Nutritional Psychiatry – balancing your brain chemistry with nutrient therapy and improved diet
Nutritional Psychiatry – balancing your brain chemistry with nutrient therapy and improved diet
Nutritional psychiatry is an emerging field that achieves outstanding results in improving and resolving mental health conditions. Most of us can easily understand the connection between nutritional deficiencies and physical illness. Many people, however, are unaware of the impact nutrition has on mental health.
Nutritional psychiatry is an emerging discipline shedding light on the fact that nutritional factors are intertwined with human cognition, behaviour, and emotions. 1
There are many correlations between how you feel and ultimately behave, with the foods you eat and the kinds of bacteria that live in your gut.
Health conditions such as anxiety and depression can improve dramatically through diet and the use of supplements. Functional Medicine Health practitioners can help by carefully tailoring a nutrient therapy program, helping to balance your brain chemistry and restore it to optimal operation.
Nutritional Psychiatry – Key nutrients for good Mental Health
Depression is usually thought of as biochemically or emotionally based, however, nutrition can…
“play a key role in the onset as well as the severity and duration of depression. Many of the easily noticeable food patterns that precede depression are the same as those that occur during depression. These may include poor appetite, skipping meals, and a dominant desire for sweet foods.” 2
Vitamin B and folate
Vitamin B12 and other B vitamins play a role in producing brain chemicals that affect mood and other brain functions. They are vital in maintaining good mental health, helping you to reduce your stress levels. Vitamin B deficiency has been linked to depression, anxiety, phobias, and other mood disorders. 3
They play a key role in your immune function, digestion, circulation, hormonal health, and sleep and convert food into fuel, helping your body to stay energized and to repair cell damage.
Methylcobalamin, a form of vitamin B12, is important for the brain and nerves, and to produce red blood cells. Methylcobalamin is used to treat vitamin B12 deficiency and is sometimes used in people with pernicious anaemia, diabetes, and other conditions.
B Vitamins and Methylation
Vitamin B12 is a key nutrient involved in the Methylation process and methionine pathway in the body. This crucial pathway is responsible for creating SAMe (S-adenysl-methione), the major methyl group donor in the body.
Both methyl B12 and Methyl folate are required at the MTR enzyme to run the methionine pathway and produce methyl groups throughout the body. Down regulations in either the MTHFR enzyme or the MTRR enzyme affects the conversion of both folate and B12 into usable methyl forms.
This results in standard testing showing adequate blood levels of these nutrients but a hidden deficiency with the cells.
“Recommended doses of B12 and folate vary depending on whether you have a deficiency and your genetic expression, you should work with a qualified health care practitioner to determine the best dose. However, there is a no to low risk of B12 toxicity.” 4
Low levels of B vitamins can be caused by:
- Poor diet
- Not being able to absorb vitamins you consume
- Inability to convert specific forms of B vitamins into active and usable forms
- A vegetarian or vegan diet (particularly vitamin B12)
- Having a digestive disorder such as celiac disease or Crohn’s disease
Balancing your brain chemistry through nutritional psychiatry and the use of targeted supplementation has far reaching and long lasting affects on a wide range of mental health conditions.
Where you can find nutrients in food to improve your mental health!
Animal products such as fish, lean meat, poultry, and eggs are rich in Vitamin B12 as well as leafy greens, root veggies, fresh and dried fruits, nuts, seeds, seafood, and avocados.
Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin naturally present in some foods, added to others, and available as a dietary supplement.
A number of studies link a folate deficiency to poor response to antidepressants.
In one study, 213 subjects with major depression were given the antidepressant fluoxetine for eight weeks.
“Those subjects found to have low folate levels were not only more severely depressed but were significantly less likely to respond to fluoxetine, which can be applied to other antidepressant treatments as well.
Another comparative, placebo-controlled study was done with fluoxetine, where in addition to fluoxetine treatment 127 patients with major depressive disorder were given either a folate supplement or a placebo for ten weeks.
And although it was determined that it worked better in women than in men (due to men needing a higher dose of folate in order to reduce homocysteine levels), 93.9% of women who received the folate showed a good response, in comparison to 61.1% of women in the placebo group.
Not only can folate be used to increase antidepressant response, it can be used in combination with vitamin B12 (or by itself) to combat hyperhomocysteinemia (high homocysteine levels) and reduce depressive symptoms without additional antidepressant medication.” 5
Those with MTHFR polymorphisms and should avoid Folic Acid (synthetic Folate). Folate supplements should be taken in the form of folinic acid or methylfolate.
Folate is naturally present in a variety of foods, including vegetables (especially dark green leafy vegetables) and fruits or fruit juices. More specifically, you can find folate in nuts, beans, peas, seafood, eggs, dairy products, meat, poultry, and grains. Spinach, liver, asparagus, and brussels sprouts contain the highest levels of folate. 6
Nearly all commercially produced bread, cereals and grain products in Australia contain synthetic folic acid as a fortified nutrient.
This is an essential trace element required by all organisms for various biological processes. Zinc has been found to be low in the serum of those suffering from depression. In fact, the more depressed someone is, the lower the zinc level. It has also been linked to aggression in adolescents and a range of other mental health conditions.
Ensuring your diet includes this nutrient supports your healthy brain function. It activates your central and peripheral nervous system. It also plays an important role in neurotransmitter, enzymatic, and hormonal processes. Zinc deficiency has been linked to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and schizophrenia. 7
You can find zinc in oysters, seafood, lamb, grass-fed beef and pumpkin seeds.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
An imbalance between Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids can create mood imbalances and mental health problems. Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of essential fats that you must obtain through your diet because your body can’t produce them on its own.
You can find Omega-3s in foods such as fatty fish like salmon and albacore tuna are rich in two types of Omega-3s.
“…deficiency is well known to produce neuropathologies. Magnesium ions regulate calcium ion flow in neuronal calcium channels, helping to regulate neuronal nitric oxide production.
In magnesium deficiency, neuronal requirements for magnesium may not be met, causing neuronal damage which could manifest as depression.” 8
The deficiency of this nutrient is common even among those who are eating a healthy and balanced diet due to the magnesium depletion in Australian soil. High levels of stress can quickly deplete magnesium levels, it is also a cofactor in over 300 enzymatic reactions in your body.
You can find magnesium in dark chocolate, avocados, nuts, legumes, tofu, seeds, whole grains, and some fatty fish.
Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional problems in the world. It is especially common among women who have heavy periods, are breast-feeding, athletes, highly-selective eaters, vegetarians, and vegans.
Iron is essential for the health of your brain and nervous system. Deficiencies can lead to fatigue, poor concentration, and ADHD.
Aside from these symptoms, iron deficiency may also make you more at risk for depression. Research has shown that the average ferritin level was significantly lower in depressed people.
Many people that have low iron levels, who are consuming a diet with adequate red meat, have issues with their gut health and absorption of nutrients. These individuals should address their underlying cause of iron deficiency rather than just relying on iron supplementation.
Increase your iron intake by eating animal-based food, especially red meat and offal (liver). Chicken, duck, pork, turkey, eggs, and fish also have iron. Iron is also found in many plant-based foods such as green vegetables, for example, spinach, silverbeet, broccoli, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit.
The iron in animal-based foods is easier to absorb than the iron in plant-based foods. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you need to take extra care with your diet to get enough iron.
“Although lesser known than most minerals, selenium is essential to immune health, thyroid function, fertility, and a number of other bodily processes.
A diet rich in selenium may help prevent mental decline and improve memory loss in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
You can find selenium in a wide variety of foods, especially Brazil nuts, tuna, oysters and mushrooms.
Nutritional psychiatry supplements for Mental Health conditions
In addition to sourcing vitamins and nutrients through food, supplements may also be useful in treating depression and anxiety. A thorough assessment of the root cause of your condition is required before supplements such as a vitamin B12 supplement, methyl folate or a zinc supplement are introduced.
You must be tested to confirm any deficiencies and ensure you receive the correct supplement in the necessary dosage and form.
Adequate testing will enable your Functional Medicine health practitioner to prescribe accurate natural supplementation to balance the neurotransmitters and other biochemical pathways of the body.
Mental health services in WA
If you are in need of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), there are hundreds of mental health facilities and mental health services across Western Australia. A combined approach with nutritional psychiatry and other mental health services such as counselling and psychiatry work well as a combined approach.
Struggling with your mental health? Help is available
Calling a helpline is incredibly important if you are looking for someone to talk to. They are there to listen, provide advice, information and referrals.
You can reach out to:
1300 555 788 (Metro)
1800 676 822 (Peel)
08 9381 5555 (Main Line)
08 9388 2500 (Youth Line)
1800 198 313 (Country Toll-Free)
Monday to Friday 9am to 7.30pm AEST)*
Monday – Friday 9am to 9pm AEST)*
Kids and Youth Mental Health Support Lines
Child and Adolescent Health Service urgent mental health support line
Seven days a week from 9am to 1am AEST)
1800 650 890 (Ages 12-25, Family and Friends)
1300 224 636 (Ages 12-25)
My Services online directory makes it easier to navigate and find the right support for mental health, alcohol and other drug issues.
You can also seek support online via live chat and online forums.
How we can help with your Mental Health
We work in conjunction with your GP or psychiatrist to help you improve your health.
By designing a plan to ensure you are getting the best nutrition through diet and supplements, we can work toward helping you feel better.
If you would like more information on how to approach your mental health problem, please contact us at 1800 11 22 36 or complete the form below.