Nutrients for Mental Health
Given the side effects, and sometimes ineffectiveness of anti-depressant drugs ingredients of natural origin are being investigated for their effect on brain chemicals and mood. Here are some hopeful findings:
Curcumin is a compound derived from the herb Curcuma longa, AKA turmeric. It exhibits a wide range of beneficial properties including being a potent antidepressant. It’s thought to work through diverse mechanisms including those associated with serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline and glutamate, as well as through effects on neurotransmitters, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, inflammation and, oxidative stress (1).
It turns out that there may be specific gut bacteria that are associated with mental health disorders and that alterations in the populations of these organisms might contribute to depression. In turn depressive states may change the make up of the microbiome (2,3)
The use of probiotics, prebiotics, antibiotics, or faecal microbiota in the treatment of mental health problems is a growing area of research although evidence is scarce at the moment (4). Psychobiotics is the term given to probiotics or prebiotics that yield a positive influence on mental health. For example recent studies have found that the down-regulation of major brain metabolites following prolonged stress were reversed using a probiotic supplement of Lactobacillus rhamnosus JB-1™, even in the presence of continued stress. There was also a reduction in stress-induced behaviour (5).
Another study found that eight-week supplementation with B. longum and L. helveticus in depressive patients improved depression symptoms (6).
Omega 3 Oils and Depression
One emerging potential treatment for major depressive disorder is omega-3 oils, found in oily fish and some nuts and seeds. A systematic review of research into the effect of omega 3 fats on depression found a small-to-modest, beneficial effect of omega 3 fats on symptoms of depression compared to placebo (7).
The following nutrients may help to reduce stress, anxiety and depression (8):
- B Vitamins – needed to convert carbohydrates from food into energy. Vitamin B5 plays a role in cortisol production. Vitamin B6 is needed to make several neurotransmitters that can counteract the effects of adrenaline. Dietary sources include whole grains, fish, eggs and green vegetables.
- Vitamin C – the adrenal glands have a high need for vitamin C which is depleted by stress. Dietary sources include berries, black currants, red currants, lemons, grapefruit, kiwi fruits, peppers, broccoli and watercress.
- Vitamin D3 – the best source is the action of sunlight on bare skin. Supplements are recommended through the winter months.
- Magnesium – vital for the nervous system and energy production. Chronic stress can deplete magnesium stores. Dietary sources include green vegetables, whole grains, pumpkin seeds, cacao, black strap molasses, almonds, hazelnuts and alfalfa sprouts.
- Zinc – has a beneficial effect on neurotransmitters involved in depression. Dietary sources include eggs, fish, kelp, molasses, wheat germ, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, peas, oysters, chicken, whole grains.
- Antioxidants – under stress the production of free radicals is increased. Free radicals are responsible for many symptoms and chronic illnesses. It is antioxidants that protect the body against free radical damage. Dietary sources of antioxidants include fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and sea vegetables.
If you have persistent feelings of sadness, depression or hopelessness that last for weeks then do consult your health care provider or seek psychological support from a professional therapist.
1. Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol. 2020 Oct;127(4):243-253. Curcumin in antidepressant treatments: An overview of potential mechanisms, pre-clinical/clinical trials and ongoing challenges. Zhang Y et al.
2. Microb Cell. 2019 Sep 27;6(10):454-481. Gut microbial metabolites in depression: understanding the biochemical mechanisms. Caspani G, Kennedy S et al.
3. Rev Neurosci. 2018 Aug 28;29(6):629-643. Gut microbiome and depression: what we know and what we need to know. Winter G, Hart RA et al.
4. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2020 Oct 9;110130. Targeting the microbiome-gut-brain axis for improving cognition in schizophrenia and major mood disorders: A narrative review. Bioque M et al.
5. Nutr Res. 2020 Jul 6;82:44-57. Dietary supplementation with Lactobacillus rhamnosus JB-1 restores brain neurochemical balance and mitigates the progression of mood disorder in a rat model of chronic unpredictable mild stress. Kochalska K et al.
6. J Neurogastroenterol Motil.2020 Sep 30;26(4):486-495. Effects of a Psychobiotic Supplement on Serum Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor Levels in Depressive Patients: A Post Hoc Analysis of a Randomized Clinical Trial. Heidarzadeh-Rad N et al.
7. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Nov 5;2015(11):CD004692. Omega-3 fatty acids for depression in adults. Appleton KM et al.
8. JBI Database System Rev Implement Rep. 2017 Feb;15(2):402-453. The impact of essential fatty acid, B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc supplementation on stress levels in women: a systematic review. McCabe D, Lisy K, Lockwood C, Colbeck M