Vitamin and minerals are critical to supporting several key functions related to mood disorders, depression included. The significance of different nutrients for mental health status has been established, but it’s still being determined whether it’s a cause or effect for poor mental health.
Different micronutrients are vital for different enzymatic reactions that are responsible for making neurotransmitter (serotonin, dopamine, etc).
It was thought that you couldn’t grow new brain cells, we know differently now. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF for short, plays a huge role in new brain cells. Minerals are essential for the enzymatic activation of this.
Zinc is one of the most abundant trace minerals in the brain, is supports several functions. Zinc activates one part of the brain (hippocampus) which up regulates this BDNF and decreases glutamate (trouble-some with people who have anxiety).
Getting enough zinc in your diet is important since there’s no specific storage system for it. A diet low in zinc can manifest as behaviour disturbances, dysphoria, and cognitive impairments.
Highest foods: Oysters, Steak, Pumpkin seeds, Sesame seeds, Ground Turkey
Vitamin B12 is essential for a health brain. B12 is needed to make myelin, which insulates your axons. You can think of axons as string and myelin as plastic wrap around it. It’s incredibly important! B12 is used to make your hormones that are key to your mood and memory. This is a huge player and is vital for more actions like cellular metabolism, making DNA, and regulates your fatty acids.
B12 isn’t produced by plants, it’s made by bacteria. It’s naturally found in animal foods, including meats, fish, chicken, eggs, and dairy.
Low levels of Vitamin B12 are associated with irritability, low moods and energy, anxiety, anemia, and cognitive decline. Long-term deficiencies are heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer.
Highest foods: Clams, Beef Liver, Mussels, Sardines, Crab,
EPA and DHA are omega 3’s. EPA is needed for proper brain function. It’s “natures aspirin” since it’s a potent anti-inflammatory but it also keeps your blood vessels relaxed and plays a part in blood clot prevention. Technically, you can make EPA from the omega 3 ALA which is found in plants but it’s not very efficient and depends on a few things. You can’t just assume that your body will convert it. EPA is a proven treatment for clinical depression though.
Depression, sucicide, diabetes, and heart disease are linked to low levels of EPA
DHA though is 270x more prevelant in your brain than EPA and makes up to 50% of the fat in your neurons (brain cells). DHA is able to create hormones that are able to combat inflammation in the brain and block signals that brain cells from dying during stress. This is the fat that is linked to better memory as you age, you want to fat here!
Depression, bipolar, suicide, ADHD, and Alzheimer’s are all linked to lower levels of DHA.
Highest foods: Wild Salmon, Anchovies, Sardines, Tuna, Oysters, Walnuts, Mussels
Magnesium, is incredibly important not just in the brain but throughout the body because it’s needed for 300 crucial chemical reactions. Magnesium protects our brain from ammonia (waste product), relaxes blood vessels (lowered blood pressure), and fights heart disease/ diabetes. This mineral is needed to keep that myelin (plastic wrap) healthy. It’s also used to make DHA, that important omega 3. There’s even research that shows that magnesium increases BDNF ( promotes new brain cells).
A deficiency in this mineral can lead to depression, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, muscle cramps, and cardiovascular disease.
Highest foods: Almonds, Spinach, Cashews, Black beans, Soybeans
Iron, the element that’s typically associated with women. You may know it with red blood cells as well since it transports oxygen through the body. Iron is lesser known for it’s affects in the liver where it breaks down and eliminates toxins through the “cytochrome pathway”. We can get iron from meats and plants. Iron found in meat is typically easier absorbed better than the plant iron.
We can see that it’s important with getting oxygen to the brain.
Highest foods: Pumpkin seeds, Oysters, Dark Chocolate, Sesame seeds, Spinach, Grass-fed beef, Liver, and Molasses
Anthocyanins are phytochemical that are found in deep pigmented red, blue, and purple foods. Every time you see deep or bright coloured foods, you can think of powerful antioxidants that reduce the inflammation. Skittles don’t count here but switching to “Natures Skittles”, can have a profound effect on the body.
Those anthocyanin increase the BDNF chemical to increase, improve your learning, and increase memory skills.
Blueberries can significantly improve cognitive performance within hours of consumption!
Highest foods: Deep/ bright colour vegetables and fruit, Red peppers, Sweet potatoes, broccoli sprouts, Blueberries, Onions
We know that there’s about 10x more bacterial cells than human cells. The majority of these bacteria are located in the intestinal tract and serve many purposes which include digesting food, making certain vitamins (Vitamin K and B12), and regulating our immune system.
The gut microbiota seems to be capable of regulating your “HPA axis” which is the way that your body responds to stress. There is evidence that an imbalance between “good and bad” bacteria in your gut associated with depression.
Your intestinal system communicates with your brain via the “microbiota-gut-brain axis” which is a fancy way of saying that your gut bugs talk to your brain via one of our favourite nerves, the vagus nerve.
There are hundreds of species of microbes living in your gut, this ecosystem is called your microbiome. Probiotics are beneficial living bacteria that help to outnumber the good bacteria with that bad.
The probiotics need to be fed though, this is where fibre comes along.
Highest foods: Sauerkraut, Kimchi, Apple cider vinegar, (Goats milk) Kefir, Yogurt, Kombucha, Water kefir
Fibre, the least sexy way improve your health. The right fibre has profound effects for overall health. A diet high in fibre helps to stabilize blood sugar by slowing the absorption of carbohydrates and feeds the beneficial bacteria in our guts.
Highest foods: Ground Flax seed, Navy beans, Lentils, Tempeh, Raspberries, Collard greens
Disclaimer: Always consult your physician before making any changes to your diet
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