Anxiety and depression are the leading mental illnesses in America and affect more than eighteen percent of the population. Many people turn to medication as their first line of defense to treat these conditions, but there may be a better way. Studies indicate that many people with these mental illnesses could benefit from better nutrition. With the right vitamins and minerals, your brain and body may be able to overcome anxiety and depression naturally.
According to research, nutrition is a major factor influencing the onset, severity, and duration of a depressive episode. Individuals with depression or anxiety often have a deficiency of a range of essential vitamins and minerals necessary for optimal brain function. So, exactly which vitamins and minerals are needed in your diet to treat anxiety and depression? Let’s take a closer look at what your body is craving.
When was the last time you spent an afternoon in the outdoors, soaking up sunshine? When you’re in the sun, your body can produce higher quantities of vitamin D. This vitamin is a key player when it comes to your mental health, depression, and anxiety. Adding a little sunshine to your life could mean major improvements in your mood.
Almost three-quarters of Americans are lacking this essential vitamin because they spend most of their days indoors. Supplementing your diet with at least 2,000 IU of vitamin D can go a long way toward improving your overall mood. Alternatively, you could spend approximately thirty minutes outside in the sunshine to easily gain the same benefits.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Your brain needs essential fatty acids (EFAs) to function properly. Because your body can’t produce them, you have to get EFAs from your diet. People who don’t consume enough fat may be lacking important omega-3 fatty acids. These antioxidants are responsible for a number of important health-related tasks including:
- Lowering your blood pressure
- Reducing your triglycerides
- Lowering the risk of heart attack and stroke
- Reducing the chance of sudden cardiac death
New research is also showing that this essential ingredient can also lower anxiety. In a recent study, patients who received omega-3 fatty acid supplements reported a twenty percent decrease in their anxiety symptoms. If you want to experience the same benefits, experts recommend taking up to 2,000 milligrams combined of the two most common forms of omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA.
Are you having a difficult time stopping your anxious thoughts? If your anxiety is running your life, you might be lacking in magnesium. This essential mineral is a critical part of your overall health and wellbeing. It is responsible for maintaining your nerves and muscles, helping to regulate the immune system, and controlling your blood glucose levels. When your diet doesn’t contain enough magnesium, you may also begin to see the symptoms of anxiety.
A six-week study on rodents demonstrated that a magnesium-deficient diet changes the composition of your gut microbiota and increases the anxious behaviors. You can take magnesium supplements or incorporate more magnesium into your diet with foods like:
- Dark chocolate
- Almonds or cashews
- Flax seeds or chia seeds
- Whole grains
When considering the essential vitamins and minerals that can lower anxiety and depression, many people overlook zinc. This mineral has been shown in recent studies to lower anxiety symptoms. Compared to rats who received a placebo, those who had zinc supplements displayed lower rates of anxiety when entering a maze apparatus.
Researchers are now exploring using zinc to treat in humans. Meat, shellfish, and eggs can all give you a healthy daily dose of zinc. However, you may prefer to take a zinc supplement to achieve your recommended dose of this essential mineral.
Research is now showing that almost two-fifths of all Americans may have low levels of vitamin B12 in their bloodstream. People lacking in this vitamin may experience a number of symptoms including:
- Severe joint pain
- Shortness of breath
- Paranoia and delusions
- Memory loss
- Loss of taste and smell
Harvard Health indicates that a severe deficiency can even lead to worsening levels of depression.
Vegetarians and vegans are at the greatest risk of having a vitamin B12 deficiency because plants do not manufacture this necessary vitamin. Instead, it comes from foods like meat, eggs, and dairy products. Taking a daily B12 supplement may be the best option for these individuals.
Taking a B-complex vitamin, that includes other B vitamins, will make it easier for you to maintain your levels of all the important B vitamins. Many supplements contain vitamins B3, B6, B12, and folic acid. Research has shown all of these to be linked to improved mood.
Many people associate folic acid with prenatal supplements, but it can also be a contributing factor to your overall mood. Folic acid is another B vitamin that you may want to consider for the natural treatment of depression. This vitamin is a common additive in popular food products like cereals, bread, pasta, and crackers. However, you can also add more folic acid to your diet through healthier leafy green vegetables, certain types of fruits, meat, orange juice, and beans.
Previously, folic acid was used to prevent anemia and to help the bowels absorb nutrients more effectively. Newer studies are showing that some people with depression also have low levels of both vitamin B12 and folic acid. This same study suggests that patients supplement daily to help improve mood.
Most people are familiar with the ability of vitamin C to bolster health and immune system functioning. Few are aware of its mood-boosting properties. A study conducted in 1999 indicated that long-term supplementation of vitamin C was associated with better moods, improvement in intellectual functioning, and a reduction in errors associated with memory. Participants who had a lower mood at the beginning of the study saw the greatest improvements after receiving vitamin C supplements.
You must consume vitamin C on a daily basis. Your body does not store it. Consider eating more citrus fruits and vegetables rich in this vitamin or take a vitamin C supplement dosage of at least 100 milligrams.
Improving your mood and decreasing symptoms of anxiety or depression could be as simple as eating more bananas. A potassium deficiency has been associated with changes to the signals that help maintain your overall brain function. These disruptions can lead to changes to your mood or anxiety levels and more severe health problems. Low potassium levels have been linked to depression, anxiety, mental fatigue, memory issues, and even schizophrenia.
Researchers took a closer look at potassium deficiencies among psychiatric inpatients at university-affiliated hospitals. Low potassium levels were found in more than 20 percent of the patients studied. While there are many theories as to why this might be true, it appears that an increase in potassium could improve your overall mood. Studies are ongoing and promising.
The symptoms of low iron very closely resemble the symptoms of depression. Iron deficiency can result in reduced mental clarity, physical fatigue, a lower mood, and higher rates of irritability. Adding an iron supplement to your diet can make many of these symptoms may disappear.
Ongoing research supports the theory that increased iron intake could lead to lower levels of depression. A web-based survey was administered to 1,000 individuals with a history of depression. In both men and women, higher rates of depression correlated with self-reported histories of iron-deficiency anemia in the study. Researchers also found a correlation between iron deficiency and overall psychological distress.
You can add more of this mineral to your diet with iron supplements or consume more foods containing it, such as:
- Red meat
- Fortified cereals
Overcoming Depression and Anxiety the Natural Way
The foods that you put into your body make a huge difference when it comes to your mood and anxiety. Nutrition is a highly underrated lifestyle factor which can markedly improve some mental health disorders. In fact, nutritional psychiatry is a growing field finding success in treating mental health issues with diet. Water, vitamins, and minerals all play a key role in determining how severe your depression and anxiety symptoms are. Research suggests that altering your diet may be one of the best ways to help some mental health conditions naturally.
Choosing to incorporate healthier foods into your diet can be a simple solution for these and many common ailments. Alternatively, you may want to consider taking a supplement purchased at a local health store to give you a more immediate response. Don’t underestimate the huge impact that vitamins and minerals can have on your mental health!
About Dr. Brent Wells
Dr. Brent Wells is the founder of Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab, a massage therapy center and chiropractic clinic in Anchorage. His practice has treated thousands of patients from different health problems using various services designed to help give you long-lasting relief.
Dr. Wells is also the author of over 700 online health articles that have been featured on sites such as Dr. Axe and Lifehack. He is a proud member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians. And he continues his education to remain active and updated in all studies related to neurology, physical rehab, biomechanics, spine conditions, brain injury trauma, and more.