Conversations around mental health have been fairly normalised in recent years. Still, there’s a long way to go. But thankfully, things are heading in the right direction and mental health is finally starting to gain more of the attention it deserves.
Yet, one of the things that we don’t often hear about is the link between mental health and vitamin deficiency. Diet certainly plays a vital role in a number of diagnosed mental health problems. But because we can’t produce most of the vitamins, we have to get them from our diets.
Some mental health problems have been linked to vitamin and nutritional deficiencies. For instance, vitamin D deficiency is associated with depression. Lack of vitamin B12 has been known to exacerbate symptoms in people with specific mental health disorders, such as obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
Here are some of the vitamins known to boost our mental health:
Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate, a B vitamin found in green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, beans, and fortified breads and cereals. It is available as a vitamin supplement or as a prescription medication.
According to Harvard Medical School, when combined with an antidepressant, folic acid supplements can boost symptom relief for depression, especially in women. But it is important to bear in mind that folic acid supplements won’t work as a stand-alone treatment for depression. Medical professionals advise not take more than the safe upper limit of 1,000 mcg of folic acid per day. Using safe and reliable tests like the vitamin B12 test can help make sure your vitamin levels are on the right track.
It has been reported in 2018 that nearly 70% of Britons suffer from some form of magnesium deficiency. This deficiency can cause sleep problems like insomnia, constipation, and muscle tension. It can also cause symptoms of depression and other mood disorders because magnesium is important for the production of feel-good hormones in the brain.
Jana Abelovska, medical adviser at Click Pharmacy, explains: ‘Magnesium has long been heralded for its substantial benefits to those suffering with mental health conditions such as anxiety, stress, and depression. Although more research needs to be done, studies have shown that adding magnesium to your diet can help with brain functions linked to the nervous system which help to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
‘Adding around 250–450mgs of magnesium to your diet per day has been shown to improve the mood of those with low magnesium levels or depression, however everyone is different, and it could take as early as one week to feel a change or as late as six months.’
Selenium is an essential trace element that is vital for the proper functioning of several selenoproteins involved in antioxidant defences within the brain and nervous system.
Research found that selenium could potentially exert antidepressant effects through its modulatory role in various neurotransmitter systems. Selenium has been found to have significant modulatory effects on the dopaminergic, serotonergic, and noradrenergic systems – which are all involved in the physiopathology of depression and other psychiatric illnesses.
We need vitamin D to help the body absorb calcium and phosphate from our diet. These minerals are important for healthy bones, teeth, and muscles. But aside from making our bones and teeth stronger, vitamin D also contributes to our mental health.
Rufus Greenbaum, founder of GreenVits, says: ‘Vitamins and supplements are vital to our health. Without those essential components our organs cannot function properly, moreover their constant absence or critical insufficiency is very likely to cause serious health issues. There is good evidence that vitamin D – as well as other vitamins and supplements – can play a significant part in promoting good mental health.’
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, has several important functions. These include: helping to protect cells and keeps them healthy; maintaining healthy skin, blood vessels, bones and cartilage; and helping with wound healing.
In the past few decades, scientists have revealed that the deficiency of vitamin C may lead to motor deficit, cognitive impairment and aberrant behaviours, whereas supplement of vitamin C has a potential preventive and therapeutic effect on mental illness, such as major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, and Alzheimer’s disease.
There’s nothing more rewarding than enjoying good mental health. While mental wellness requires a constellation of factors including healthy lifestyle choices, what we don’t realise is that making even the tiniest of changes, such as or supplementing some essential vitamins and minerals can boost our mental health.
Speak to your doctor before taking any dietary supplements. If you’re already taking supplements, ask them if it’s a good choice to continue. On top of raising your risk of certain health problems, some supplements may interact with medications that you’re taking.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg. He tweets @dennisr_howell.