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  • Writer's pictureChristy Callahan, PMHNP-BC, NP

Enhancing Mental Well-Being through Vitamins: Mental health goes beyond mere thoughts.


Surprisingly, the persistent symptoms of depression, anxiety, or obsessive behaviors that seem difficult to overcome might not solely stem from genetic factors, coping strategies, or brain chemistry imbalances. Instead, they could potentially be linked to deficiencies in essential vitamins like zinc, B vitamins, and vitamin D. These nutrients play a vital role in regulating our mental health.


However, it's crucial to emphasize that the information shared here should never replace advice or recommendations from your own healthcare provider. Making any changes to your treatment should always be done in consultation with them.


Zinc's Role:


Zinc is a fundamental nutrient that contributes to various biological processes, including mood regulation. It can be found in foods like red meat, poultry, and fish. Low levels of zinc have been associated with conditions such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, and mood disorders. Previous research has highlighted low zinc concentrations in individuals with depression and psychiatric symptoms (Petrilli et al., 2017). Zinc dysregulation has also been observed in conditions like Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, Down syndrome, and ADHD (Grabrucker et al., 2011).


For those with a zinc deficiency, supplementing with zinc has shown promise in alleviating depressive symptoms, earning it the moniker of "nature's antidepressant." One study indicated that combining zinc supplementation with SSRI treatment was more effective in treating major depressive disorders compared to SSRI treatment alone (Ranjbar et al., 2013). Notably, long-term zinc treatments in lab animals produced effects similar to antidepressant drugs (McLoughin & Hodge, 1990).


It's important to consider various factors, such as inflammation and copper absorption, when evaluating zinc levels and the potential need for supplementation. Thus, discussing these aspects with a medical professional before making any changes is essential.


The Importance of B Vitamins:

B vitamins also play a critical role in maintaining mental health. This group includes eight essential nutrients, each with distinct functions that collectively support cellular function. Notably, deficiencies in B vitamins can coincide with certain mental health conditions. For instance, early studies suggest that children with autism often have low levels of B6, and supplementation has led to notable improvements, including some children speaking for the first time (Kotsanis et al., 1984).


Thiamine (B1), niacinamide (B3), and pyridoxine (B6) have been used effectively in treating individuals with anxiety disorders and other mental health-related issues (Cornish & Mehl-Madrona, 2008). Interestingly, niacinamide in mouse studies has shown properties similar to benzodiazepines and barbiturates (Voronina, 1981).


Depression is associated with deficiencies in B12, and individuals with low B12 levels are more prone to severe depression. B vitamins like riboflavin, B12, folate, and B6 have also demonstrated potential in managing symptoms of schizophrenia.


Vitamin D's Impact:


Vitamin D, often referred to as the "sun" vitamin, is crucial for mental well-being. It supports healthy growth and development, with sunlight exposure contributing to around 50-90% of vitamin D production, while the rest comes from diet (Naeem, 2010).


Given the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency, experts consider it a global health concern and an epidemic. Although the exact link between vitamin D and mental disorders isn't fully understood, populations at risk for deficiency are more prone to depression. Insufficient vitamin D levels could contribute to or worsen depressive symptoms, along with associations to other conditions like neuro-degenerative diseases, obesity, diabetes, and more (Penckofer et al., 2010).


For those interested in boosting vitamin D levels naturally, supplementation might be considered if levels are low. Increasing sunlight exposure, especially in the morning, or incorporating light therapy into your routine could also be beneficial.


Addressing Mental Health Holistically:


For individuals grappling with symptoms of depression, anxiety, OCD, mood disorders, or even schizophrenia, there is a glimmer of hope. While mental health challenges might not solely originate in the mind, exploring potential links between vitamin deficiencies and mental well-being could be enlightening.


Research continues to uncover these connections, offering dietary and supplementation approaches that might complement traditional treatments. However, it's crucial to remember that nutritional adjustments are just one facet of a comprehensive treatment plan. Seeking therapy, medication (when prescribed by a healthcare professional), lifestyle changes, and a support network remain vital components of effective mental health management and recovery.


Christy Callahan PMHNP-BC, CRNP is a psychiatric nurse practitioner at Shine Behavioral Health in Severna Park, MD.


References

Cornish, S., & Mehl-Madrona, L. (2008). The role of vitamins and minerals in psychiatry. Integrative medicine insights, 3, 33–42. Petrilli, M. A., Kranz, T. M., Kleinhaus, K., Joe, P., Getz, M., Johnson, P., … Malaspina, D. (2017). The Emerging Role for Zinc in Depression and Psychosis. Frontiers in pharmacology, 8, 414. doi:10.3389/fphar.2017.00414 Grabrucker A. M., Rowan M., Garner C. C. (2011). Brain-delivery of zinc-ions as potential treatment for neurological diseases: mini review. Drug Deliv. Lett. 1, 13–23. 10.2174/2210304x11101010013 Kotsanis CA, Dart L, Harjes C, Miller R. (1984). Autism —A Multidisciplinary Approach to Treatment. Nutr. And Beh. 2:9–17. McLoughlin IJ, Hodge JS. Zinc in Depressive Disorder. Acta psychiatrica Scandinavica. 1990;82:451–453. Naeem Z. (2010). Vitamin d deficiency- an ignored epidemic. International journal of health sciences, 4(1), V–VI. Penckofer, S., Kouba, J., Byrn, M., & Estwing Ferrans, C. (2010). Vitamin D and depression: where is all the sunshine?. Issues in mental health nursing, 31(6), 385–393. doi:10.3109/01612840903437657 Ranjbar, E., Kasaei, M. S., Mohammad-Shirazi, M., Nasrollahzadeh, J., Rashidkhani, B., Shams, J., … Mohammadi, M. R. (2013). Effects of zinc supplementation in patients with major depression: a randomized clinical trial. Iranian journal of psychiatry, 8(2), 73–79. Voronina TA. (1981). Pharmacological properties of nicotinamide—possible ligand of benzodiazepine receptors. Farmakol. Toksikol. 44(6):680–683.

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