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In our health-conscious, fitness-driven society, we often find ourselves looking for ways to improve our physical health. So we pay attention to our diet, increase our exercise, and take nutritional supplements to get our bodily health in top shape.
But what about our mental health? We investigate the best supplements for mental health and if they're actually effective.
Mental health issues like depression and anxiety can be debilitating, impacting your quality of life and your ability to deal with all those daily demands on your schedule. According to the World Health Organization, with more than 280 million people reportedly suffering from depression, it's a serious illness that can have very real consequences.
One possible solution to boosting your mental health could lie in your diet. While mental health treatment is multifaceted and often also includes medication and therapy, checking your diet for any nutrient deficiencies is a good first step.
The 5 Best Supplements For Improving Your Mental Health
Nutrition deficiencies can impact a wide range of systems in your body. While we’re used to taking supplements for physical health issues, it turns out that some nutrients also play a big role in the development of our brain. They can also hurt our mental health since many of these micronutrients are used to create neurotransmitters, or “brain chemicals,” that can dictate how we feel.
So identifying any nutrient deficiencies you might have and changing your diet to increase your intake can do a world of good for bringing balance back to your physical and mental health. Some of the best supplements for mental health that you can take include omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin D, magnesium, B vitamins, and zinc.
However, you may need to take other steps to fully nourish your mental health. Before taking any of these supplements, please consult with your physician to determine the best action plan for your mental health needs.
1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
One of the first nutrients you should consider taking to boost your mental health is an omega-3 fatty acid supplement.
Your brain is primarily made up of fat. The omega-3 fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is essential for helping your brain develop, which is why omega-3s are often recommended as a prenatal vitamin for expecting mothers. Another kind of omega-3, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), helps fight inflammation that could damage your cells.*
But the benefits of these omega-3s go far beyond pregnancy and early child development. Because they play such important roles in the brain and body, there’s also evidence that omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies are linked to "brain fog".
Additionally, because DHA and EPA are also important for the structure and protection of your brain cells, deficiencies have also been linked to neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
So taking an omega-3 supplement is one of the first steps you can take to bolster your diet to protect your mental health.* It’s important to note that not just any omega-3 fatty acid supplement will do. You’ll want to make sure that your omega-3 fatty acid supplement contains both EPA and DHA to get the best benefits for your mental health.
Fish oil pills are a popular source of these healthy fats. However, if you're concerned about the environmental effects of overfishing or if you are following a plant-based diet and look for a vegan alternative to fish oil, algae oil pills or vegan flaxseed oil capsules are an excellent substitute supplement for vegan mental health.
2. Vitamin D
One of the best vitamins for mental health that you can take is the fat-soluble Vitamin D. Vitamin D is also commonly referred to as the "sunshine vitamin" because your body can create this nutrient from exposure to sunlight. However, you should also be getting Vitamin D from your diet to meet your daily requirements.
Vitamin D is most well-known for its importance in helping you build strong and healthy bones, but it also plays a role in your mental health. Studies have found that low Vitamin D levels often correlate with mental health issues like depression, mood disorders, and premenstrual mood symptoms. There’s even some evidence that low Vitamin D levels might correlate with instances of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that tends to occur during the fall and winter months when people get less exposure to sunlight.
Unfortunately, so few foods naturally contain Vitamin D that deficiencies of this nutrient are widespread worldwide. To increase your Vitamin D intake, you can find specific foods fortified with it, like milk and cereals. You can also take a Vitamin D supplement, cod liver oil, or multivitamins if you can't get enough from food alone.
Minerals like magnesium are often overlooked, but getting enough of this micronutrient could be crucial for protecting your mental health and overall wellbeing.
This mineral is perhaps most well-known for regulating blood pressure, managing your heart rate, and keeping your bones strong. However, plenty of evidence suggests that magnesium is also a critical mineral for your brain and mental health since it plays a major role in regulating your brain chemistry.
As such, magnesium deficiencies are thought to be a major contributor to depression and other related mental disorders. On the positive side, some studies have suggested that supplementing magnesium in people who suffer from these debilitating conditions can lead to rapid recovery.
Magnesium is most often found in fibrous foods like whole grains, vegetables, legumes, and nuts. In addition, you can also take magnesium supplements to bolster your daily intake.
4. B Vitamins
Another one of the best vitamins for mental health is your B Vitamins. This is a group of vitamins (in other words, a "complex") that include eight different water-soluble vitamins: B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, folate, and B12.
This vitamin complex can influence your mental health in a variety of ways. Most particularly, there’s evidence that these vitamins, especially Vitamin B-12 and folate, play roles in producing brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine that regulate and maintain your mood.
In simpler terms, this means that Vitamin B deficiencies are often found in people suffering from symptoms of depression and other mood disorders. Studies have found that supplementing your Vitamin B intake helps alleviate some of these debilitating mental health symptoms.
This is a critical topic for vegan mental health since certain B vitamins, including Vitamin B-12, are found in so few plant-based foods. If you are a vegan looking for supplements to boost your mental health, a vegan-friendly B-12 vitamin is a good place to start.
Finally, the mineral zinc is another one of the best supplements for your mental health that you can take. This mineral can be found working throughout your entire body. Zinc plays a role in supporting your immune system, fighting off viruses, blood clotting, and wound healing, to name a few.
Most relevantly here, it's also becoming apparent that zinc plays an important part in your mental health. Clinical studies have found that low zinc levels are strongly linked to instances of depression. What’s more, there’s also plenty of evidence from clinical trials that have found that supplementing zinc in people with deficiencies can lead to improvements in both depression and psychosis!
Zinc is found in its highest quantities in shellfish and red meat, so it’s another one of those nutrients to pay special attention to if you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet.
Staying healthy involves more than just managing your heart health and eating your vegetables. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, but this aspect of wellness is often overlooked. When combined with medical treatments and therapy, addressing any nutrient deficiencies and taking supplements when needed can be highly beneficial for your body and mind!