The brain and body need nutrients. Without them all sorts of health problems may arise, including unhappiness, stress, anxiety, and depression. It's not so simple as taking a pill or eating healthfully though, some foods need to be combined with others to have the nutrients absorb properly. Even when foods or supplements with the right nutrients are consumed, genetic conditions can prevent these nutrients from being processed and used in the body.
Nutrient Deficiencies Related to Mood
In one study, most subjects diagnosed with bipolar or severe depression were found to lack one or more of the following: fiber, α-linolenic (omega-3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (omega-6 fatty acid), the B vitamins including thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), folate (vitamin B9), and vitamin B12, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc (Davison K Michelle). Nearly all of these vitamins and minerals are well established in maintaining healthy brain function. Other nutrients that play a role in mood and depression include vitamin D and selenium. The B vitamins and vitamin C are water soluble, while vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat soluble (Corbett). Water soluble vitamins need to be regularly replenished while fat soluble vitamins store in the body and slowly release. Fat soluble vitamins also are better absorbed when consumed with fat.
Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA)
In the United States most people base their nutrient intake on recommended daily allowances (RDAs). The RDAs seen on food packaging are the recommended minimum nutrient intake of vitamins and minerals to be healthy, which means you can take more of most nutrients without negative side effects. It is rare to get too much of a nutrient eating whole foods, but if you begin taking supplements, follow the serving sizes and directions to prevent overdosing.
Any nutrient deficiency can cause problems, so consider having a medical professional test your nutrient levels. They may instruct you to supplement with a multivitamin or eat more of certain foods. A wholesome diet with lots of variety will get you most of the nutrients you need to be healthy, but food and how each individual’s body processes it is complex, so deficiencies may still arise. Furthermore, nutrients from fruit and vegetables are dependent upon the soil they are grown in. A deficiency in the soil means a deficiency in the food grown. If possible, get to know your local farmer and ask them how they grow your food. It’s for your health!
Genetics and Nutrient Malabsorption
Note that fortifying nutrients you are deficient in after a nutrient test may not be enough. Several genetic conditions and diseases cause malabsorption and prevent your body from optimal mental and physical health. Therefore a second nutrient test or genetic testing is necessary to know if these nutrients are being absorbed properly. Genetic testing is sometimes necessary because a nutrient test will show the body having plenty of a nutrient, but it won't be using the nutrient at all. For instance, folate, or vitamin B9, may not be processed into its usable form, L-methylfolate, due to a genetic abnormality, and in turn heightens the potential for experiencing depression (Nelson). Once diagnosed by a medical professional, individuals may be given a L-methylfolate supplement.
Search The World's Healthiest Foods website for foods rich in the nutrients listed above.
From The Happiest Choice
A low level of vitamin D is often associated with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a form of depression caused when a person does not get enough vitamin D, often during the winter months. A person can become vitamin D deficient any time of the year by not getting outside enough, or by wearing too much sunscreen or clothing. Skin color also affects the body’s uptake of vitamin D with lighter skinned people absorbing more. The Office of Dietary Supplements recommends exposure to the outside for 5-30 minutes at least twice per week to absorb enough of the nutrient when sunlight is available, and for people with darker skin to supplement when there is little sunlight (Dietary). Vitamin D does store up in the body, so it is possible with enough fall, spring, and summer sun exposure to last through a cloudy or shut-in winter, but more than likely you will have to supplement.
The skin synthesizes vitamin D when struck with UVB rays from the sun (Holick). However, UVB rays only penetrate the atmosphere when the sun is at certain angles. In places with a latitude above 37 degrees, UVB rays normally do not reach Earth's surface during the winter months. Even during the summertime, UVB rays only pass through between the hours of 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM, so be sure to expose yourself to the sun during these times.
Vitamin D is actually a hormone that exists in two forms, D2 and D3 (Crowther). In food D2 comes from plants like sunflower seeds, leafy greens, avocados, and carrots, and D3 comes from animal sources like mackerel, herring, salmon, liver, and lanolin (sheep’s wool oil is often used as a D3 supplement). D3 is the same molecule synthesized when skin is exposed to sunlight. Because D2 must become D3 in the body, D2 is only utilized one-third as well as D3 (Laura). To supplement, you can buy liquid drops, pills, or get a shot. Consuming fish oil is another option and includes the antidepressant omega-3 fatty acid.
Crowther, Penny. "Vitamin D: Why We Need More Of The Sunshine Vitamin." Positive Health 167 (2010): 1. Alt HealthWatch. Web. 20 Feb. 2012.
"Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin D." Office of Dietary Supplements. National Institutes of Health. USA.gov. No date. Web. 15 Jul 2012.
Holick, Michael F. "Sunlight and vitamin D for bone health and prevention of autoimmune diseases, cancers, and cardiovascular disease." The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 80.6 (Dec. 2004): 1678S-1688S. Web. 7 September 2013.
Laura A. G. Armas, et al. “Vitamin D2 Is Much Less Effective than Vitamin D3 in Humans.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism Vol. 89 Number 11 (Nov. 2004) 5387-5391. doi: 10.1210/jc.2004-0360. Web. 22 Jul. 2012.
***Medical Disclaimer*** I am not a medical professional and none if this is meant to be medical advice. While I try my best to maintain credibility in the research I do, there is always room for error. Do your own research and check in with your doctor!
Hi! My name is Sage Liskey, the founder of the Rad Cat Press. I grew up seeing a lot of the disturbing, toxic, and unhealthy sides of American culture, and decided I wanted to do something to change it. Since 2010 I have been writing books and zines (booklets) focused around uplifting lives and reimagining society, with a primary focus in mental health and empowerment. I believe a better world is possible, so I hope you feel inspired and a little more fulfilled from what you find here. Read on about my mission.
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