How often do physicians and other health professionals explore the possibility of nutritional deficiencies as a cause of someone's anxiety or depression before they pull out the prescription pad? It's no surprise that diet and nutrition are overlooked as a cause or contributor to these common mental health issues. All you have to do is see and listen to the endless commercials about prescription medications for anxiety and depression with the rhetoric about how the advertised drug can put a smile back on your face, a jiggle in your walk, and restore loving harmony between you and your family. You are urged to "ask your doctor" about how you can get this medication.
What if all you need to effectively manage anxiety or depression is to identify a nutritional deficiency (or more than one) and then take natural steps to remedy it? What if one of the first questions a doctor or psychiatrist asked you when you are seeking help for depression is, what is your diet like? Followed by "I'd like to do a blood test to identify any nutritional deficiencies."
Read about the 5 most common nutritional deficiencies and how to beat them
The truth is, there are numerous nutrients that can cause or contribute to anxiety or depression when they are in low supply or deficient. Here are 9 you should consider exploring if anxiety and/or depression are a part of your life.
1. B vitamins deficiencies
The B vitamins that can be instrumental in brain function and mood are vitamin B6 and vitamin B12. In fact, one study found that more than 25 percent of severely depressed older women had a B12 deficiency. To be sure you get enough B6, focus on leafy green vegetables, bananas, eggs, organic soybeans, brown rice, and whole grains such as oatmeal and wheat germ. Vitamin B12 is found primarily in animal foods such as fish, shellfish, poultry, and eggs, although you can take a vitamin B12 supplement to help ward off any possible deficiency.
2. Folate deficiencies
Although folate is a B vitamin, it deserves to be highlighted because of its unique contribution to depression. One interesting thing about folate is that individuals who are low in this B vitamin have only a 7 percent response to antidepressants, compared with a 44 percent response among those with a high folate level. Adults need at least 400 micrograms daily, and you can get all or much of that requirement from foods such as asparagus, avocado, beans and legumes, beets, broccoli, citrus fruits, dark leafy greens, and seeds. You also can consider taking a folic acid supplement or a multivitamin with folic acid.
3. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential
These essential fats, especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), play an important role in brain function, including depression, mood, memory, and concentration. Since these omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in fatty fish such as herring, salmon, and tuna, with another omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid, ALA) found in lesser amounts in walnuts and flaxseeds, it can be a challenge to get enough of these healthy fats unless you take fish oil or algae supplements. [Editor's Note: Our partner, Barlean's has the most delicious fish oil supplements. In fact, they are called Seriously Delicious. You can learn more about their products at Barleans.com and you can buy them here.]
Read about omega-3 supplements: DHA and EPA
4. Vitamin D deficiencies
Many experts, including Mark Hyman, MD, who wrote The Ultramind Solution, believe that a vitamin D deficiency is associated with depression. He and some of his colleagues state that individuals should be getting 5,000 to 10,000 International Units of vitamin D daily. To boost your vitamin D levels, you can expose your untreated (i.e., no sunscreen) skin to sunlight for about 20 minutes daily four days a week, you can take a vitamin D supplement, and/or you can consume more foods rich in vitamin D, such as canned tuna, egg yolks, herring, mushrooms, oysters, salmon, and shrimp. [Editor's Note: Our partners over at MadeGood sneak some hidden mushrooms into their allergen-free snacks that are so yummy.] Here is a vitamin D liquid that we recommend.
5. Magnesium Deficiencies
The mineral magnesium has been praised for its ability to relax the body. Yet we often deplete the body of this mineral from the use of antibiotics and/or diuretics as well as intake of excess coffee, sugar, alcohol, and/or salt. Ways to restore healthy levels of magnesium include practicing stress management techniques daily, eliminating or significantly reducing intake of salt, sugar, and alcohol, and eating more foods high in magnesium, such as avocados, dark chocolate, dark leafy greens, nuts, seaweed, and seeds. [Editor's Note: If you think you are magnesium deficient (see symptoms here) you may need to supplement. Pure Essence has a great magnesium powder you can add to water for a magnesium boost that is balanced with other minerals.]
6. Iron Deficiencies
About 20 percent of all women and 50 percent of those who are pregnant have an iron deficiency. Low levels of iron have been associated with depression, brain fog, irritability, and fatigue. Foods that provide an excellent to a very good supply of iron include beans and legumes, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, shellfish, and spinach. If you elect to take an iron supplement, discuss the options with a knowledgeable physician, as iron supplements can cause significant side effects, including chronic constipation, nausea, and headache.
7. Zinc Deficiencies
The link between zinc and depression lies in the association between food allergies and mood. Zinc stimulates digestive enzymes that break down food as well as help prevent food allergies. Since food allergies can trigger depression in some people, getting more zinc may help manage it. Foods richest in zinc include shellfish (including oysters), pumpkin seeds, beans and legumes, nuts, eggs, and whole grains. Zinc is also available as a solo supplement or in vitamin/mineral or mineral-alone products.
8. Iodine Deficiencies
A poorly functioning thyroid can have a significant impact on metabolism, immune function, energy, and brain performance (e.g., concentration, memory, awareness), and one major reason for this problem is iodine deficiency. Iodine is abundant in iodine-enriched salt as well as dried seaweed, cod, shrimp, tuna, and prunes. If you significantly limit your salt intake, there is a possibility you may be iodine deficient.
9. Selenium Deficiencies
This mineral and antioxidant is essential for proper thyroid function and fighting cell-damaging free radicals. Recent research also names low selenium levels as having a role in depression. Brazil nuts rock when it comes to providing selenium, which is also found in mushrooms, beans, eggs, oysters, brown rice, and sunflower seeds.
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