Promoting Mental Health Through Healthy Eating

Monica Younan B.A., Psychology Intern

June 14th, 2019

Nutritional deficiencies have a major impact on a person’s mental health. People suffering from depression, panic disorders, anxiety, and even schizophrenia could benefit tremendously from incorporating certain foods and supplements into their diet. Often times, people lack the knowledge of what is out there, in terms of natural alternatives. Thus, they opt for benzodiazepine drugs (e.g., Xanax, Ativan) to deal with their mental health problems. Some of the minerals and vitamins that I recommend people incorporate into their diets are different B vitamins, Vitamin D, Iron and Magnesium.

B vitamins are a class of vitamins that play an important role in one’s mental health. Specifically, research has shown that Vitamin B6, B8 and B12 have a major effect on mood disorders as well as neurological and psychiatric conditions. These vitamins play a crucial role in the production and the regulation of several positive neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. With that being said, vitamin B6 and B12 have been shown to help with anxiety, panic attacks and depression. Similarly, vitamin B8 has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. In addition, it has also been found to be helpful in treating obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, bipolar disorder and eating disorders. Individuals can choose to take supplements or incorporate certain foods into their diet (e.g., poultry, meat, salmon, green vegetables, eggs, cheese, milk).

Some of you may already be familiar with this, but vitamin D is just as crucial in promoting good mental health and improving one’s mood. Vitamin D is produced in the body when our skin is exposed to sunlight. However, our levels of vitamin D may become depleted due to the lack of sunlight exposure. Depending on one’s schedule or where they reside, getting enough sunshine is not always possible. Thus, individuals can compensate for their vitamin D deficiency by either taking supplements, or incorporating certain foods into their diet (e.g., tuna, salmon, cheese, egg yolks, orange juice, diary products, beef liver). Individuals suffering from depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) have reported feeling much better after taking vitamin D supplements.

Finally, minerals such as iron and magnesium are also needed to promote good mental health. Low levels of iron can lead to anemia which has a range of symptoms similar to those of depression. Specifically, one may feel sluggish, tired, irritable, mentally drained and unable to focus. Iron can be found in fortified oatmeal, soybeans, lentils, and turkey. Low levels of magnesium can cause irritability, fatigue, mental confusion and could predispose individuals to depression and anxiety. Thus, maintaining high levels of magnesium, also known as the relaxation mineral, is also crucial. Magnesium plays a major role in the development of serotonin, preventing anxiety, fear, nervousness, restlessness and irritability. Magnesium can be found in almonds, spinach, cashews, peanuts and edamame, or in supplements as well.