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Micronutrients and mental health

Mental health and wellbeing is an important topic, and especially so right now, during times of such heightened worry and uncertainty. When it comes to supporting mental health from a functional medicine perspective, there are many facets to address; digging deep beneath the surface to uncover underlying root causes, and working on these to support lasting improvements is crucial.

Micronutrient deficiency is one important facet to investigate as part of this process. Essential vitamins and minerals are needed for many different aspects of optimal mental health and often there is a vicious cycle where low nutrient intake contributes to poor mental health and vice versa. And it’s a cycle that can be a tricky one to navigate your way out of.

Here we take a look at some of the key micronutrients that have a valuable role to play in mental health:

Choline - A water soluble B-complex vitamin found in rich supply in meat, eggs and yeast extract. Choline is an essential component of healthy cell membranes and also needed to make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine which is important for mood, memory and cognition.

Magnesium - is an important co-factor for the production of the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter serotonin that is crucial for a balanced mood. Magnesium has been studied for its ability to improve symptoms of depression. A 2017 study found that depression and anxiety scores improved in patients taking magnesium supplements for 6 weeks. Effects were observed within just 2 weeks and the study authors concluded that magnesium is a safe, effective and well-tolerated treatment for mild-to-moderate depression in adults.1-4

Vitamin D – Once considered just to be important for healthy bones, vitamin D is now known to have widespread effects on health. Optimal vitamin D levels are essential for neurological development and to protect the brain too. Vitamin D may even help to protect against Alzheimer’s disease.5-7 Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to cognitive impairment, depression and even autism.8-11 A 2018 clinical trial on vitamin D supplementation in older adults found that supplementation can help to improve depression scores.12 Emerging research also suggests that higher serum vitamin D either during pregnancy, or early in life, may reduce autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) risk.13 It’s crucial for everyone to keep levels of this important vitamin within the optimal range, especially during the autumn and winter months when deficiency rates are higher.

IodineIodine is an amazing mineral – it has many bodily uses but its main known biological role and the area where most of the research is focused, is as a constituent of thyroid hormones, which play a crucial role in brain and neurological function and development. Iodine is however a rare element in soils and is highly vulnerable to leaching by rainwater. Iodine deficiency is now a major public health problem, with pregnant women and infants most at risk. Up to one third of the world’s population may be iodine deficient, predominantly in developing countries and many experts consider it to be the leading preventable cause of intellectual disabilities. Sea vegetables are a particularly rich source of iodine; shellfish, eggs, dairy foods and strawberries can contribute to dietary iodine intake too.   

Folate (as 5-MTHF) & Vitamin B12 – Methylation is an important process in the body that prevents the build-up of homocysteine, a substance that may be toxic to the brain. Folate and vitamin B12 are both crucial for methylation and may help to protect the brain. Both folate and vitamin B12 deficiency may cause similar neurological disturbances including depression and dementia, and the neurotoxic effects of homocysteine may play a role in these disturbances.14,15 In addition, folate is crucial for the synthesis of many important neurotransmitters including the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter serotonin. Folate is best supplemented as 5-MTHF and vitamin B12 as methylcobalamin as these are both body-ready, active forms.

A daily multivitamin may help to support your mental health

Ensuring dietary intake of these and many other essential vitamins and minerals is vital for optimal mental health and for more widespread benefits too. Taking a high quality multivitamin & mineral supplement that supplies a daily maintenance dose of these crucial nutrients is considered by many to be a worthwhile investment in your health.

1. Jacka FN, Overland S, Stewart R, Tell GS, Bjelland I, Mykletun A. Association between magnesium intake and depression and anxiety in community-dwelling adults: the Hordaland Health Study. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2009; 43(1):45–52. pmid: 19085527.
2. Huang JH, Lu YF, Cheng FC, Lee JN, Tsai LC. Correlation of magnesium intake with metabolic parameters, depression and physical activity in elderly type 2 diabetes patients: a cross-sectional study. Nutrition J. 2012; 11(1): 41. pmid:22695027; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3439347.
3. Tarleton EK, Littenberg B. Magnesium intake and depression in adults. J Am Board Fam Med. 83. Yary T, Lehto SM, Tolmunen T, Tuomainen T-P, Kauhanen J, Voutilainen S, et al. Dietary magnesium intake and the incidence of depression: a 20-year follow-up study. J Affect Disord. 2016; 193:94–8. pmid: 26771950
4. Tarleton EK, Littenberg B et al. Role of magnesium supplementation in the treatment of depression: A randomised clinical trial. PLOS One. June 27 2017.
5. Boucher BJ.  The problems of vitamin d insufficiency in older people. Aging Dis. 2012; 3:313–329.
6. Anjum I, Jaffery SS. The Role of Vitamin D in Brain Health: A Mini Literature Review. Cureus 2018 Jul; 10(7): e2960
7. Lau H, Mat Ludin AF et al. Identification of neuroprotective factors associated with successful ageing and risk of cognitive impairment among Malaysia older adults. Curr Gerontol Geriatr Res. 2017; 2: 1–7.
8. Sommer I, Griebler U, Kien C, et al. Vitamin D deficiency as a risk factor for dementia: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Geriatr. 2017;17:16.
9. Moon JH, Lim S, Han JW, et al. Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D level and the risk of mild cognitive impairment and dementia: The Korean longitudinal study on health and aging (KLoSHA) Clin Endocrinol. 2015; 83:36–42.
10. Kerley CP, Elnazir B, et al. Blunted serum 25(OH)D response to vitamin D3 supplementation in children with autism.  Nutr Neurosci. 2018 Oct 10: 1-6.
11. Cannell JJ, Grant WB. What is the role of vitamin D in autism? Dermatoendocrinol. 2013; 5:199–204.
12. Alavi NM, Khademalhoseini S, et al. Effect of vitamin D supplementation on depression in elderly patients: A randomized clinical trial.  Clin Nutr. 2018 Sep 19. Pii: S0261-5614(18)32449-x
13. Cannell JJ, Grant WB. What is the role of vitamin D in autism? Dermatoendocrinol. 2013; 5:199–204.
14. Bottiglieri T. Folate, vitamin B12, and neuropsychiatric disorders. Nutr Rev. 1996; 54:382–90. 56.
15. Bottiglieri T. Homocysteine and folate metabolism in depression. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2005; 29:1103–12.

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