We are moving towards a diet where we may be eating more, but drawing less nutrition from the food that we eat. These deficiencies are affecting individuals in various ways. While most of us understand that nutritional deficiency could lead to physical illness. On the other hand, for some, such deficiencies are negatively impacting our mental health.
While it is still highly debated, nutritive psychiatry is emerging as a treatment for mental health issues. Almost 40% of Americans(1) rely on herbal supplements and alternative medicines to complement their mental health treatment. The use of certain supplements and vitamins for mental health is emerging as an alternative treatment for restoring mental health.
Here is a compilation of the best supplements and vitamins for mental health!
Link Between Vitamins For Mental Health
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies that give rise to mental health conditions have been coming to light recently.
While one may argue that they consume a healthy, balanced diet; they could still be deficient due to ‘bioavailability,’ which is the ability of the body to absorb nutrients.
Scientific studies(2) and literature are indicating the link between vitamin and mineral deficiency in the following ways:
- Nutritional deficiency could play a causative role or exacerbate symptoms for mental health.
- The psychiatric condition may result in poor nutrition intake.
- Subclinical deficiency could hamper the patient’s recovery.
Supplements for Mental Health
Here is a list of highly effective supplements and vitamins for mental health:
1. Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Vitamin B3, or Niacin, is a micronutrient that is required for the body for the proper functioning of the nervous system, metabolism, and antioxidant protection(3). It is one of the essential vitamins for mental clarity as it can enhance your cognitive capacity.
Why does it work?
Niacin is a part of the coenzymes, NAD (Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide) and NADP (Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide Phosphate), which powers your brain and allows it to function properly. The deficiency of Niacin(4) is linked to brain fog and related psychiatric symptoms like dementia(5). Those suffering from conditions like Alzheimer’s(6) and Schizophrenia(7) can benefit by including vitamin B3 in their diet.
The RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance)(8) is 14 mg per day for women and 16 mg per day for men.
The top food sources of Niacin include:
- Chicken breast
- Light tuna, canned in oil
- Smoked Salmon
2. Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid or Folate)
Folate is the natural form of Vitamin B9 and is available in foods. On the other hand, Folic acid, or Pteroylmonoglumatic acid, is a synthetic form of Vitamin B9. Folic acid is used in supplements and added to processed food items. Vitamin B9 helps make and repair DNA, and as such, it is extremely vital to the human body.
Why does it work?
Deficiency of folate(9) results in high levels of homocysteine (known as hyperhomocysteinemia), neural tube defects, depression, cognitive impairment, and malignancies. Thus, those who are battling depression should consume folate regularly. Folate can also be an effective supplement for those suffering from dementia.
The RDA for folate is 400 mcg(10) for men and women who are above the age of 19 years. Pregnant or lactating women require 600mcg and 500 mcg, respectively.
The top food sources of Folate include:
- Dark green leafy vegetables
- Peas and Beans
- Whole grains
[Read: Supplements for Brain Fog]
3. Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin or Cyanocobalamin)
Cobalamin, or Vitamin B12, is required for the proper functioning of the nervous system. It also helps in the production of DNA and Red Blood Cells. Unfortunately, the body cannot synthesize Vitamin B12 on its own, and as such, you need to turn to a Vitamin B12-rich diet or supplements.
Why does it work?
Vitamin B12 helps in mood stabilization. Studies have found linkages between Vitamin B12 deficiency and mood and brain disorders such as depression(11) and dementia(12). Thus, those suffering from similar conditions should supplement their diet with Vitamin B12.
The Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) is 2.4 mcg(13) for men and women alike. However, pregnant and lactating women should consume more Vitamin B12.
The top food sources of Cobalamin include:
- Animal liver and kidneys
[Read: Vitamins for Brain Fog]
4. Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)
Vitamin C possesses a host of health benefits, the most well-known being a boost to the immune system. Being an essential vitamin, it cannot be produced by the body and needs to be consumed.
Why does it work?
Vitamin C is highly useful for those experiencing age-related cognitive issues(14) like dementia and Alzheimer’s(15). The elderly(16) who experience issues like poor thinking and memory could benefit largely through regular consumption of Vitamin C.
Due to its strong antioxidating action(17), Vitamin C reduces the oxidative stress and damage occurring near the brain, nerves, or spine. Thus, it restores your memory, ability to think and recall, and most importantly, reduces the risk(18) of developing such conditions.
The RDI for Vitamin C(19) is 75 mg for women and 90 mg for men.
The top food sources of Vitamin C include:
- Green and Red Bell Pepper
- Oranges and Grapefruit
5. Vitamin D (Cholecalciferol)
The body synthesizes Vitamin D from cholesterol when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Interestingly, Vitamin D functions more like a hormone, with every cell acting as a receptor for it. As per a 2011 study, nearly 41.6% of adults in the US are Vitamin D deficient(20).
[Read: Benefits of Kodo Millet]
Why does it work?
Vitamin D is highly effective in alleviating the symptoms of depression(21), especially in older adults. Strong ties between lower levels of Vitamin D in the blood and depression have been established(22). Supplementing Vitamin D with medication also helps individuals who suffer from seasonal depression (SAD)(23), which occurs during the colder months.
The RDA for Vitamin D(24) is about 10 mcg of Vitamin D in a day.
The top food sources of Vitamin D include:
- Milk or Yogurt (the fortified variant)
[Read: Vitamin D for Depression]
6. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Given that the brain houses the maximum amount of lipids, it comes as no surprise that Omega-3 fatty acids improve the functioning of the brain. Omega-3 fatty acids are highly effective mental health supplements that are normally consumed in the form of fish oil.
Why does it work?
Those suffering from major depression(25) will notice a significant improvement in their condition. Omega-3 fatty acids(26) have the ability to boost the efficacy of antidepressants(27). While Omega-3 fatty acids are also highly effective against the majorly depressive state of bipolar disorder(28), it can trigger the mania phase. Thus, it is important to pair the supplement with mood stabilizers.
Omega-3 fatty acids also help individuals with psychotic episodes, general anxiety(29), and mood and impulse control problems(30) (especially in children exhibiting symptoms of ADHD). In the elderly, Omega-3 fatty acids can help fight declining memory(31) and Alzheimer’s disease. It has the capacity for curbing violent behavior(32). Those suffering from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder(33) are less likely to relapse if they are supplementing on Omega-3 fatty acids.
First and foremost, ensure that your supplement contains a healthy balance of EPA and DHA. You should consume a minimum of 250 to 500 mg of Omega-3 fatty acids(34) each day. However, depending on the severity of your mental health condition, you may have to consume more quantities of Omega-3 fatty acids.
The top food sources of Omega-3 fatty acids include:
- Clams, Mussels, and Oysters
- Crabs and Lobster
Now that you are aware of the important supplements and vitamins for mental health, you can include them in your diet. Follow a balanced diet and do not cut out any food group entirely.
You may even consult your psychiatrist and supplement the medication with these nutrients. However, do bear in mind that these vitamins are not a substitute for the medication, and you must adhere to your course strictly.
[Read: Yoga for Mental Health]
Here are a few frequently asked questions about the various vitamins and supplements that are good for your mental health:
1. What Vitamins Are Good for Mental Health?
As discussed above, the following vitamins are good for your mental health:
- Vitamin B3
- Vitamin B9
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Omega-3 fatty acids
2. What Other Food-Related Things Can I Do to Improve My Mental Health?
In addition to eating a healthy, balanced diet, you could:
- Eat at regular intervals.
- Consume more probiotics to improve your gut health.
- Cut down on your sugar intake.
- Avoid refined carbohydrates.
- Reach and maintain a healthy weight.
- Drink an adequate amount of water.
- Exercise regularly.