If you’ve ever found yourself in a bad mood (and who hasn’t?), you may have attributed it to a poor night’s sleep, the weather, stress, hormones or just having a bad day. And while it’s true, our moods can be influenced by many factors, a growing body of evidence says that poor nutrition may also be to blame.
You see, vitamins and minerals play an important role in maintaining our chemical balance (neurotransmitters and hormones), contributing to the high demand for energy from the brain, and establishing and maintaining brain structures and intercellular connections. That’s probably why adequate nutrition including supplementation of certain nutrients has been shown in many studies to support your mood.
To support your mood and mental health, it’s important to pay close attention to these nutrients:
Vitamin D: Vitamin D plays an important role in mood regulation. Unfortunately, up to 70% of Americans are vitamin D deficient. Low levels of vitamin D are associated with anxiety and depression and linked to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or sadness and depression during the darker months of the year. Vitamin D is naturally present in very few foods, however, fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, egg yolks, beef liver, and cheese are good sources.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: The human brain is 60 percent fat and since your body cannot make essential fatty acids, you need to eat healthy fats to fuel your brain. The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are critical for normal brain function and have been found to play a critical role in both depression and anxiety. Good sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids include fatty, cold-water fish such as mackerel, salmon, herring, and anchovies as well as nutritional supplements.
B Vitamins: B vitamins support the proper functioning of the brain and nervous system. Low blood levels of certain B vitamins, including B12, B6, and folate, have been linked to an increased risk of depression. The body does not store B vitamins well and their need is increased by stress and illness. Good sources include leafy greens, root vegetables, animal protein, fresh and dried fruits, seafood, and avocados
B-complex vitamin supplements may help improve symptoms of depression or anxiety. A study of 60 adults with depression showed that treatment with a vitamin B complex for 60 days led to significant improvements in depression and anxiety symptoms, compared with a placebo.
Magnesium: Magnesium is required for the proper functioning of the central nervous system. Unfortunately, up to 50% of the U.S. population is estimated to be consuming a magnesium-deficient diet. Several studies suggest that low levels play a role in anxiety. Good sources include dark leafy greens, seaweed, figs, fish, avocado, and bananas.
Zinc: Zinc supports your healthy brain function. Zinc deficiency has been linked to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and schizophrenia. Research shows that people with the worst depression often have the lowest levels of zinc. On the other hand, zinc replenishment has been found to be therapeutic in treating mood disorders. Foods that are high in zinc include meat, eggs, oysters, seafood, legumes, seeds, nuts, and whole grains.
Selenium: Studies show that a diet low in selenium correlates with a lowered mood state. Good sources include meat, seafood, beans, oatmeal, brown rice, peas, and spinach.
Iron: Iron is essential for the health of your brain and nervous system. Deficiencies can lead to depression, anxiety, poor concentration, ADHD, and irritability. Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional problems in the world, especially common among women who have heavy periods, are breast-feeding, athletes, picky eaters, vegetarians, and vegans. Good sources include red meat, shellfish, organ meat, and dark leafy greens.
Probiotics: Research has shown that boosting these healthy bacteria may help to prevent or at least manage certain mood disorders, including anxiety and depression.
There are even specific probiotic strains (such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, specifically the L. helveticus and B. longum) that researchers have used to coin the term “psychobiotics” for their potential therapeutic benefits. You can boost your probiotic intake via food sources such as yogurt, kefir sauerkraut, miso soup, and fermented soft cheeses, as well as probiotic supplements.
The bottom line is no single food or nutrient will be a panacea but choosing a variety of healthy foods and ensuring adequate intake of the above-mentioned nutrients can help ensure your brain has the fuel and proper nutrition to help you be the best YOU that you can be each and every day.
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Firth, Joseph, et al. “Food and Mood: How Do Diet and Nutrition Affect Mental Wellbeing?” BMJ, vol. 369, 29 June 2020, p. m2382, 10.1136/bmj.m2382.
Lewis, John E., et al. “The Effect of Methylated Vitamin B Complex on Depressive and Anxiety Symptoms and Quality of Life in Adults with Depression.” ISRN Psychiatry, vol. 2013, 2013, pp. 1–7, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3658370/, 10.1155/2013/621453. Accessed 20 Nov. 2019.
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