We often look at mental health as one separate entity, where, in fact, we should be looking at the whole picture.
When we experience problems with our mental health we often turn to therapy, medication, stress management techniques, mindfulness, spiritual practice, or other means of psychological health.
Oftentimes we might not change anything else in our lives.
While all that gives us great effects, and professional help should always be our first resource, it is also just as important to take care of our physical health.
When you combine the two, the effects of your improved mental health will most likely last much longer.
Disclaimer: If you are experiencing problems with your mental health, it is very important that you consult with a professional, such as your doctor or a therapist, first. Getting the help that you need as soon as possible truly makes a difference.
My aim with this article is to motivate you and inform you of another important aspect to consider while taking care of your mental health with the help of a professional. It is only to be used for complementary means and absolutely not as the main treatment.
That being said, another key aspect of great mental health is to nourish your body with all the essential nutrients and vitamins.
Why is nutrition important?
Sometimes, when you lack certain nutrients, you may develop symptoms that resemble, worsen, or even cause mental health problems, like depression or anxiety (1).
For example, a study done in 2014 found a strong link between a poor diet and poor mental health in children and adults (2).
According to the study (2), three main food groups that can worsen mental health are:
saturated fats (deep-fried products, or highly processed fats)
refined carbohydrates (white bread, candy, pastries)
processed food (most of the food that comes in packages, such as ready-made meals with a long list of ingredients)
They should be avoided, or eaten in moderation in order for your mental health to be at its best.
Contrarily to that, a well-balanced diet supports our mental health. If you provide your cells with the important nutrients that they need, your wellbeing will improve and you will have a lower risk of developing mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety (3).
Of course, I don't advise you to start taking supplements without consulting with your healthcare professional first. It is however beneficial to do a blood test and see whether you can aid your mental health journey by considering special nutrients that you may be lacking.
Here are several common vitamin deficiencies that worsen, resemble, or cause mental health problems:
Iron and vitamin B12 deficiencies can closely resemble the symptoms of depression or other mental health problems (4).
This happened to me once. Since I’m not a big fan of eating meat, there was a time where I didn’t eat it for an extended period of time.
Although there is plenty of iron in green vegetables like spinach and broccoli, my body couldn't absorb it as well as it would if it had come from a meat source.
So, over a long time, I was starting to feel as though I lost all motivation in life and didn’t feel happy or excited about anything that would have previously brought me joy.
I felt numb in my body and in my mind. I was constantly feeling tired and really struggled with getting out of bed in the morning.
This is why my doctor thought it sounded like depression and prescribed me with antidepressants.
I was confused but still trusted my doctor for a little while.
However, after several weeks, I decided to come back and take a blood test, just to be sure as well as see whether there was another reason for why I was also feeling dizzy.
The blood test results came back showing low levels of iron and vitamin B12.
So what I really needed was iron and B12 supplements, not antidepressants.
I also started including more organic, grass-fed meat into my diet as well as lots of leafy greens.
I immediately started feeling much better and my "depression" symptoms disappeared right away.
It turned out that my depression was purely caused by nutrient deficiencies and that was how it should have been addressed in the first place.
Another common vitamin deficiency that resembles depression is vitamin D deficiency.
It's especially common among those of us who live in the Nothern parts of the world and don’t see the sun for about half a year or more.
Among other symptoms, vitamin D deficient people may feel extremely tired or fatigued, which automatically lowers your mood. Some people may even develop depression due to this deficiency (5).
A simple blood test can show whether you have this deficiency.
And if it shows that you are deficient, it's easily fixable by either being out more in the sun, taking supplements, or incorporating more D-vitamin-rich foods into your diet.
Folic acid and vitamin B6
These vitamins are typically found in similar food groups and are also included in the vitamin B complex supplements.
Similar to vitamin B12 deficiency, folic acid, and B6 deficiencies can also cause or resemble depression or other mood disorders (6).
Other vitamins and minerals like magnesium (7), selenium (8), and vitamin C (9)
Their deficiencies can manifest as anything ranging from mild mental health problems to mood disorders or even severe mental health problems.
For example, magnesium is shown to help in depression treatment, since it contributes to faster recovery (7).
Selenium plays an important role in thyroid function, which is why it's extremely important to check thyroid levels as well (8).
Vitamin C was shown to improve mood in patients who were hospitalized (9). It is also essential for iron absorption, which as you know is another key mineral for great mental health.
But before you start buying all the above-mentioned vitamins, eating crazy amounts of dark leafy greens, or have 10 lemons a day, be sure to get your blood checked first.
Some vitamins in excess can cause damage to your body, which is why it is extremely important to check with your doctor first and only supplement if you actually need to.
In many cases, adjusting your diet and getting those vitamins from natural sources can give better results for your mental health and overall wellbeing than supplementing.
Before you go
Our body and the brain need to be properly nourished in order to function. If we are depleted of some essential vitamins and minerals, not only is our physical health compromised, but also our mental health might suffer.
One key factor that is very likely to make your mental health treatment more effective and give longer-lasting results, is to first check whether you are depleted of any essential nutrients and then adjust your diet, or supplement accordingly.
I am very interested to hear your opinion and tips on what you'd like to read about in this blog, so you are more than welcome to leave a comment here or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Remember to be mindful! ✨
Laura | MSc in Medical Science, Certified Mindfulness Life Coach
1. Forsyth, Adrienne K., Peter G. Williams, and Frank P. Deane. "Nutrition status of primary care patients with depression and anxiety." Australian Journal of Primary Health 18.2 (2012): 172-176.
2. O’Neil, A., Quirk, S.E., Housden, S., Brennan, S.L., Williams, L.J., Pasco, J.A., & Jacka, F.N. (2014). Relationship between diet and mental health in children and adolescents: A systematic review. American Journal of Public Health, 104(10), e31–e42.
3. Popa, T. A., and M. Ladea. "Nutrition and depression at the forefront of progress." Journal of medicine and life 5.4 (2012): 414.
4. Rao, TS Sathyanarayana, et al. "Understanding nutrition, depression and mental illnesses."Indian journal of psychiatry50.2 (2008): 77.
5. Okereke, Olivia I, and Ankura Singh. “The role of vitamin D in the prevention of late-life depression.”Journal of affective disordersvol. 198 (2016): 1-14. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2016.03.022
6. Karakuła, H., et al. "Does diet affect our mood? The significance of folic acid and homocysteine." Polski Merkuriusz Lekarski: Organ Polskiego Towarzystwa Lekarskiego 26.152 (2009): 136.
7. Eby, George A., and Karen L. Eby. "Rapid recovery from major depression using magnesium treatment." Medical hypotheses67.2 (2006): 362-370.
8. Sher, L. "Role of thyroid hormones in the effects of selenium on mood, behavior, and cognitive function." Medical hypotheses57.4 (2001): 480-483.
9. Zhang, Michelle, et al. "Vitamin C provision improves mood in acutely hospitalized patients." Nutrition 27.5 (2011): 530-533.