At Agent, we love the functional medicine approach to mental (as well as physical) health, which identifies and addresses the root cause of the problem and follows the clues directly into the body to get answers. We prefer to avoid band-aiding with pharmaceuticals unless *absolutely* critical because these can have so many follow-on impacts in the mid and long term.
A 2008 study looking at the connection between nutrition, depression, and mental illness suggested that the most common nutritional deficiencies are Omega-3s fatty acids, B vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Once you understand that nutritional imbalances can be driving your mental health state, you truly understand the power that your food and diet hold to your healing journey.
Today, we go deeper into the nine deficiencies and imbalances that might be silently contributing to your depression and/or anxiety.
Vitamin D deficiency - studies are starting to show a link between depression and low levels of vitamin D in the body. A 2013 meta-analysis study found that the participants with depression also had low vitamin D levels. Interestingly, the same analysis found that people with low vitamin D were also at a greater *risk* of depression as well as having higher rates of depression. It is thought that this is due to the importance that vitamin D holds to the function of brain processes such as neuroimmunomodulation (the way our brain is connected to our immune system) and neuroplasticity. Vitamin D goes a lot deeper than just helping our immunity.
Low B Vitamins (particularly B6) - B vitamins play a crucial role in the management of psychological states and a study in 2016 suggested that Vitamin B deficiency could influence memory function, cognitive impairment and even play a role in the onset of dementia. Another more recent study confirmed that there is a direct connection between vitamin B6 deficiency and depressive symptoms. It’s important to note that Vitamin B6 deficiency usually arises from malabsorption of the vitamin due to ongoing chronic disease/infection or consumption of pharma drugs. These levels are often particularly common in women taking birth-control pills or other forms of estrogens - another reason to consider a more holistic approach to birth control to allow your hormones to settle in the way that they were meant to. If you are plant-based or vegan, you are more likely to be deficient in these B vitamins which may have knock-on and follow-on impacts on your mental health.
Low iron - it is now being understood that iron deficiency can contribute to depression and this is because of how it comes into play with dopamine (the happy hormone). Iron is needed for the brain (and gut) to produce dopamine - but dopamine can only be built in the presence of iron. A more recent study on this was conflicting, however, suggesting that in a more middle-aged population, the lower iron levels and lower efficiency of iron storage *was* associated with higher levels of depression in men, but was not in women. This suggests that more research may be required into separate and specific sub cohorts of individuals and how low iron impacts the onset of depressive symptoms.
Low Zinc - Zinc has been hailed as the new antidepressant by many since it has been suggested that the more depressed someone is, the lower their zinc levels. A 2011 study suggested a correlation between zinc dysregulation and deficiency in both neurological and psychiatric challenges, including not only depression but also Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Down Syndrome, ADHD, and more. Among other things, Zinc plays a part in modulating the brain and body’s response to stress all along the way and a second study showed that zinc actually increased the creation of brain-growth hormone BDNF in the hippocampus - having a direct impact on the brain and its growth and function.
Low Lithium - often misunderstood as only being helpful for those suffering from bipolar disorder, research is starting to show that low levels of lithium can be connected to the onset of depressive states. Lithium, an alkali metal, is actually neuroprotective and when levels are low, high-quality organic supplementation into the diet can be very beneficial to help maintain mental balance. Lithium is found naturally in deep greens, seafood, sea vegetables, kelp, natural mineral water, and organic, grass-fed meats.
Low Magnesium - Magnesium is known to be one of the most essential minerals in the human body. It is heavily interconnected with the chemistry of the brain, and a 2013 study found that a whole host of psychiatric symptoms (including depression) were observed when someone is deficient in magnesium. This builds on a 2006 study that confirmed that the possibility that magnesium deficiency is a major cause of ‘most’ depression needs to be considered for public health. Magnesium also helps with muscle relaxation and sleep, so incorporating magnesium into your regime may also help with any sleep-related issues.
Low Amino Acids - there are a ton of amino acids that can influence your mental health and these are often overlooked. Deficiencies in amino acids like tryptophan (the turkey amino acid), tyrosine, methionine, and phenylalanine are thought to cause mood disorders including depression. Low levels of amino acids in the body are often rooted in low levels of stomach acid - meaning that your body cannot break down and absorb nutrients efficiently from the protein you are ingesting. Low levels of stomach acid in turn can be driven by the body being in a constant state of stress. Amino acids are starting to become more of interest in the mental health field, and we might see more ‘Amino Acid Therapy’ for treating depression in the coming years. For anxious depression, it’s thought that L-Tryptophan and/or its derivative, 5HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) is a good place to start and for those who experience low energy or low motivation types of depression, L-tyrosine is a better place to start.
Low Levels of Omega 3s - there has been promising research, discussion, and conversation into the preventative potential of omega-3s and those suffering from depression. The reason for that is that Omega-3 fatty acids play a critical role in the development and function of the central nervous system and depression, the CNS may not be functioning properly. It’s thought that globally, huge proportions of the population may be deficient in Omega-3s and emerging research is establishing an association between omega-3 fatty acids to help major depressive disorder and that a deficiency may increase vulnerability to depressive disorders. Another recent study has shown that Omega-3s were more effective than a placebo for treating depression in adults and children - as well as being helpful in the depression stage of the bipolar cycle.
- Gut dysbiosis/imbalance - it is now well known that the gut-brain connection is a real thing and that many neurotransmitters that influence our mental health are created in our gut. The bacterial strains present in our gut impact follow on activities such as the functioning of our immune system, the creation of microbial metabolites, and also impact levels of inflammation in the body. If your gut health isn’t up to scratch, or you have an imbalance in bacterial strains or are experiencing some level of gut ‘dysbiosis’ and or ‘dysfunction’, it is likely that this might be impacting your mental health by inhibiting the correct number and type of neurotransmitters being created. More research is required on the exact mechanisms, though it is now well understood that the impact can be severe - with disruptions to the body’s microbiome also being linked to more severe psychiatric disorders such as autism, schizophrenia, and Parkinson's.
So, If you’re suffering from any level of depression, consider testing for these imbalances as a starting point in a quest for better mental health.
A full spectrum of tests that would be advised including:
- Full nutrient panel - look for deficiencies;
- Genetic testing - look for the MTHFR gene and the COMT gene;
- Check for inflammation in the gut from dysbiosis / leaky gut with a GI Map Test;
- Mycotoxins + OAT test (our favorite is from the Great Plains Laboratory);
- Heavy metal testing;
- Testing for Infections (particularly Borrelia, Bartonella, Babesia - and while traditional parasite testing is notoriously unreliable, we love Bioresonance Testing through either Balanced Health or Root Cause Clinic);
- Hormones (the DUTCH Test); and
- Food allergies and intolerances.
While doing this and getting underway with testing, you can start with dietary changes - nourishing your body with high quality (ideally organic) sources of vitamins, minerals, Omega 3s, and more - as well as ensuring you are working on any chronic stress or stored emotional trauma that may be reducing the production of your stomach acid which, in turn, may be reducing the absorption of these critical minerals, vitamins, amino acids and more.
To begin with, be sure to add a good quality probiotic into your routine and focus on incorporating high probiotic foods such as kefir, sauerkraut, miso, and tempeh. Also, look to eating a varied and high-quality diet with adequate protein.
Botanicals can help too. We love St John’s Wort (but be sure to not take this if you are on SSRIS), Rhodiola, saffron, and lavender too.
***THESE STATEMENTS HAVE NOT BEEN APPROVED OR REGULATED BY THE FDA. WE ARE NOT DOCTORS, THEREFORE ALWAYS CONSULT WITH YOUR DOCTOR FIRST.