According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 20 percent of adults in the United States (that’s roughly 51.5 million people) live with at least one mental illness.
There are plenty of medications available to help those with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other mental health conditions. However, many find relief from dietary changes and the use of certain nutritional supplements.
For those who prefer not to take medication, or who want to take a more natural approach to mental health treatment, consider these answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding supplements and mental health.
Table of Contents
(click on a question below to be directed quickly)
How does diet and nutrition impact mental health? What vitamins are best for mental health?
What supplements help with mood or anxiety?
What supplements help with depression?
Should I work with an Integrative Mental Health specialist?
How Do Diet and Nutrition Impact Mental Health?
Diet and nutrition have been shown to affect mental health and wellness in a variety of ways.
According to a study published by the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology, there is a strong link between an unhealthy diet (i.e., a diet high in processed food, sugar, etc.) and worsened symptoms of mood disorders like depression and anxiety.
Researchers are not sure exactly why some people’s mental health symptoms improve or worsen depending on how healthy or unhealthy their diet is. However, they suspect that it has to do, at least in part, with the fact that people who consume unhealthy, unbalanced diets tend to be deficient in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
These deficiencies, in turn, may lead to neurotransmitter imbalances and worsened symptoms over time.
Diet and nutrition may also have an impact on mental health because they influence the gut microbiome (the good and bad bacteria that reside in the digestive tract).
Microbiome imbalances have been linked to worsened depression symptoms (according to this study published by Cureus), and diet plays a significant role in the health of the microbiome. For example, a diet that’s high in sugar and processed carbohydrates can contribute to overgrowths of harmful bacteria, whereas a diet that’s high in fruits, vegetables, and fiber may have a more positive effect.
What Vitamins Are Best for Mental Health?
A healthy, balanced diet can contribute to better mental health. Certain vitamins and nutrients, in particular, have been shown to improve symptoms of conditions like depression and anxiety, including the following:
According to this study published by Cureus, a deficiency in vitamin B12 can contribute to a variety of neurological and psychiatric issues. It can cause or worsen symptoms like irritability, personality changes, depression, and even memory loss.
According to research published by the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, folate (or vitamin B9) supplementation can help to reduce symptoms of depression. This has to do, in part, with the fact that folate plays a key role in synthesizing norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine in the brain. All of these neurotransmitters are important for mood regulation.
Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to a variety of mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety, according to research published by the journal Issues in Mental Health Nursing.
This article published by Frontiers in Immunology also shows that low vitamin D can also impact the microbiome. This may contribute to depression and other mental health challenges as well.
What Supplements Help with Mood or Anxiety?
In addition to the vitamins mentioned above, many other natural supplements can help to improve mood, specifically when it comes to managing anxiety symptoms. The following are some of the most thoroughly studied ones:
Magnesium is a mineral and electrolyte that helps to regulate the body’s stress response. A study published by Plos One followed 112 people and found that those who took 248 milligrams of magnesium for 6 weeks saw significant improvements in their anxiety symptoms and depression symptoms.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids have potent anti-inflammatory effects and support better brain health.
According to this article published by Current Neuropharmacology, there is a strong link between inflammation and mental health issues like anxiety and depression. With this information in mind, it makes sense that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids could be beneficial to those who struggle with these conditions.
L-Theanine is an amino acid found in green tea.
When taken as a supplement, L-Theanine has been shown to produce anti-anxiety and stress-reducing benefits. The results of this review published by Plant Foods for Human Nutrition showed that doses of 200-400 milligrams per day are most effective.
What Supplements Help with Depression?
For those who struggle with depression, the following supplements are the most effective at controlling symptoms and improving quality of life:
According to an article published by the journal Antioxidants, N-Acetylcysteine (or NAC) is a precursor to 2 important amino acids, L-cysteine and glutathione. Glutathione is an antioxidant that helps to reduce inflammation throughout the body, including inflammation associated with conditions like depression.
Zinc is a mineral that supports brain health and regulates many neurotransmitter pathways. It also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, according to this article published in the journal Nutrients.
The article also reports that a deficiency in zinc has been strongly linked to an increased risk of depression and increases in depression symptom severity.
St. John’s Wort
St. John’s Wort is an herb that has long been used to reduce symptoms of depression.
According to this review published by Systematic Reviews, many studies have shown that it is highly effective for those with mild and moderate depression. However, it is not effective for those with severe depression.
Should I Work with an Integrative Mental Health Specialist?
An integrative mental health specialist is a professional who uses holistic methods to help patients overcome mental health challenges. In addition to offering traditional treatments like counseling or prescribing medication, they may also recommend dietary and lifestyle changes that can help patients improve all aspects of their lives.
Working with an integrative mental health specialist can be a great option for those who are interested in a more holistic treatment protocol. However, for those who are considering working with this type of specialist, it’s important to look into their credentials and make sure they have proper training and experience.
Adan, R. A., van der Beek, E. M., Buitelaar, J. K., Cryan, J. F., Hebebrand, J., Higgs, S., … & Dickson, S. L. (2019). Nutritional psychiatry: Towards improving mental health by what you eat. European Neuropsychopharmacology, 29(12), 1321-1332.
Apaydin, E. A., Maher, A. R., Shanman, R., Booth, M. S., Miles, J. N., Sorbero, M. E., & Hempel, S. (2016). A systematic review of St. John’s wort for major depressive disorder. Systematic reviews, 5(1), 1-25.
Fava, M., & Mischoulon, D. (2009). Folate in depression: efficacy, safety, differences in formulations, and clinical issues. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 70(suppl 5), 0-0.
Felger, J. C. (2018). Imaging the role of inflammation in mood and anxiety-related disorders. Current neuropharmacology, 16(5), 533-558.
Limbana, T., Khan, F., & Eskander, N. (2020). Gut Microbiome and Depression: How Microbes Affect the Way We Think. Cureus, 12(8).
National Institute of Mental Health
Penckofer, S., Kouba, J., Byrn, M., & Estwing Ferrans, C. (2010). Vitamin D and depression: where is all the sunshine?. Issues in mental health nursing, 31(6), 385-393.
Sangle, P., Sandhu, O., Aftab, Z., Anthony, A. T., & Khan, S. (2020). Vitamin B12 Supplementation: Preventing Onset and Improving Prognosis of Depression. Cureus, 12(10).
Šalamon, Š., Kramar, B., Marolt, T. P., Poljšak, B., & Milisav, I. (2019). Medical and dietary uses of N-acetylcysteine. Antioxidants, 8(5), 111.
Tarleton, E. K., Littenberg, B., MacLean, C. D., Kennedy, A. G., & Daley, C. (2017). Role of magnesium supplementation in the treatment of depression: A randomized clinical trial. PloS one, 12(6), e0180067.
Wang, J., Um, P., Dickerman, B. A., & Liu, J. (2018). Zinc, magnesium, selenium and depression: a review of the evidence, potential mechanisms and implications. Nutrients, 10(5), 584.
Williams, J. L., Everett, J. M., D’Cunha, N. M., Sergi, D., Georgousopoulou, E. N., Keegan, R. J., … & Naumovski, N. (2020). The effects of green tea amino acid L-theanine consumption on the ability to manage stress and anxiety levels: a systematic review. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, 75(1), 12-23.
Yamamoto, E. A., & Jørgensen, T. N. (2020). Relationships between vitamin D, gut microbiome, and systemic autoimmunity. Frontiers in immunology, 10, 3141.
Disclaimer: ALL IN Therapy Clinic aims to improve people’s lives. We do this through providing effective mental health counseling by passionate professionals. Inspired by this, we write content for your own education. Also, our content is researched, cited, reviewed, and edited by licensed mental health professionals. However, the information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Additionally, it should not be used in place of the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.