The effect of nutrition on mental health

nutrient deficiencies and mental health

Nutrition and mental health


As I have discussed previously nutrition is an important part of our health.  Inadequate nutrition can lead to medical conditions and medications taken to treat medical conditions can themselves cause nutrient deficiencies.

Prescribed medications should never be stopped in favour of “natural” medicines.  There is certainly a place however for nutritional supplements to be used in addition to prescribed medicines for the best possible treatment.

Many people do not obtain enough nutrients from their food either because the food has been grown in such a way that nutrient content is low or because they are eating too many highly processed foods.

Mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are known to be, at least in part, caused by inflammation in the brain.  This inflammation starts in our gut.  Thus poor gut health can contribute to mental health conditions.


Nutrients that are important for good mental health

  • Probiotics are very beneficial for gut health. Gut health is important for our overall general health.  Probiotic use has resulted in a decrease in the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Magnesium is a mineral that many people are lacking in. A 2017 study showed that symptoms of depression and anxiety were significantly improved when magnesium was taken daily.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids, from fish, fish oil, nuts and seeds, are also important in mood disorders.
  • Zinc, Vitamin D3 and B Complex (a supplement containing all the B vitamins) have also been shown to improve symptoms in anxiety and depression and even in Alzheimer’s Disease.


Once again it is very important that we consume adequate amounts of key nutrients to ensure we have the best health possible!  If this is not fully possible through our food then it should be achieved with good quality supplements.

Nutrient deficiencies caused by antidepressant medications

nutrient deficiencies caused by antidepressants

Antidepressant medications

 Antidepressants are medicines that are used to treat depression.  There are different groups of antidepressant medicines that can cause different deficiencies.


Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) and nutrients depleted by them

SSRI’s are the most commonly used group of antidepressant medicines.  Examples of these medicines include paroxetine, fluoxetine, sertraline, citalopram and escitalopram.

Iodine can be depleted by these medicines.

Iodine depletion can cause hair loss, weight gain, lower immunity, hypothyroidism and ironically depression itself.


Tricyclic antidepressants and nutrients depleted by them

Tricyclic antidepressants are another commonly used group.  Examples include amitriptyline, doxepin, clomipramine and nortriptyline.

Vitamin B2 and Co-Enzyme Q10 can be depleted by these tricyclic antidepressants.

Depletion of these nutrients can cause leg cramps, palpitations, heart failure, headache, weight gain and fatigue.


Monamine oxidase inhibitors (MAO Inhibitors) and nutrients depleted by them

MAO Inhibitors are less commonly used these days.  Examples include moclobemide and rasagiline.

Vitamin B6 is the main nutrient depleted by them.

Deficiency in vitamin B6 can cause fatigue, heart disease, mouth ulcers, insomnia, dermatitis, nerve pain and once again depression.


Depression caused by an antidepressant?

It seems strange that depression can occur due to the taking of an antidepressant medication.  It goes to show how important the effects of a medicine on our body are not just in the way they are designed and prescribed to help but also other effects that can occur.

In an extreme case a patient and their Doctor may think that an antidepressant medication is not working when in actual fact it is the nutrient depletion caused by the medicine that is causing depressive symptoms to continue or recur.


Gut Health

gut health

Gut health is something that seems to be talked about everywhere.  The health of our guts is being linked to almost every health condition there is.

Words like microbiome are thrown around with most of us not sure what this is and why it’s important.


Gut microbiome

The term gut microbiome basically refers to the microorganisms that live in our gut.  Gut is not a crude word it is another way to say gastrointestinal tract.  The microorganisms (mainly bacteria) that live in our gastrointestinal tract help us digest food and absorb the things we need to absorb from our food.  Everyone has a different gut microbiome though there will be some similarities.


Unhealthy microbiome

If you have an unhealthy microbiome your levels of good and bad bacteria will be out of whack.  This can occur following a course of antibiotics, from eating badly, due to stress and due to illness.

An unhealthy gut can lead to a weak gut lining.  This enables bacteria to escape from the gut and get in to the blood stream.  This is turn leads to a response from our immune system.  The resulting inflammation is a large factor in the potential cause of many health conditions.


How to have a healthy gut microbiome

Our gut microbiome starts to develop while we are in the womb.  Many factors affect the types of microorganisms a person has such as whether they were born by vaginal or caesarean, whether they were breast or bottle fed and the health of their parents.

These factors are not something that we can change now.  What we can change is our exercise habits, eating habits and use of antibiotics.  (Incidentally antibiotic means anti living thing).  Regular exercise is important.  Eating a diet that contains a wide range of foods is the best way to improve the gut microbiome to have a wider range of microorganisms.  Limiting the use of antibiotics to situations where they are absolutely necessary is an important way to sustain the health of our gut microbiome.

Are vitamins and supplements good for me?

vitamins and supplements

Taking vitamins and supplements

Taking vitamins and supplements is a very personal thing.  Some people take several and others wouldn’t dream of it.  There are some general practitioners who tell their patients to steer clear of these and there are those who incorporate them in to the medication regimen.

I believe a lot of hesitation surrounding the use of the things we term “complementary medicines” is due to lack of knowledge.  Vitamins, minerals, herbs and even nutrition in general are things that are not studied in enough detail during medical and pharmacy degrees.

Healthy eating                                                                                     

There is a theory that goes if we eat well we do not need to supplement.  This makes sense to some extent however there are times when people can not eat as they should whether this be to illness, travelling etc.

There is also a major problem with our food supply.  Due to changes in farming practices and food production over the years food just isn’t food anymore.  Not only do some foods potentially contain little nutritional quality but they can also contain pollutants that can contribute to illness.

Supplementing our diet with nutrients that we are missing out on with our food makes sense.  I do believe in using quality brands that contain natural and organically sourced ingredients where possible.

Are all vitamins and supplements good for me?

As with any medicine, and vitamins and supplements should be thought of as medicines, it is important to take them under the advice of a health care practitioner.  There are certainly some products that do not have any evidence from research that show that they are beneficial or necessary.  Weight loss is a big area where there are lots of products that may not have been shown to be effective but there are also other areas.  Conversely there are many complementary medicines that have a lot of research and evidence behind them showing how effective they are.

Aside from evidence of effectiveness some vitamins and supplements can interfere with the way prescription and other medicines work.  It is possible for them to make the prescription medicines more or less effective and increase the risk of side effects.  This is why it is very important to discuss with your Doctor or Pharmacist before taking anything new.

Always read the product label for vitamins and supplements

The product label will give directions for how much to take, how often and what to be careful about.

It is very important not to take more than the recommended dose.  As I mentioned before vitamins and supplements are like medicines in that the correct dose must be adhered to.  Taking more than the recommended dose will not result in you getting better quicker, but can result in side effects and even overdose.

Vitamins and supplements can certainly be of benefit in many cases and often with less side effects than prescription medicines but it is very important to incorporate these under the guidance of your qualified health practitioner.

Tea time!



Anyone who knows me knows that I love to drink tea!  After making some small dietary changes and huge exercise changes in my life recently I started looking in to health benefits of different teas.  All teas actually come from the same plant camellia sinensis.  So black, white, green and oolong tea all come from the same plant.  Herbal “teas” are made from infusions of herbs, spices, fruits and other plant materials.  As such these infusions are not technically teas and don’t usually contain caffeine.  Tea generally contains less caffeine than coffee but it also depends on how long you steep it for.

White tea

This is made from young leaves and buds of the tea plant.  There is not much processing done with this type of tea and so it usually has a higher antioxidant level and milder flavour with a lower caffeine level.

Green tea

There are different types of green tea with different tastes and nutrients.  Green tea contains high levels of antioxidants also.  There are a number of studies showing how green tea is good for metabolism and can slow down aging and cancer growth as well as improve brain function and reduce heart disease and diabetes risk.  Matcha green tea powder seems to be the latest craze for good reason.

  • Matcha is made from ground tea leaves. The powder is bright green as the type of leaf it is made from is very high in chlorophyll and so very high in antioxidants.
  • Sencha is a mild green tea and the most popular type in Japan.
  • Gyukuro seems to be a cross between Matcha (high antioxidant levels) and Sencha (milder flavour).
  • Bancha has a more bitter taste and a low caffeine level. It is one of the most common green teas as it is cheaper to produce.

Black tea

There are not many differences in health benefits between the different types of black teas so it is really a matter of taste.  Black teas have high antioxidant levels (though different antioxidants to green tea) and give a boost of caffeine.

Oolong tea

A benefit of oolong is that it can help metabolise fat and assist in weight loss similarly to green tea.

Well I’m satisfied that my addiction to tea drinking can continue!