Depression and anxiety are among the most common mental health issues. Globally, the lifetime prevalence of depression is 20-25% in women and 7-12% in men. Anxiety disorders come in at 5.3% to 10.4% for both men and women. Depressive and anxiety disorders are prevalent and highly debilitating and depression alone is responsible for more years lost to disability than other illness. The first line of therapy are prescription drugs with limited activity inside the body and lack of efficacy but is this really the answer?
Nutrient deficiencies linked to anxiety and depression
Acetyl-l-carnitine (ALC) is a fatty acid transporter inside our mitochondria, remember the energy powerhouses of our cells? More info here. A deficiency in ALC seems to play a role in the risk of developing depression. Low ALC resulted in depressive behaviour in rats and was associated with depression in response to stress. Another study in humans found that the lower the ALC levels, the more severe the depression and the more resistance to medical treatment. Often low energy/fatigue and depression occur together which makes sense because ALC has an important role to play in energy production.
Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with increased risk of mental illness, studies have produced mixed results however vitamin D deficiency is common in this country, in particular in the winter months and low mood is a big factor. I know I’ve felt down in the past when all my test biomarkers have been optimal except my vitamin D has been a bit low. It’s easy to test your vitamin D with a finger prick test at home (unless you can convince your doctor to test), aim for 125 nmol/l, sub-lingual spray of vitamin D and K2 (ensures absorbed calcium goes to the bone not the soft tissue). Calculate your dosage here after testing. For more info on vitamin D read this.
Omega 3s contain the powerful fats eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Low blood cell EPA and DHA are considered a risk factor for psychiatric diseases including depression and anxiety and have shown to help balance the mood swings associated with oestrogen dominance. They provide the raw materials for hormone production. Not only that, Omega 3s help protect and support the gut lining which quite often, is damaged by gut issues such as IBS which often coincides with low mood, anxiety and depression. More on healthy fat sources here and IBS here.
Vitamin C supplementation has shown in studies to improve mood. Vitamin C has a regulatory role in neurotransmitter biosynthesis. It is involved in neuronal maturation and functioning, the synthesis of dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin the feel good neurotransmitter. Vitamin C is also a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Pro-inflammatory processes inside the body are known to induce depressive behaviour. The foods most packed with vitamin C are papaya, bell peppers, broccoli, brussel sprouts and strawberries but concentrated supplementation may be required.
B vitamins folate, B6 and B12 have been linked to cases of low mood and depression. In particular folate deficiency was found in most of the shooters in around 50 school shootings over the past decade. Alongside certain medications this increases the risk of homicidal and suicidal tendencies.
Sub-optimal magnesium levels increase the risk for depression as shown in anxiety in clinical studies. Randomised controlled studies strongly recommend the evaluation of magnesium status in such cases. Magnesium is required for over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body and it’s so commonly deficient. More info on magnesium here.
Choline has a number of functions for brain development and has a role to play in mood and how we feel. Unfortunately it is commonly deficient. Choline is especially important before and during pregnancy to ensure healthy development of the baby’s brain. More info on choline here.
Providing this information doesn’t mean go out and buy these supplements if you are feeling down but it does show the value in concentrated supplementation to support anxiety and depression. These are adjunctive options with medication or alone if you’d rather try a more ‘natural’ approach. Either way the best option is to visit a registered nutritional therapist who can order the relevant tests for you and fully investigate your case. Next week I talk about the 5 depression biotypes as identified by Dr William Walsh PHD.