11 Nutrient Deficiencies that Can Cause Depression


Feeling down at times is a normal part of life, but feeling miserable and hopeless on a consistent basis could mean that you are depressed.

Depression is a mood disorder that causes persistent feelings of sadness, anger and a general loss of interest in life that interferes with a person’s day-to-day activities.

Other signs and symptoms of depression include loss of appetite, significant weight loss or weight gain, changes in sleep pattern, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, and unexplained aches and pains.

Some of the causes and risk factors for depression include social isolation, stress, family history of depression, relationship problems, financial strain, childhood trauma or abuse, alcohol or drug abuse and certain health conditions.

Nutritional deficiencies are also likely contributing to the problem. Researchers have found that people suffering from depression and mood disorders are deficient in not just one but several nutrients.

Always remember that the food you eat feeds the brain as well as the body. As the brain accounts for most of your metabolic demands, it needs constant nourishment.

Here are the top 11 nutrient deficiencies that can cause depression.

1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids have numerous health benefits. They play a key role in the development and functioning of the central nervous system.

While omega-3 DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is critical for brain cell structure, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) helps with neuron function and even reduces inflammation.

In addition to this, omega-3 fatty acids can help lower bad cholesterol levels and contribute to overall heart health.

A 2007 study published in Medical Hypotheses reports that omega-3 fatty acid deficiency in major depressive disorder is due to the interaction between diet and a genetically determined abnormality in phospholipid metabolism.

In a 2014 study published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, researchers reported that proper intake of omega-3 PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids) and dietary interventions including omega-3 PUFA supplements can help prevent and treat depression.

To supply your body with an adequate amount of omega-3 fatty acids, consume more flaxseeds, fatty fish like salmon, walnuts and omega-3 fortified eggs. You can also take an omega-3 fatty acid supplement, after consulting your doctor.

2. Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to depression as well as dementia and autism. This vitamin helps in the production of serotonin, the brain hormone associated with mood elevation and happiness.

An adequate level of serotonin helps prevent and treat mild depression. In addition, vitamin D is important for the immune system and bone health.

A 2010 study published in the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing notes that vitamin D deficiency is common among the elderly, adolescents, obese individuals, and those with chronic illnesses. These people are also reported to be at higher risk for depression.

Also, in a 2014 study published in Medical Hypotheses, researchers found a link between seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and a lack of sunlight.

Researchers pointed out that vitamin D is involved in the synthesis of serotonin and dopamine within the brain, both chemicals that are linked to depression.

By spending time in the sun, you can help your body make vitamin D. Go for regular walks in the early morning for 15 to 20 minutes daily. You can also take a vitamin D supplement, after consulting your doctor.

3. Magnesium

According to Mark Hyman, MD, bestselling author of The Ultramind Solution, vitamin D deficiency is a major epidemic that doctors and public health officials are just beginning to recognize. This deficiency has been linked to depression, dementia, and autism. Most of our levels drop off during the fall and winter months, since sunlight is the richest source. Dr. Hyman believes that we should ideally be getting 5,000 to 10,000 IU (international units) a day.However, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends most healthy adults get only about 600 IUs daily.

4. Zinc

Zinc is used by more enzymes (and we have over 300) than any other mineral. It is crucial to many of our systems. It activates our digestive enzymes so that we can break down our food, and works to prevent food allergies (which, in turn, averts depression in some people, since some of our mood disruptions are triggered by food allergies). It also helps our DNA to repair and produce proteins. Finally, zinc helps control inflammation and boosts our immune system. The NIH recommends a daily intake of 11 mg of zinc for adult men and 8 mg for adult women.

Eating zinc-rich foods can help correct this deficiency. Some good sources include red meat, eggs, shellfish, pulses, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole-grain cereals and dairy products. You can also opt for supplements, after consulting your doctor.

5. Selenium

Selenium is also essential to brain functioning and helps improve mood and depressive symptoms. Moreover, selenium plays an important role in proper thyroid functioning. A healthy thyroid is important for mental health.

A 2012 study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine notes that lower dietary selenium intakes are associated with an increased risk of major depressive disorder.

Selenium’s role as an antioxidant and as a constituent of selenoproteins helps in the prevention and management of depression.

Similarly, a 2015 study published in the Journal of Nutrition reports that optimal serum selenium concentrations are associated with lower depressive symptoms and negative mood among young adults.

You can get selenium from dietary sources like Brazil nuts, lean meats, seafood, beans, peas, eggs, turkey, chicken and shellfish.

6. Vitamin B12

B vitamins are important for overall physical as well as mental health. In particular, vitamin B12 helps in the formation of red blood cells and maintenance of a healthy nervous system.

In fact, its deficiency may be the key reason behind depression. In addition, B12 helps lower levels of homocysteine, a by product of protein metabolism. Elevated levels of homocysteine increase the risk for depression.

A 2009 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry illustrates the importance of considering the possibility of B12 deficiency, especially among the elderly suffering from depression.

Another 2013 study published in the Open Neurology Journal highlights the importance of vitamin B12 supplementation in the treatment of major depressive disorder.

Patients treated with vitamin B12 supplementation with antidepressants showed significant improvement in depressive symptoms.

To avoid deficiency of vitamin B12, eat foods like lean meats, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, nutritional yeasts, fortified cereals and soy milk. You can also consider taking a vitamin B supplement daily, after consulting your doctor.

Read: How Only 15 Minutes of Walking Can Change Everything

7. Folate

People with a low folate level have only a 7 percent response to treatment with antidepressants. Those with high folate levels have a response of 44 percent, according to Hyman. That is why many psychiatrists are now prescribing a folate called Deplin to treat depression and improve the effectiveness of an antidepressant. I tried it and it didn’t seem to make that much of a difference; however, I have several friends who have had very positive responses to Deplin. You need not try the prescription form of Deplin. You could just start taking a folate supplement and see if you get any results. Your daily recommended folate intake depends on your gender, whether you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, and age. However, most adults need at least 400 mcg daily. You can also get your daily folate requirements by consuming foods high in folate, including dark leafy greens, beans and legumes, and citrus fruits and juices.

8. Vitamin B6

A deficiency of vitamin B6 can also lead to depression and other cognitive disorders. This nutrient is required for creating neurotransmitters and brain chemicals that influence your mood.

It even helps keep the nervous system healthy. Furthermore, vitamin B6 helps the body absorb vitamin B12, the deficiency of which is also linked to depression.

A 2004 study published in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics suggests that a low level of vitamin B6 is associated with symptoms of depression. However, this study does not say anything about whether treatment with vitamin B6 will improve symptoms.

Some excellent dietary sources of vitamin B6 include meat, poultry, fish, legumes, cottage cheese, potatoes, bananas, watermelon, spinach, and sunflower seeds.

9. Iron

Iron deficiency is pretty common in women. About 20 percent of women, and 50 percent of pregnant women, are in the club. Only three percent of men are iron deficient. The most common form of anemia — an insufficient number of red blood cells — is caused by iron deficiency. Its symptoms are similar to depression: fatigue, irritability, brain fog. Most adults should consume 8 to 18 mg of iron daily, depending on age, gender, and diet, according to the NIH. 

To boost your iron intake, eat foods like red meat, soybeans, beetroots, fish, oatmeal, peanut butter, spinach, beans, pomegranates, and eggs. However, to increase the body’s absorption of iron, make sure to eat vitamin C-rich foods as well.

10. Amino Acids

Amino acids — the building blocks of protein — help your brain properly function. A deficiency in amino acids may cause you to feel sluggish, foggy, unfocused, and depressed. Good sources of amino acids include beef, eggs, fish, beans, seeds, and nuts.

11. Iodine

Iodine deficiency can be a big problem because iodine is critical for the thyroid to work as it should, and the thyroid affects more than you think: your energy, metabolism, body temperature, growth, immune function, and brain performance (concentration, memory, and more). When it’s not functioning properly, you can feel very depressed, among other things. You can get iodine by using an iodine-enriched salt, or by eating dried seaweed, shrimp, or cod. I take a kelp supplement every morning because I have hypothyroidism. The daily recommend amount of iodine for most adults is about 150 mcg.

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