Most people feel sad or irritable from time to time. They may say they’re in a bad mood. A mood disorder is different. It affects a person’s everyday emotional state.
Nearly one in ten people aged 18 and older have mood disorders. These include depression and bipolar disorder (also called manic depression).
Mood disorders consist of several different mental disorders that cause a person’s mood to fluctuate either rapidly or gradually. These disorders include anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and major depressive disorder, among others.
Disorders that affect a person’s mood are complex and can be caused by a variety of factors, such as genetics, diet, exercise habits, environment, and personality. Here are a few statistics about mental health in America, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness:
- Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year.
- Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S.—9.8 million, or 4.0%—experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.
- Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%.
- 1.1% of adults in the U.S. live with schizophrenia.
- 2.6% of adults in the U.S. live with bipolar disorder.
- 6.9% of adults in the U.S.—16 million—had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.
- 18.1% of adults in the U.S. experienced an anxiety disorder such as post traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and specific phobias.
- Among the 20.2 million adults in the U.S. who experienced a substance use disorder, 50.5%—10.2 million adults—had a co-occurring mental illness.
These are disturbing figures, and while a variety of societal factors likely play a role in the mental health epidemic, many people tend to overlook poor nutrition as the culprit.
A good diet provides your body with essential vitamins and minerals that keep your systems working properly, and without a steady flow of nutrients coming in, your mind starts to suffer. Our minds require so much energy, so it only makes sense that giving them low quality fuel would cause them to deteriorate.
“Eating an American/Western diet almost doubles the risk of depression in large research trials, while a more traditional or Mediterranean pattern cuts the risk of clinical depression by 40-50 percent,” says clinical psychiatrist Drew Ramsey, MD.
Our diets play such a role in our mental state that some scientists have even referred to our gut as our “second brain” because of how integrated the two systems are! With that said, we’d like to discuss a few key nutrient deficiencies that can lead to a decline in mental health.
Here are 9 nutrient deficiencies that can cause a mood disorder:
Zinc might be just what the doctor ordered for reducing depressive symptoms. A meta-analysis published in Biological Psychiatry in December 2013 analyzed 17 studies and found that depressed people had about 14 percent less zinc in their blood than the average person, and people with severe depression had the lowest levels of zinc.
Researchers at the University of Newcastle in Australia also reported findings of two longitudinal studies that showed a correlation between depression and low zinc levels. They found that for men and women with the highest zinc intake, they had a 30 to 50 percent lower chance of developing depression than those with the lowest zinc levels.
Recommended daily zinc intake is 9 mg for women and 11 mg for men, and good sources of zinc include oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, and whole grains.
2. Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3’s help your immune system, endocrine system, lungs, heart, blood vessels, brain, and mood, according to the NIH. Omega-3 fatty acids also have a powerful anti-inflammatory effect on the brain, which is important since mental illnesses are believed to stem from inflammation of the brain. Women should get 1.1 grams per day, and men should try for 1.6. Good sources are salmon, tuna, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.
3. Vitamin D
As most of us know, Vitamin D plays a huge role in our moods, as deficiencies can lead to seasonal affective disorder and even full blown depression. A study from the Netherlands found adults with depression symptoms had low Vitamin D levels.
The body absorbs Vitamin D from sunlight, according to the NIH, but you can also take supplements or eat fatty fish to get the recommended amount. For infants 12 months old and younger, experts recommend 400 IU, and adults 19-70 years old 600 IU.
4. Vitamin B12
According to an article on Psychology Today:
“Over the past several years, evidence has mounted that B vitamins—B12 and folate in particular—may ward off depression and other mental problems. A Finnish study is only the latest to link B vitamins to maintenance of good mood.
It found that high levels of vitamin B12 in the bloodstream were linked to more successful outcomes among people being treated for depression. The study tracked 115 outpatients who were seeing psychiatrists and therapists as treatment for major depression.
Just over half of the patients were also taking antidepressant medications. When researchers followed up with patients six months after counseling sessions had ended, people whose B12 levels were highest had had the most success in halting depressive symptoms.”
Good sources of Vitamin B12 include beef liver, clams, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. Recommended daily amounts vary by age: Infants six months and younger need .4 mcg, while adults need 2.4 mcg.
According to an Indian Journal of Psychiatry article, a folate deficiency could cause a mental health problem. Researchers cited that, according to their findings, patients had folate levels 25 percent lower than healthy individuals, on average. “Depressive symptoms are the most common neuropsychiatric manifestation of folate deficiency,” according to their findings.
Good sources of folate are asparagus, Brussels sprouts, dark leafy vegetables, oranges, peanuts, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, whole grains, and fortified cold cereals. Infants six months and younger should get 65 mcg a day, while adults aged 19-70 should try for 400.
Iodine plays an important role in the human body, helping the thyroid gland to function properly. According to the NCBI: “When iodine requirements are not met, the thyroid may no longer be able to synthesize sufficient amounts of thyroid hormone.
The resulting low-level of thyroid hormones in the blood is the principal factor responsible for the series of functional and developmental abnormalities, collectively referred to as IDD.
Iodine deficiency is a significant cause of mental developmental problems in children, including implications on reproductive functions and lowering of IQ levels in school-aged children. Daily consumption of salt fortified with iodine is a proven effective strategy for prevention of IDD.”
The body requires protein to function properly, because the essential amino acids found in this macronutrient are crucial for brain health. Some research has indicated that amino acid therapy may be as effective as traditional drugs to treat depression, with phenylalanine and tyrosine being the top two amino acids found to alleviate depressive symptoms as effectively as pharmaceuticals. Protein-rich foods include poultry, beef, dairy, and nuts and seeds.
Iron deficiency might play a role in ADHD in some children, according to the authors of the Indian Journal of Psychiatry article. Low iron levels have also been linked to depression symptoms. The best sources of iron include lean meats, poultry, seafood, and supplements. Men aged 19-50 need 8 mg of iron daily, and women aged 19-50 need 18 mg.
According to some studies, low levels of selenium might contribute to worse moods. Selenium is important for reproduction, thyroid health, DNA production, and helps to protect the body from free radicals. While selenium deficiency in the U.S. is rare, it can cause cognitive decline and poor mental function.
Good sources of selenium include Brazil nuts, seafood, beef, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. The recommended daily amount for adults is 55 mcg (micrograms).
While diet alone may not totally eliminate a mental disorder, it could certainly help to alleviate symptoms. In the Western world especially, our diets have been inundated with highly processed, sugary, inflammatory foods that only worsen our physical and mental health.
The best game plan when it comes to protecting your mental health is to get back to the basics and focus on diet, exercise, and self-care. Your diet should help you fight off disease, not contribute to it. In a nutshell, stick to whole foods and eat a varied, vibrant diet full of nutrients. Your body (and mind) will definitely thank you!