Recent studies suggest that certain nutrients and deficiencies are increasingly responsible for the improvement of our mental health. The relationship between what you consume and the way you feel are closely related.

Here are some of the most essential dietary factors that can exert a profound influence over your mental wellness.

Are you eating the right fats?

Fats, also known as lipids, use to be considered to be unhealthy. However, it is now known that many fats are beneficial and some are essential for our mental health. Omega 3 fatty acids are required for cell function throughout the body so they can contribute to our well being in many ways and are especially linked to our brain health and development. Most of us don’t get enough omega-3s in our diets. Omega-3s are incredibly therapeutic in the brain. Anxiety and depression have been linked to low omega-3 levels in the brain. The developing brains of children have an especially strong need for omega-3s. Omega 3 fatty acids are found predominantly in oily fish, the best sources being wild salmon, sardines, mackerel and herrings. Official sources recommend that oily fish should be consumed twice a week. Although there are plant and nut sources of Omega 3 for vegetarians; namely walnuts, pumpkin seeds and flaxseeds are at the top of the list rich in Omega 3 fats.

Vitamins and Mineral deficiencies and mental health: How are they linked?

More Vitamin D, less anxiety. Vitamin D is not believed to have an effect on anxiety directly. However, natural sunlight is one of the best sources of vitamin D. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), once considered its own unique disorder, has been renamed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) as a type of depression. Vitamin D deficiency, usually caused by a lack of exposure to sunlight, is thought to play an important part in a person’s mental health, and has been linked to thinks like seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. It is now referred to as a specification only, i.e., depression with seasonal pattern. Every single tissue in the body has vitamin D receptors. Studies have shown that vitamin D plays a huge role in the prevention and treatment of major and minor depression. Supplementation is the best option for those in the northern hemisphere, where the body can only create vitamin D from sunlight for about half the year. However, an overdose in Vitamin D can, in extreme cases, result in too much calcium being absorbed into the bloodstream, but this is rare. It’s not possible to overdose with Vit D through expousure to sunlight.

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Vitamin B12 and mood disorders

Vitamin B-12 and other B vitamins play a role in producing brain chemicals that affect mood and other brain functions. Low levels of B-12 and other B vitamins such as vitamin B-6 and folate may be linked to depression. Low brain uptake levels of B12 have been shown also in those with autism and schizophreniaStudies have shown that supplementation of B-complex vitamins over a year had a significant effect of the moods of women studied. The best way to make sure you’re getting enough B-12 and other vitamins is to eat a healthy diet that includes sources of essential nutrients. Vitamin B-12 is plentiful in animal products such as fish, lean meat, poultry, eggs, and low-fat and fat-free milk. Fortified breakfast cereals also are a good source of B-12 and other B vitamins. Taking a daily supplement that includes vitamin B-12 may help your body get the nutrients it needs, especially if you’re older than 50 or you’re a vegetarian.

Mental health and mineral depletion

Maintaining proper iron levels in your body is important because iron carries oxygen throughout your bloodstream. Most people get enough iron through their diet, but if you have some types of iron deficiency, your body may find it difficult to absorb iron through food. One possible effect of having a low iron count is the development of psychological problems.  Iron deficiency has been linked to autism, bipolar disorder, depression and ADHD. If you have any type of iron deficiency, one psychological symptom could be signs of depression. While an iron deficiency may not be the sole cause of depression, it can cause symptoms similar to depression such as a lack of appetite, irritability, extreme fatigue, headaches and mood swings. Non-heme sources, found in plant foods, are less easily absorbed by the body, unless they are paired with heme sources. However, if you are a vegetarian, vitamin C aids the absorbtion of iron, so drinking orange juice with an iron rich meal is recommended.

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Depression? Think Zinc! A November 2010 article published in “Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care” reviewed studies on zinc and mood disorders. Animal studies showed that zinc reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety. Clinical studies with humans have found that zinc levels tend to be low in depressed patients. As depression grows, zinc deficiency seems to get more severe, signifying a link between this important nutrient and mental health. Those with overly processed or vegetarian diets are at higher risk for zinc deficiency. Meat, eggs and seafood provide highly bioavailable sources of zinc. The phytic acid in legumes and whole grains makes zinc less absorbable, although the enzymatic reaction of yeast in leavened whole grain breads reduces phytic acid levels, making sturdy whole grain breads a good source of zinc for vegetarians.

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The role of Probiotics

By now, you’ve probably heard about the brain-gut connection. The bacteria in your gut has a profound impact on your mental health. Those on probiotics also fared better on memory tests that required them to pair objects together, such as a colour and a number, said Ted Dinan, head of psychiatry at University College Cork. Other Studies have shown time and time again that those with imbalanced levels of certain gut bacteria are at higher risk for mental disorders like depression. In a study, scientists swapped the gut bacteria of adventurous strains of mice and timid strains of mice. Intriguingly, when the bacteria were swapped, the general traits of adventurousness and timidness were swapped as well. While this is not necessarily the case in humans, this study is a true testament to the power our gut bacteria has over the brain. Be sure to regularly consume foods rich in probiotics like sauerkraut and yogurt or consume a supplement to ensure a variety of good bacteria get into your system.

The nutrients in our diets are our best medicine. Try to make your diet as rounded and balanced as possible and supplement as needed. The foods we eat are our first line of defense. If you are one of the millions who suffer from depression or another mental illness, talk to your doctor or a holistic nutritionist about how you can use your diet to improve your mental health.

Inspired by: EcoWatch

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