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Can proper diet and vitamins improve mental health?

guest article by David Stephan, Director of Marketing at Truehope

Last year, American researchers at Columbia University published an article in Current Psychiatry, pointing out that “a growing body of literature links dietary choices to brain health and the risk of psychiatric illness.”

They went on to point out that vitamin deficiencies can affect psychiatric patients in several ways, including playing a causative role in mental illness, exacerbating symptoms, and compromising patient recovery. In addition, psychiatric symptoms can result in poor nutrition.

As part of their study, the researchers specifically reviewed vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, B9, B12, C, D, and E and their roles in brain metabolism and psychiatric pathology.

Vitamin A plays an important role in vision, bone growth, cell division, reproduction, and immune system integrity. Low intake levels of vitamin A may result in birth defects and depression. Good sources of vitamin A include beef liver, dairy products, eggs, carrots, sweet potatoes, and leafy greens.

Vitamin B1 (otherwise known as thiamine) is essential for metabolizing glucose, which the brain uses for energy. Low intake levels of B1 can lead to dysfunction in the blood–brain barrier, and severe deficiency can lead to beriberi, Wernicke’s encephalopathy, and Korsakoff’s psychosis. Good sources of vitamin B1 are pork, fish, beans, lentils, nuts, rice, and wheat germ.

Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) plays a significant role in oxidative pathways, monoamine synthesis, and the methylation cycle. Low intake levels in B2 may be connected with depression. B2 deficiency is generally rare, but some research indicates a deficiency among 1 in 4 American seniors. Good sources of B2 are dairy products, meat and fish, eggs, mushrooms, almonds, leafy greens, and legumes.

Vitamin B6 (known as pyridoxine, pyridoxal, and pyridoxamine) aids in glycolysis, the methylation cycle, and recharging glutathione. Low intake levels of vitamin B6 is associated with depression. Good sources of B6 include fish, beef, poultry, potatoes, legumes, and spinach.

Vitamin B9 (folate) is required for the synthesis of the neurotransmitters serotonin,  norepinephrine, and dopamine. Low folate levels during pregnancy can affect neural tube development in newborns. Low intake levels can lead to mood disorders, as well as the severity of the disorders. Good sources of vitamin B9 are leafy greens and legumes.

Vitamin B12 (otherwise known as cobalamin) is used to produce neurotransmitters and in maintaining myelin. Low intake levels of this vitamin can lead to depression, irritability, agitation, psychosis, and obsessiveness. It can also lead to cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s. Good sources of vitamin B12 are fish, mollusks, meat, and dairy products.

Vitamin C is integral for synthesizing serotonin and norepinephrine. It also reduces copper and iron levels, recycles vitamin E, and is a key part of the methylation cycle. Low intake levels may be connected to depression and schizophrenia. Good sources are citrus, potatoes, and tomatoes.

Vitamin D may be connected to glial and neuronal cell function. Low intake levels of this vitamin may be connected to depression. Good sources of vitamin D are oily fish, sun-dried mushrooms, and fortified milk.

Vitamin E comes in 8 forms that protect neuronal membranes from oxidation. Low intake levels may be related to depression. Good sources of vitamin E include almonds, sunflower seeds, leafy greens, and wheat germ.

Vitamins clearly play a critical role in good mental health, which is why it’s important to maintain a healthy diet of natural, whole foods. Supplementing your diet with a high quality multivitamin is also important. When choosing one, do some research to find a product that your body can easily absorb and that provides the nutrients your brain needs most. Selecting the right supplement can go a long way to augment your nutrient intake, and it can ultimately lead you to optimal mental well-being.