Did you know that a vitamin or mineral deficiency in your diet could be causing your depression? Today I will discuss a few common dietary deficiencies which can cause depression, and how I identify and treat them. Hopefully this information can help you or someone you know.
The evidence for what I will present comes from two places: the scientific research, and my own experience using a blood test to detect deficiencies.
For 4 years now I have been running a nutritional blood test, which looks for cellular levels of 37 micronutrients. These are minerals, vitamins, amino acids, and other nutrients our bodies need to be optimally healthy. I have learned a lot from this test. I think it is a great tool for finding the underlying nutritional causes of poor health, and preventing future health problems.
There is evidence that at least 20 different nutrients which, when low, can contribute to depression. Once corrected, they have been shown to alleviate depression. I think good nutrition is the basis for all good health and making sure you are getting everything you need from your diet is very important. That is why I advocate a whole foods diet, and that is why I test. Now I will share with you a few of those nutrients which when low have been shown to increase depression.
Lets start with Vitamin B12. This is an essential vitamin for maintaining your energy levels. Low B12 will often make you tired, it also contributes to psychiatric disorders including depression. It is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies of vegetarians and vegans.
Folate. The lower your body’s folate levels, the worse your depression can get. On top of that some of us genetically do not convert folic acid (the common form of folate in vitamin supplements and processed foods) into active folate in our bodies. I also test for that conversion problem, called MTHFR. If you have it, you are more prone to depression, Alzheimer’s, and many other conditions. Fortunately, there are special supplements you can take if you have this genetic condition.
Chromium. This is a mineral I often see low when I test patients because our soils are depleted of chromium. This means it is challenging to get enough in your diet. Low chromium levels make it very difficult for your body to properly regulate blood sugar levels. Low chromium can be a reason why your blood sugar crashes and you get cranky when you haven’t eaten in a while. It also increases levels of serotonin in your brain, the “feel good” chemical that many antidepressant drugs target. A good source of dietary chromium is freshly ground organic black pepper.
Selenium is another mineral which has been depleted in our soils and therefore in our food supply. Low selenium contributes to poor thyroid function, and hair loss. Supplementing it has shown promise in alleviating post partum depression.
Magnesium. This mineral is deficient in the diets of many Americans and low levels are strongly linked to depression. Muscle cramps, brittle nails, and headaches are just a few other symptoms of magnesium deficiency. Fortunately, cocoa and chocolate are high in magnesium. Many of the best sources include leafy greens, beans and whole grains but the levels of magnesium in these foods are falling due to agricultural priorities of higher yields and profits over nutritional quality of food. Buy local. Buy organic, or biodynamicaly raised foods for the best nutrient levels.
These are just a few of the nutritional deficiencies which the research links to depression. How do you know if you have one of these deficiencies? There are signs and symptoms of these deficiencies but they often overlap making it difficult to tell which one you need. I do a blood test to see how much of each of them you have in your cells. This way we have a scientific measure of your levels. Then I can recommend the right dosage of the right form of only the ones you need. Your best defense against all nutritional deficiencies is to eat the highest quality whole unprocessed foods you can find, grown in the highest quality soils. I also recommend a food-based multivitamin and multimineral because I have yet to see someone with optimal levels of all of the nutrients in the test who doesn’t take supplements.
Of course nutritional deficiencies are only one piece of the puzzle of depression. However, I feel they are a piece that has been overlooked for far too long, causing a great deal of suffering.
References for the information in this article are available upon request.