;
- Supports the activation of GABA which is a calming neurotransmitter;
- Inhibits the activation of a glutamate-related receptor (NMDA) which helps keep nitrous oxide levels down exerting anti-depressant effects;
- Exerts its antioxidant properties to help reduce the damaging effects of oxidative stress.
It’s easy to reach for oranges and other citrus fruits to increase our Vitamin C levels but red peppers, broccoli, kiwifruit and brussels sprout all have decent levels of this talented nutrient. However, to get therapeutic levels a quality, high-dose supplement may be needed but you need to make sure that the amount doesn’t disrupt bowel movements.
4 – Magnesium: more than just a muscle relaxant
You might be accustomed to the use of magnesium for its ability to ease muscle aches and leg cramps. However, this micromineral has clinical research to validate its use in depression, possibly due to its role in many hormones and neurotransmitters related to mood regulation.
Here’s how magnesium calms your mind:
- Prevents the activation of the excitatory glutamate NMDA receptor, thus exerting anti-depressant effects;
- Plays a role in hormonal pathways which are tied into depression;
- Enhances the efficacy of SSRI anti-depressants.
Avocado, bananas, wholegrains and chocolate all are wholesome sources of magnesium but supplementation may provide a therapeutic dose, especially if you have a number of other health issues.
5 – Zinc: a zillion functions
Ok, maybe not quite a zillion but zinc really is a powerhouse of activity being involved in hundreds of metabolic reactions throughout your body. It’s one of the most researched minerals and a link has been established between zinc deficiency and severity of depressive symptoms.
Here’s how zinc supports brain function:
- Involved in the synthesis of serotonin, the ‘happy’ hormone;
- Enhances the expression of the BDNF gene that regulates the growth and maintenance of nerve cells;
- Protects the body from excessive glutamate synthesis, linked to depression;
- Aids hormonal and cortisol regulation.
If you love oysters then you are in for a treat as these are one of the highest zinc-containing foods.
However, whilst it is found also in beef, wholegrains, nuts and legumes, supplementation may be warranted, especially if you have pyroluria or your digestion is not optimal.
As nutritional supplements are potent natural medicines, you should seek professional advice before starting any nutritional supplementation program.
If you’d like to find out more and work with a nutritionist, then I welcome you to make an appointment with me.
Beverley Dorgan is a Brisbane Clinical nutritionist with a special interest in how the foods we consume can impact on our mental health from anxiety and depression to OCD and behavioural or learning issues.
Beverley is not currently taking appointments. However, to make an appointment with a Vision Psychology Clinician try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3088 5422.
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- Wang J, Um P, Dickerman BA, Liu J. Zinc, Magnesium, Selenium and Depression: A Review of the Evidence, Potential Mechanisms and Implications. Nutrients. 2018;10(5):584. Published 2018 May 9. doi:10.3390/nu10050584