According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five U.S. adults struggled with mental health in 2020.
From problems in daily functioning to premature death, mental health illnesses impact our society in many ways. Depression has become the leading cause of disability worldwide. In the US alone, the suicide rate has increased by 35% since 1999.
There are global movements to educate, prevent, and treat mental illnesses. At the forefront of these efforts are science and supplements.
The Connection Between Body and Mind
Mental health is intertwined with physical health.
Chemicals and chemical reactions determine everything going on in our minds (feelings, thoughts, perceptions, etc.). And the building blocks for those chemicals come from diet and lifestyle choices.
Although the science behind mental illness is complex and impacted by numerous factors (including genetics, life experiences, etc.), doctors and researchers agree that mental health is affected by nutrient imbalances.
Studies have shown that supplementing the diet of people with mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety can reduce symptoms. In effect, taking supplements can help lift your mood and reduce stress.
The Nutrients with the Greatest Impact on Mental Health
The secret to good mental health is good brain health.
Neurons in the brain communicate via chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are necessary for everything we do, including the way we feel.
For example, serotonin regulates mood, sleep cycles, and anxiety. Dopamine is crucial to the body’s reward system. Endorphins relieve pain. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) regulates anxiety and depression.
Thus, it is unsurprising that research has shown that the most common nutritional disorders in people with mental illnesses are composed of nutrients that make up neurotransmitters or otherwise impact neural communication or functioning. The best supplements to manage and reduce mental illness and stress are directly related to the brain.
Supplements that Support Good Mental Health
Many supplements have astounding benefits for mental health and stress relief. Here are just a few!
B vitamins are among some of the most important vitamins for the body; they are often cofactors for essential reactions. B vitamins help synthesize fatty acids, steroids, nucleic acids, and amino acids. They also aid in energy production, DNA metabolism and repair, cellular signaling, and more. Regarding mental health, B vitamins help synthesize neurotransmitters such as serotonin, melatonin, and dopamine.
With all they do for the body, it is not hard to imagine how a B vitamin deficiency could cause or increase symptoms of a mental health illness. Research has found a link between Vitamin B deficiencies and depression. Vitamin B supplementation provides mood support and helps reduce the body’s stress response.
Vitamin D is crucial for absorbing and retaining calcium and phosphorus and building bone. Research suspects that vitamin D performs many roles in human health because most body tissues have vitamin D receptors. However, it’s still unclear how many chemical processes vitamin D impacts. Vitamin D regulates mood and prevents neurocognitive dysfunction.
Vitamin D is a natural antidepressant. Research has discovered not only are people with depression more likely to be vitamin D deficient but increased deficiency is associated with increased depressive symptoms.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The only way to obtain Omega-3 fatty acids is through diet; the body is incapable of making them. Omega-3 fatty acids are building blocks for other molecules which regulate blood clotting, artery constriction and dilation, and inflammation. However, they are best known for being essential membrane components.
The membrane of a neuron carries electrical messages. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid, has a higher concentration in neural and synaptic membranes than in other cell membranes. Thus, researchers believe docosahexaenoic acid is crucial for neural signaling.
Population studies have shown that high fish diets correspond to lower incidences of mental illness. Furthermore, research has proven this is due to increased omega-3 fatty acid consumption.
Research shows that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation can effectively support symptoms of depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
Over 300 reactions in the body depend on magnesium. These reactions, and thus magnesium, are critical for protein and DNA synthesis, blood glucose control, energy production, and blood pressure regulation.
These things indirectly impact how the brain works. However, magnesium is also crucial for conducting nerve impulses. Neurotransmitter release requires magnesium.
Magnesium deficiencies and depression are linked. One study found that treating severally depressed patients with 125-200mg of magnesium with each meal and before bed led to improved symptoms in less than a week.
Magnesium deficiencies and anxiety disorders are also linked. Research has shown that magnesium has the potential to help reduce anxiety when mixed with other vitamins, minerals, and herbal extracts.
Magnesium supplementation supports mood, enhances better sleep, and helps decrease stress.
Zinc is most well-known for its presence in the immune supplement field. Although it is crucial to a properly functioning immune system, it has many other roles. Zinc is required for DNA synthesis, growth, wound healing, and neural processes.
Zinc correlates with neurotransmitters serotonin, GABA, and dopamine. Numerous studies have found that zinc supplementation can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Ashwagandha is one of India’s native herbs. It is well known for its ability to help relieve stress, increase energy, etc.
Modern-day scientists have verified ashwagandha’s effects. Ashwagandha manages levels of various stress response molecules, such as cortisol and heat shock proteins. It also supports reducing the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which manages the body’s stress response.
Over 69 studies have found that ashwagandha is an effective way to support anxiety, stress, and insomnia. Many studies have also found that ashwagandha can help people with depression and schizophrenia.
L-theanine is a plant-based amino acid. It has many benefits for the human body. L-theanine supports immune system functioning, increases focus, and decreases anxiety and stress.
L-theanine may support individuals dealing with schizophrenia and anxiety.
With so many people struggling with mental illnesses, we need to find economically feasible support strategies. Nutritional supplements could be the answer to naturally improving and supporting mental health.
(Supplements are meant to supplement the diet. No statement in this article has been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Discussed supplements are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.)
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