Micronutrients for Mental Health

The prevalence of mental health issues in our societies is at an all-time high and constantly rising.

A few years ago, 1 in every 5 people were predictably going to suffer from a mental illness at some point in their lives.

More recently however, that statistic has risen to 1 in every 3 people.

What this means is that, at some point in your life, you, a close friend or family member is going to have to deal with a mental illness.

While this is not exactly an enjoyable thought, it does help to be aware of the fact and to begin to take steps towards prevention.

If you come from a family where one or two people have suffered from mental illness, it is even more likely that you or other family members may also suffer from mental illness.

This is because some mental illnesses are genetic.

Fortunately, there are several other mental problems that arise not as a result of genetics (which we cannot control) but as a result of lifestyle.

Drug abuse, alcoholism, malnutrition and even some untreated disease conditions can lead to mental illness.

Malnutrition especially micronutrient malnutrition is a quiet hidden hunger that many people suffer from. Micronutrient deficiencies are responsible for several health conditions observed in both developed and developing countries.

An increasing number of studies show that micro-nutrients are necessary for the maintenance of optimal mental health.

They also report that deficiencies of these micro nutrients can have debilitating effects on mental health and lead to conditions such as schizophrenia , major depression and their complications.

On the other hand, some behaviors and addictions such as smoking, alcoholism, binging, etc. can lead to micronutrient deficiency which contributes to mental illness.

Micronutrients are trace minerals, vitamins and amino acids needed in a small but steady stream daily to optimize bodily processes and keep the mind and body functioning, and in synergy.

Several micronutrients involved in the maintenance of our mental health are discussed further below;

  • Zinc:

Zinc helps you maintain a positive outlook, manage stress responses and ensure focus. It plays apivotal role in digestion.

It is important for immune regulation, energy metabolism and insulin storage. It plays a vital role in DNA activity at the cellular level.A number of studies have shown how zinc deficiencies can lead to extreme mood and drive disorders.

One study showed that administering antidepressants with zinc was more likely to produce a remission than when administering antidepressants alone.

Another study carried out on children suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder showed that zinc was able to reduce hyperactivity and impulsiveness but did not affect attention span.In essence, zinc supplementation has been proven to be beneficial for people living with depression, ADHD and anxiety.

  • Manganese:

Manganese is required for the synthesis of two key neurotransmitters and supports brain function.

In addition to these, manganese is essential for a healthy bone structure, bone metabolism and creation of essential enzymes.

Manganese deficiency can lead to high blood pressure, heart ailments, muscular contraction, bone malformation, high cholesterol, poor eyesight, hearing trouble, severe memory loss, shivers and tremors.

Several foods contain manganese including green vegetables, tropical fruits, berries and most nuts.

An excess of manganese can lead to severe toxicity with symptoms like hallucinations, Parkinson’s disease symptoms, psychosis, tremors and mental disorders.

Always make sure you do not get excess manganese especially if you have a liver condition.

  • Magnesium:

Magnesium is often described as a chill pill by people who deal with mental health patients. This nutrient is very often deficient in the modern diet and can lead to all kinds of ill health effects in the body.

In 1968, Wacker and Parisistated that a magnesium deficiency could cause depression, behavioral disturbances, seizures, ataxia , psychosis, and irritability – all of which would be reversed with magnesium repletion. Stress is the bad guy here. In addition to our woeful magnesium deficient diets, stress causes our bodies to waste magnesium.

In addition to our magnesium deficient diets, calcium supplementation can also cause magnesium depletion.

  • Chromium:

Chromium aids in glucose metabolism and supports a positive outlook.

Chromium is especially important in the regulation of blood sugar and is beneficial to several other processes in the body.

Even though there are a few differing opinions, there seems to be a general consensus that chromium is necessary for the management of atypical depression. Furthermore, chromium may be beneficial to treating other types of depression.

  • Iodine:

Iodine is required for the synthesis of thyroid hormones, and a balanced metabolism. In addition to this, iodine is also necessary for healthy brain development and function.

Iodine deficiency may lead to brain damage and irreversible mental retardation.Symptoms of iodine deficiency also include frustration, depression, fatigue, poor perception, etc.

  • B Vitamins:

B vitamins are fundamental for mood and energy balance, maintaining memory and producing neurotransmitters .

Vitamin B1 (thiamine) is necessary for a functional nervous system. A deficiency of thiamine will cause beriberi disease with symptoms like fatigue, lethargy, and heart, circulation, nerve, and muscle disorders.

Vitamin B1 deficiency will also cause memory impairment and degenerative brain disease (Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome ) in chronic alcoholics. This is why intramuscular and oral thiamine is now routinely used to treat alcoholics.

Several studies have shown a relationship between the deficiency of vitamin B6 and an increase in depressive tendencies. In spite of this, there is no proof yet that vitamin B6 will help treat depression.

However, vitamin B6 has been shown to be useful in the treatment of motor diseases arising from the use of some antipsychotics. Vitamin B6 results in a significantly greater reduction in dyskinesia among patients compared to using a placebo.

Vitamin B12 deficiency has also been described in the context of various other mental illnesses, such as depression, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, schizophrenia, and phobias.

Several studies show, for example, that low plasma levels of vitamin B12 are associated with depressive symptoms, or that high vitamin B12 levels correlate with greater treatment success. In spite of this, a two year study has proven that taking vitamin B12 will have no effect on the progression of the disease

  • Folic acid:

There have been numerous links established by several scientists to prove that folic acid deficiency is linked to mental illness.

Low serum concentrations of folic acid are particularly common in people with untreated depression and people who do not respond to medication.

Despite multiple reports on the link between folic acid deficiency and depression, very few clinical studies have investigated the effect of treating depression with folic acid alone.

Most studies have concluded that treating with folic acid is beneficial to the reduction of depression more than using just a placebo or only an antidepressant.

Folic acid and vitamin B12 deficiency are frequently found in the elderly. A lack of these two vitamins is associated with an increase in plasma concentrations of homocysteine (tHcy) which causes damage to the vessels and nerve cells, and can therefore contribute to the development of dementia.

Patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and mild forms of Alzheimer’s appear to benefit most from such a combination therapy.

  • Vitamin D:

This vitamin is involved in regulating glucose and calcium transport to and within the brain. It may also protect cognitive function by increasing the availability of neurotransmitters.

A deficiency of vitamin D during brain development could contribute to development of autism or schizophrenia in later life.

Some studies have shown that vitamin deficiency affects nerve cell activity and may lead to deterioration in the integrity of neural tissue over time.

About 34% of severely mentally ill people will suffer from a vitamin D deficiency. In addition to this, vitamin D deficiency is associated with depression and anxiety disorders.

Some small clinical studies have shown vitamin D has positive effects in the treatment of depression. However, current scientific evidence is not enough to justify administering vitamin D to all depressed patients.

Having said that, there are indications that vitamin D could be useful for winter depression (seasonal affective disorder).

  • Copper:

Copper is necessary for the synthesis of dopamine and noradrenaline.

Studies have shown that about 23% of children who suffer from ADHD have a copper deficiency. We do not yet now whether copper supplementation can help to treat ADHD.

  • Iron:

Iron is very important for the production of energy, DNA synthesis, neurotransmitter synthesis and phospholipid metabolism.

Iron deficiency is quite common in movement disorders such as restless legs syndrome (RLS). RLS caused by iron deficiency is easily misdiagnosed as leg movements can be falsely interpreted as signs of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Also, iron deficiency is often found in children with ADHD.

Some studies have shown that iron supplementation at a dose of 80 mg/day can lead to a reduction of ADHD symptoms.

  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids:

Recently, extensive research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids is useful in the prevention and treatment of mental health diseases.

The most investigated omega-3 fatty acids are those found in fish and fish products.

Several suggestions have been made on how these fatty acids improve mental health. Some hypotheses suggest that they influence themembrane -bound receptors and modulate signal transmission by neurotransmitters (serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine).

Others suggest that they act through the impact of membrane fluidity and stability, to the regulation of calcium influx into the nerve cells. Still others suggest that the administration of omega-3 fatty acids may diminish inflammatory processes and thus have an antidepressant effect.

Several smaller studies have investigated the effect of omega-3 fatty acids in other mental illnesses such as borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, ADHD, compulsive disorders, and Tourette’s syndrome, but they have mostly produced inconsistent and somewhat conflicting results.


In conclusion, micronutrients appear to be very necessary for preserving mental health. Making sure your diet is as healthy and nutrient rich as possible can preserve your mental health and save you thousands of dollars in medical expenses in the long term.

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