I’m not sure why more psychiatrists don’t first test for nutritional deficiencies before dispensing Zoloft or Prozac, and especially antipsychotics like Seroquel and Zyprexa. The good ones will send you to get lab work done before upping your meds or adjusting anything. Sometimes we do need antidepressants. But other times we need spinach—think of Popeye.
In addition to seeing a psychiatrist regularly, I now work with an integrative health physician who tests my nutrition levels every year. If you haven’t ever tested your levels, you might inquire with either your psychiatrist or primary-care physician. The supplements can be expensive, but you can make it back twice or three-times fold by not having to see your psychiatrist as often.
1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
I was surprised when my results showed an omega-3 fatty acid deficiency because I eat plenty of salmon and take fish oil supplements every day. That shows you just how much fish—salmon, tuna, halibut—or flaxseeds and walnuts we need to consume to be at an optimal level. These essential minerals reduce inflammation and play a critical role in brain function, especially memory and mood. The body can’t make them, so you need to either eat them or take supplements. I spend the big bucks on a quality brand of fish oil, OmegaBrite, because their capsules contain 70 percent EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) in a 7:1 ratio of EPA to DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). New research has confirmed the positive effects of EPA on mood, even more so than DHA, as it provides a natural balance to omega-6 arachidonic acid.
2. Vitamin D
According to Mark Hyman, M.D., bestselling author of “The Ultramind Solution,” vitamin D deficiency is a major epidemic today that doctors and public health officials are just beginning to recognize. This deficiency has been linked to depression, dementia, and autism. Most of our levels drop off during the fall and winter months, since the sunlight is the richest source. Hyman believes that we should ideally be getting approximately 5,000 to 10,000 IU a day.
Chances are good that you are magnesium-deficient because up to half of Americans are. Our lifestyles decrease our levels: excess alcohol, salt, coffee, sugar, phosphoric acid (in soda), chronic stress, antibiotics, and diuretics (water pills). Magnesium is sometimes referred to as the stress antidote, the “most powerful relaxation mineral that exists,” according to Hyman. It is found in seaweed, greens, and beans.
4. Vitamin B Complex
Hyman calls folate, vitamin B-6, and vitamin B-12 the “mighty methylators for mental health.” He mentions a remarkable study in the American Journal of Psychiatry that found that 27 percent of severely depressed women over the age of 65 were deficient in B-12. The best sources of vitamin B-6 are poultry, seafood, bananas, and leafy green vegetables. You should be eating at least 1.3 milligrams of B-6 a day. Vitamin B-12 is found in animal foods (meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and milk) and shellfish, such as clams, mussels, and crab. You need to consume 2.4 micrograms daily. I take a form of liquid B-12, a dropperful from Pure Encapsulations, to make sure it is absorbed into my bloodstream.
People with a low folate level have only a seven percent response to treatment with antidepressants. Those with high folate levels have a response of 44 percent. That is why many psychiatrists are now prescribing a folate called Deplin to treat depression and to improve the effectiveness of an antidepressant. I tried it and it didn’t seem to make that much of a difference; however, I have several friends that have had very positive responses to Deplin. You need not try the prescription (Deplin). You could just start taking a folate supplement and see if you get any results. Leafy greens such as spinach and turnip greens are high in folate.
6. Amino Acids
Amino acids are the special building blocks of protein, some of which gets transformed in our bodies into neurotransmitters. As Hyman explains, “ALL of the thousands of molecules in your body are built from only eight essential amino acids that we must get from our diet.” Without adequate amino acids, your brain can’t work and you get sluggish, foggy, unfocused, and depressed. Amino acids are found in meat, eggs, fish, beans, seeds, and nuts.
Iron deficiency is pretty common in women. About 20 percent of women, and 50 percent of pregnant women, are in the club. Only three percent of men are iron deficient. The most common form of anemia—an insufficient number of red blood cells—is caused by iron deficiency. Its symptoms are similar to depression: fatigue, irritability, brain fog. Good sources of iron include red meat, fish, and poultry. If you really want to get more red blood cells, eat liver. Yuck.
Zinc is used by more enzymes (and we have over 300) than any other mineral. It is crucial to many of our systems. It activates our digestive enzymes so that we can break down our food and works to prevent food allergies (which, in turn, averts depression, since some of our mood disruptions are triggered by food allergies). It also helps our DNA to repair and produce proteins. Finally, zinc helps control inflammation and boosts our immune system.
Iodine deficiency can be a big problem because iodine is critical for the thyroid to work as it should, and the thyroid affects more than you think: your energy, metabolism, body temperature, growth, immune function, and brain performance (concentration, memory, and more). When it’s not functioning properly, you can feel very depressed among other things. You can get iodine by using an iodine-enriched salt, or by eating dried seaweed, shrimp, or cod. I take a kelp supplement every morning since I have hypothyroidism.
Like iodine, selenium is important to good thyroid function. It assists the conversion of inactive thyroid hormone T4 to the active thyroid hormone, T3. It also helps one of our important antioxidants (glutathione peroxidase) keep our polyunsaturated acids in our cell membranes from getting oxidized (rancid). The best food source of selenium is Brazil nuts.
Originally published on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.
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