Vitamins and Minerals vs. Depression
A diet rich in refined, processed foods is a diet that has been depleted of vitamins. You might think that food manufacturers add them back in a process known as enrichment…but did you know that enriched white flour strips out 22 nutrients and adds four back? Would you feel enriched if you handed me $22 and I handed $4 back to you?
Not only is a diet based on white flour and other processed stuff depleted of nutrients in and of itself: it also additionally depletes your body of those nutrients because they are required by your body to process the food you eat. Nature has designed natural foods to give our bodies all the nutritional cogs and wheels we need to survive and thrive on those foods, but we’ve gone and processed many of those cogs and wheels out of the foods we most commonly consume!
Vitamins and minerals are co-factors in many physiologic processes, including the manufacture of the important neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. It’s no surprise, then, that a diet deficient in these nutrients – specifically, vitamins B6, B12, folate, magnesium, and selenium – has been linked to ADHD, depression, and other psychological problems. Replenishment of these same nutrients has been found, in scientific studies, to alleviate many psychological symptoms.
Vitamin B6 is required for synthesis of opamine and serotonin. Deficiency is often found in individuals with clinical depression. According to a population study of 11,658 adults, 71 percent of men and 90 percent of women underconsume this nutrient.
Vitamin B12 and folate are essential co-factors for the metabolism of food and production of energy at the cellular level. They are crucial for good nervous system function; deficiency of B12 can cause dementia-like symptoms and low energy, and a deficiency of folate is known to cause depression, possibly due to its role in the formation of serotonin and other neurotransmitters. These vitamins are also part of a process that breaks down an amino acid called homocysteine, which is a product of the metabolism of another amino acid found in many foods. If B12 and folate are lacking, homocysteine can accumulate – and this has also been linked with increased risk of depressive disorders. Fruit and vegetables are the richest dietary sources of folate, and the population study mentioned above found that 88 percent of adults under-consume this nutrient – no big surprise, considering that some 90 percent of adults don’t eat enough vegetables and fruit.
Magnesium is found most abundantly in whole grains, vegetables, and fruit, and most people eating modern diets don’t get enough. It participates in so many body systems and cellular reactions that two scientific journals are devoted to publishing studies specifically about this mineral! Deficiency is correlated with depression, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, and apathy; replacement of this mineral in adequate amounts helps reduce mood symptoms, as well as helping to promote better heart and respiratory health.
Selenium is a necessary cofactor for proper function of the thyroid gland and its hormones. Ensuring selenium adequacy will help to ensure proper thyroid function. (If depression is accompanied by extreme fatigue, weight gain, dry skin, and slow heartbeat, have your thyroid function checked; you could be hypothyroid.) At least five studies show an association between low selenium levels and depressed mood; in one study, selenium supplementation was found to improve mood and decrease anxiety within a fiveweek period.
Zinc is believed to play an important role in serotonin activity. Zinc deficiency has been identified in blood serum of depressed people; antidepressant therapy appears to normalize this deficiency. Animal studies have found that zinc has antidepressant-like activity.