You take supplements for your physical health, but did you know supplementing your diet can be just as important for mental health?
What Exactly Are Depression & Anxiety?
Two of the most common mental health conditions are depression and anxiety. But, when it comes to these conditions, there’s no one size fits all, and they can come in many shapes and forms.
Anxiety can span from heightened stress levels or worried thoughts that have a detrimental effect on your physical and mental wellbeing, but may also take the form of extremely debilitating symptoms, including post-traumatic stress disorder and panic attacks. It may come in the form of brief attacks or longer episodes triggered by particular thoughts or circumstances. It can also come without any obvious triggers at all.
Depression is not just a case of feeling sad or down, or getting upset over something that’s happened. Feeling low can be natural, but when it becomes persistent over a period of weeks and months, this is a sign that you may be depressed.
Depression is an illness, and there are treatments available to minimise symptoms. It’s important that you speak to someone if you think that you may be depressed and seek help from a doctor or a trained professional.
The simple fact is that people don’t speak about their worries for their mental wellbeing as easily as they find it to discuss a physical problem, but bottling it up and keeping it to yourself can often add to the issue. By sharing your concerns about your mental health, you can get the help that you need and also inspire others to speak out, and in doing so create a culture in which mental health is spoken about as openly as a knock to the leg or arm.
Signs of depression may include:
- Persistent sad, anxious or ’empty’ mood
- Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities, including sex
- Decreased energy, fatigue, feeling ‘slowed down’
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
- Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
- Low appetite and weight loss or overeating and weight gain
- Thoughts of death or suicide, suicide attempts
- Restlessness, irritability
- Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders and pain for which no other cause can be diagnosed
Symptoms of anxiety can include:
- Nervousness, restlessness, or being tense
- Feelings of danger, panic, or dread
- Rapid heart rate
- Rapid breathing, or hyperventilation
- Increased or heavy sweating
- Trembling or muscle twitching
- Weakness and lethargy
- Difficulty focusing or thinking clearly about anything other than the thing you’re worried about
- Digestive or gastrointestinal problems, such as gas, constipation, or diarrhea
- A strong desire to avoid the things that trigger your anxiety
- Obsessions about certain ideas, a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Performing certain behaviors over and over again
- Anxiety surrounding a particular life event or experience that has occurred in the past, especially indicative of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Supplements & Vitamins for Depression
Research shows that certain nutritional supplements can have anti-depressant and -anxiety effects – plus, low circulating levels of particular nutrients are commonly found in depressed individuals. Having a well-balanced diet with all the right nutrients is key to making sure your mind stays as healthy as possible, but when you’re running low, scientific research has shown that these are the best anti-depressant supplements to include in your diet.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil plays an important role in the chemistry of your brain. Research has suggested that people who have a diet high in omega-6 and low in omega-3 often have high levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are molecules that your body produces when stressed and depressed. A higher intake of omega-3 has therefore been known to improve symptoms of depression.
Vitamin D has been found to have a positive impact on mood. Vitamin D3 in particular is likely to help in the human brain’s fight against depression and related mental health concerns by helping your brain to produce serotonin – which is a neurotransmitter that regulates mood. In winter months, the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, has been associated with a rise and fall in vitamin D levels’ effect on serotonin.
5-hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP, is a derivative of the amino acid, tryptophan, and is converted to serotonin in your body, which promotes the feeling of wellbeing in the brain. People with depression are thought to have an imbalance of serotonin in their brain.
B-Complex vitamins come into play by helping your body to conserve the amino acid, tryptophan, and convert as much tryptophan as possible into serotonin. Folate and vitamin B12 are thought to be particularly important B vitamins, as scientific research has shown that they may be important in decreasing the risk of onset or relapse of clinical depression.
Supplements & Vitamins for Anxiety
Many of the serotonin-enhancing vitamins and supplements that can benefit people suffering depression can also have a positive effect on the symptoms of anxiety. Here are a couple more vitamins that you may not have heard about:
Theanine is another amino acid that research has shown can fight against depression. It plays a part in releasing gamma-aminobutyric acid, also called GABA, which activates the calming neurotransmitters in your brain, helping you to relax and reduce symptoms of anxiety.
Calcium Magnesium Zinc
Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxer, which can certainly help when suffering the symptoms of anxiety. It can also help to relax the nervous system and soothe irritableness and feelings of being restless.
The reason a glass of warm milk can help you to sleep is partly due to its lactium content, which is known to encourage calmness, helping you to settle when feeling anxious. A regular, healthy sleeping pattern is also important when battling anxiety, something that lactium supplementation could help with.
Melatonin can be produced naturally by your body, but not always in the dosage that you need. Supplementing melatonin can help to improve your sleep and relaxation along with your circadian rhythms.
Herbal Remedies for Depression & Anxiety
Many herbal remedies for depression have been used medicinally for centuries, and there has been research into their effectiveness, with varying results.
Passionflower may the capacity to increase the body’s levels of GABA, thus helping the nervous system to relax. It can be ingested via teas, extracts and tablets, although its effectiveness hasn’t been conclusively proven either way.
Due to its valeric acid content, valerian root’s chemical makings may have a positive effect on symptoms of anxiety. This is because valeric acid translates to GABAs, which can regulate your brain’s neuron activity. Again, this hasn’t been scientifically proven, although many people say that valerian root has helped them.
St John’s Wort
Taking St. John’s Wort has been shown to be associated with increasing serotonin levels in the brain, which is the chemical that produces a feeling of wellbeing, but the results are inconclusive. However, St. John’s Wort is known to conflict with certain prescription-antidepressants, so it’s highly recommended that you contact your doctor before taking it.
Take Home Message
When taking steps to make adjustments to relieve symptoms of depression, your dietary intake is a great place to start, as food is fuel for your body and mind. They say a healthy body leads to a healthy mind, and as such these are some of the vitamins and supplements you might consider adding to your daily intake.
Treatment for anxiety and depression may involve a combination of changes to your lifestyle, exercise, therapy and medication, and always speak to your GP or a trained professional if you think you have depression.