Top 5 Best Vitamins for Mental Health
Ensuring we get a good and broad supply of micronutrients is of course essential for optimal health and mental health. Our biochemistry is a complex system and a number of factors play key roles in our mood, behaviour and emotional health, but some of the most important vitamins for mental health are listed here:
Antioxidants - A, C & E
What are they?
Oxidants and oxidative stress are free radicals that come from our environment and our foods. This include pesticides, processed foods, cleaning chemicals, artificial additives and preservatives - many are difficult to avoid from our surroundings. Lifestyle factors such as smoking, psychological stress and no or limited exercise also contributes to rising oxidant levels. Oxidative stress has a significant and detrimental effect on our health and causes DNA and cellular damage and is attributed to a wide range of diseases including neurological conditions, cancers and mental illness.
In order to have good antioxidant protection it is important you get good amounts of essential nutrients Vitamins A, C & E.
Whats the relevance?
There is plenty of clinical research to associate low levels of antioxidant protection with high levels of oxidative stress and many conditions like alzheimer, depression and cancers as well as a range of epigenetic disorders and methylation dysfunctions, heart disease, inflammatory diseases and conditions of emotional and psychological stress.
One study from 2012 showed that the lab results of patients with stress-induced anxiety and depressive disorders showed significantly low levels of anti-oxidants defence when they first presented for help. The research showed that after being supplemented with Vitamins A, C & E for just 6 weeks, participants reported a significant reduction in anxiety and depression and lab results confirmed the increased higher level of antioxidant protection. (Gautam et. al., 2012).
The quick tip for anti-oxidant rich foods is ‘go bright’. Foods rich in anti-oxidants and phytonutrients are generally the brightest coloured foods so go for foods bright in yellows, oranges, blues or reds…
For example: Strawberries, blueberries, oranges, carrots, sweet potato, peppers, beetroot, mango, tomato, pumpkin, butternut squash…
Generally ALL the B vitamins are essential to support a healthy nervous system, energy production and overall biochemical synthesis but two in particular are regarded vital for positive mental health and seem the most significant in relation to anxiety disorders, OCD, depression, alcoholism and eating disorders. They are B6 & B12.
Vitamin B6 supports many important functions including helping the production and function of neurotransmitters essential for cognitive, brain and psychological health like Serotonin. B6 helps support the nervous system, and is vital for brain function, mood and good sleep quality. Vitamin B6 also helps to convert 5-HTP into serotonin working as a natural, symptom-free anti-depressant.
Vitamin B6 deficiency.
Many people with a deficiency in Vitamin B6 experience nervousness, irritability, anxiety, low mood, mental confusion, depression, pre-menstrual syndrome, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating, paranoia, muscle tremors or cramps and memory problems.
Low levels of Vitamin B6 also directly affect the methylation cycle and can be a symptom of pyrrole disorder - a biochemical imbalance associated with anxiety.
Alcohol, smoking and oral contraceptives can all reduce our levels of B6.
Best food sources:
Cauliflower, nuts and seeds, avocado, wheat germ, cabbage, watercress, kidney beans, bananas, peppers, broccoli, asparagus, lentils, eggs, turkey, tuna, spinach.
note: B6 deficiency is usually accompanied by lower levels of zinc and magnesium. They act as co-promoters together so considering your intake of zinc and magnesium along with B6 may also be worthwhile.
Vitamin B12 also plays an important role in the health and function of brain chemicals that influence mood as well as cognitive abilities. Low level of B12 is linked to depression, fatigue, anxiety as well as cognitive disorders like dementia, memory loss or other neurological symptoms.
Like many vitamins, and particularly in the B range, they are water-soluble vitamins and so do not store in the body. This means it is especially important to ensure you get adequate amounts of these vitamins each day.
Vitamin B12 is mostly available in foods such as dairy, eggs, poultry and meat - so vegetarians and vegans have a higher risk of suffering from B12 deficiency from dietary sources. Recent increases in weight-loss surgery is also apparently playing a role in B12 deficiencies as this can also affect the ability to absorb and extract B12 from food sources.
Of course, restricted eating will cause a whole range of nutritional vitamin and mineral deficiencies and this is a highly destructive and damaging downward spiral I have seen in those with restrictive eating disorders like anorexia and orthorexia. The more restrictive the eating, the worse the vitamin and mineral deficiencies can be, and subsequently the worse the symptoms of the deficiencies like depression, anxiety, irritability, aggression, fatigue, difficulty concentrating or poor sleep, and so on. For many people with a tendency for disordered eating, these kinds of complaints continue to fuel even more restriction or over compensation and so the symptoms only continue to get worse in a vicious cycle until proper help is sought. Targeted testing and addressing these deficiencies have often helped ease these issues alongside psychological therapy.
Signs you may be deficient in B12 include: irritability, poor stress control, numbness or tingling in hands, legs or feet, fatigue, weakness, depression, struggling with cognitions; difficulty thinking, trouble with remembering things and memory loss, paranoia, hallucinations and OCD-like tendencies.
Best food sources for B12: eggs, milks, cheese, poultry and meat. Vegans are at higher risk of deficiencies. Some cereals or food substitutes are fortified with vitamin B12 so it worth checking out to help increase dietary intake.
Magnesium really seems to be a wonder mineral when it comes to mental health. Magnesium deficiencies seem to be surprisingly common too - especially amongst women. Stress, caffeine, sugar and alcohol all deplete the bodies level of magnesium.
I don’t know all the global stats about magnesium deficiencies but what I do know is that every single person I have seen in my practice for psychological therapy for anxiety or anxiety disorder related issues like panic attacks, stress or OCD (and who have completed the specific lab tests) have all had significant magnesium deficiencies. Supplementing and increasing intake of magnesium can help reduce some of these symptoms fairly rapidly.
Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include:
Loss of appetite
Difficulty coping with stress
Problems with memory and cognitive functioning
Many people can help themselves with anxiety by checking magnesium levels and upping their dietary intake. If you struggle with anxiety symptoms or difficulties sleeping, trying this may be a good first choice before opting for medication.
Best food sources for magnesium:
Dark chocolate (a telltale sign of deficiency is craving dark chocolate!), Dark green leaf veg; spinach and chard, avocado, nuts (almonds) and seeds (pumpkin), banana, and grains like quinoa and buckwheat.
Reducing or eliminating caffeine, sugar and alcohol may also help with symptoms of magnesium deficiency.
Zinc is another vital mineral and important cofactor for optimal cognitive and mental health.
It helps to balance and control hormones and supports our ability to cope with stress. Adequate intake of zinc also supports a healthy nervous system, brain health and consistent energy levels.
Zinc has an important function in synthesising neurotransmitters related to mood and mental health including Serotonin, Dopamine and GABA - the neurotransmitter that regulates stress and anxiety.
Zinc is a crucial element used in the treatment of copper toxicity too - which is often at the root of depressive and behavioural disorders, particularly post-natal depression.
Symptoms of Zinc deficiency include depression, ADHD-type symptoms, memory difficulties, poor stress control, anxiety, fatigue and aggression.
Best food sources: seafood (eg. crab, lobster - although these can also be high in copper), lean meats, nuts and seeds particularly pumpkin seeds and sesame, green leaf, spinach, wheat germ and quinoa.
Other vitamins, minerals, fatty and amino acids play vital roles in supporting optimal health and so a healthy, varied diet full of fresh fruit, vegetables and good quality organic fish and meats, nuts and seeds, should provide a good enough range of micronutrients. It is always a good idea to ensure gut health is optimised in order to get the best out of anything you are eating or supplementing with.