Can vitamins help with depression ?
“You are what you eat!’ How many times have you heard that statement?
Although more and more is now being discovered about nutrition I have been surprised at the number of people that I come across who are not aware of the bare fundamentals about this topic.
We’ve all been told at one time or another that if we ate a nutritionally balanced meal three times a day we wouldn’t need dietary supplements or need to know about vitamins, and of course, there is some truth to this, but other factors need to be considered.
A huge number of us are stressed out on a routine basis, and don’t always have time to eat at all let alone a nutritionally balanced meal, and three of them?. Vitamins should never be substituted for good nutritional intake. Your body needs fuel to accomplish all the tasks you have to attend to in a day. A good diet is one with plenty of calcium, protein, fats, carbohydrates, and fiber supplemented by vitamins as needed for specific health concerns.
There is common consensus among the naturopathic community that the food that is grown today lacks the vitality and nutrient concentration of foods that were grown fifty years ago.The reason given is that soils have been overworked and lack the essential elements to produce a healthy crop and that there is a focus on making fruits and vegetables look bigger and better without regard for the nutritional value.
Let me give you a basic understanding of what our bodies, including the brain need at a fundamental level in order to survive in a healthy way:
1. Proteins: Did you know that enzymes are functional proteins? Enzymes help to carry out many functions such as digestion, assimilation and production of energy. Proteins are made up of amino acids. Different configurations perform different functions. Proteins are also a large content of muscle tissue. That is why bodybuilders invariably take protein supplements.
You may ask “where do I get proteins?” In western culture the majority of protein is obtained from beef, but poultry and fish are also high in protein. If you are vegetarian you may choose to get your protein from pulses such as lentils, beans, peas or nuts. Almonds are particularly high in protein. Recently eggs have been touted as the best source of protein.
When you eat any of the above foods your digestion breaks down the proteins into amino acids which are then reassembled in particular ways to perform the various desired functions, whether as enzymes or muscle building or nails and hair, Yes! Nails and hair are composed of keratin, which is another form of protein.
2. Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are by far the most widely and abundantly consumed nutrients - bread, pastries, donuts, cakes, candy … all are high in carbohydrates and most contain one of the most dangerous of all carbohydrates - refined sugar!
Here I have a confession to make. Once upon a time I consumed a lot of instant coffee everyday. I am talking about six or more cups a day which is disastrous in itself. What made it worse is that I had three spoons of sugar in every cup.
When I learned a bit more about food balancing I realized I was really overdoing it on refined carbohydrates, to the extent of eighteen spoons of sugar a day.
Nevertheless we do need carbohydrates for energy. And it has been said that complex carbohydrates are better than refined carbohydrates such as white sugar, corn syrup and the rest.
Some examples of complex carbohydrates are beans, oatmeal, whole-wheat bread, quinoa, barley, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and many other plant foods.
Complex carbohydrates can also be useful in maintaining healthy cholesterol levels; but more about cholesterol later on.
3. Fats: Now, before you get turned off by this, I am talking about ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS (EFAs), not the type that are bad for you. Your body needs these essential fatty acids to maintain the integrity of cell membranes, body tissues, nerve coating, and brain matter. Without these, you could end up a shrivelled nervous wreck!
Most of these EFAs can come from animal fats, ETAs from fish, especially salmon, have received a lot of attention over the last few decades. You have probably heard of Omega 3, 6 and 9.
As well as their role in maintaining cell membranes and body tissues as mentioned above, EFAs can also act as anti-inflammatories in the case of arthritis. Mind you they are not rapid acting as pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory aids but can be a lot healthier, and when taken in combination with glucosamine, can restore cartilage as well as ease inflammation. This has been reported to me first hand, but the client said it did take more than six months of consistent dosing to achieve this result.
EFAs are particularly helpful for toddlers’ developing brains as it has been shown that it can avert and control Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD.)
Cholesterol is naturally produced in our body and excessive cholesterol can lead to arteriosclerosis. Nevertheless cholesterol is a necessary precursor to important hormones such as androgens and estrogens.
Vitamin B: Both zinc and B6 play direct roles in many enzyme systems required for neurotransmitter formation and synthesis, with deficiencies in these nutrients resulting in low brain levels of serotonin, GABA and dopamine. The role of zinc is discussed under “Minerals” down this page.
Research has found that many individuals suffering depression can have “Mauve Factor” discovered in 1950 which can cause deficiencies in zinc and B6.
Another study done in 2006 showed that more than a quarter of severely depressed older women were deficient in B-12
Vitamin C: The highest concentration of Vitamin C is found in the brain. Vitamin C attenuates inflammation and resultant oxidative stress.
Vitamin C has been shown to activate the serotonin receptors; this is also a mechanism of action of many antidepressant, anxiolytic and antipsychotic drugs. Vitamin C also modulates dopamine, noradrenaline and cortisol activity. It is therefore worth considering concomitant supplementation of the abovementioned nutrients for people taking antidepressant medications and these nutrients may be of particular benefit in cases of treatment resistant depression.
Vitamin D: Mark Hyman, MD, has remarked that vitamin D deficiency can impact on mental health. So unless you get adequate exposure to sunlight you could be deficient in vitamin D. This actually happened to a good friend of mine. My friend is a top notch computer programmer, as such he spends most of his time indoors both in his job and at home where he is constantly adding to his skills. For recreation he plays Grand Theft Auto, a classic computer game.
When he told me he was feeling down I suggested he could be deficient in vitamin D. As a consequence he went to his general practitioner who sent him to have his level tested, and it was low. The practitioner gave him a vitamin D injection and within a few days his mood lifted considerably.
Calcium: Calcium ions are involved in muscle contraction, and magnesium for muscle relaxation. More about magnesium later. Calcium is also responsible for maintaining bone density, and the departure from a healthy diet full of green, leafy vegetables and dairy. Green, leafy vegetables such as broccoli, kale and spinach are high in folate which in combination with vitamin B can protect against cognitive decline.
Deficiency in calcium can lead to osteoporosis that results in easier bone breakage. Weight bearing exercise is also recommended to help prevent osteoporosis.
Magnesium is essential for the proper activity of an extensive range of biochemical and physiological processes in the body including central nervous system function. Some studies have shown a beneficial role of Magnesium supplementation with depression, particularly in those with low serum Magnesium levels. Magnesium ions are involved in muscle relaxation. Magnesium is also a component of bone matter and is recommended alongside magnesium.
Zinc: Randomised controlled trials as well as observational studies have found Zinc deficiency increases the risk of depression and that when Zinc is supplemented with antidepressant drug therapy, additional reduction in depressive symptoms is observed. Although the underlying mechanisms between Zinc and depression are unclear, they may involve the regulation of neurotransmitter (serotonin) or endocrine (cortisol) pathways and supporting neurogenesis and neural plasticity.
There are many more minerals and micronutrients involved in maintaining a healthy body and mind. Before embarking on a vitamin and mineral regime it is advisable to visit a health practitioner to get an individualized protocol.