What are the best supplements for depression and what are some foods that help with depression? Or, rather, what is the best diet and/or supplements to prevent or lessen the impact of depression? There is a wealth of scientific information linking poor nutritional intake to depression. There are two ways to look at this: 1. Poor nutrition leads to depression. 2. Being depressed causes people to make poor nutritional choices.
However, despite this, it seems that an improvement in nutritional intake would be likely to improve depression, and, at the very least, consuming foods and supplements that are higher in nutritional value is healthy in many ways beyond any potential improvement to the depressed state. Therefore, in this article, I will talk about which nutrients have been linked to depression and the current leading theories behind why. I will also discuss foods that help with depression.
The Mediterranean Diet: The Best Foods for Depression?
Several studies, such as Khosravi et al., 2015, have found that the people they studied who adopted a Mediterranean diet tended to not be depressed. On the other hand, people whose diet was high in such things as refined grains, high fat dairy, solid fats, snacks, soft drinks, red meats, poultry, processed meats, and sweets tended to be depressed. The latter are not foods that help with depression. Rather, they tend to cause depression.
Foods that help with depression:
The “Mediterranean Diet” is one that is rich in fruits and vegetables, olive oil, legumes, unrefined cereals, fish, dairy products (mostly as cheese and yogurt), moderate wine consumption. These appear to be the best foods for depression and prevention of depression. In other words these are foods that help with depression. The Mediterranean diet includes very low consumption of non-fish meat products.
The Best Supplements for Depression
So, what are the specific vitamins, minerals and nutrients that make up the best diet for depression or the best supplements for depression? Here is a quick summary and then I will go into more detail. However, before I do, please remember that it is important to consult your physician prior to taking any supplements. Sometimes dietary supplements may interact with the medications you are taking in ways you do not expect and so it is very important to check with your doctor to make sure these are safe for you to take.
- vitamin B12
- omega 3 fatty acids
- vitamin D
- vitamin E
- vitamin B6
- tryptophan, tyrosine, methionine, and phenylalanine (amino acids)
You can take any of these as supplements or you can find foods that are rich in these and consume the foods.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency in Depression
Vitamin B12 helps your body to make red blood cells, so it is very important. Deficiency in vitamin B12 is known as pernicious anemia. Some people who are depressed have a vitamin B12 deficiency. This can be checked with a blood test. If you have a vitamin B12 deficiency, this might be causing your depression. That is actually good news because it is easy to fix. Some people simply cannot absorb vitamin B12 from food properly. Therefore, they either need to go and get a vitamin B12 injection once a month or to take a “megadose” of vitamin B12 every day so that they get enough. You won’t know if you are deficient without the blood test. This is worth getting checked. If you are vitamin B12 deficient then a vitamin B12 supplement is certainly one of the best supplements for depression!
Folate or Folic Acid for Depression
- diets that are not rich enough in fruits and vegetables
- diseases in which folic acid is not properly absorbed (such as Crohn’s disease or Celiac disease)
- genetic disorders that affect levels of folate
- certain medications (such as phenytoin, sulfasalazine, or trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole).
Folate deficiency is made worse by alcohol consumption and may lead to glossitis, diarrhea, depression (as mentioned), anemia, and confusion. During pregnancy, a folate deficiency can cause neural tube defects and brain defects. Symptoms of folate deficiency include fatigue, poor growth, gray hair, mouth sores, and swollen tongue.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Depression
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential because they cannot be made by the human body and they are necessary for several body processes. When a person is low in omega-3’s, depression occurs.
Interestingly, according to an article on Mercola, it is best to get your omega-3 fatty acids from krill supplements. They explain the reasons for this in detail, but the basic gist is this: First, it is better to get omega-3’s from animal sources than plant sources because our Western bodies tend to have elevated insulin levels, which obliterate most of the omega-3’s from plant sources.
Secondly, it is better to get omega-3’s from supplements because of the mercury pollution of our fish supply. In terms of supplements, fish oil supplements tend to have an unhealthy ratio of vitamin D to vitamin A. Also, krill supplements (affiliate link) contain more antioxidants. This is why the article strongly recommends getting omega-3 fatty acids from krill oil supplements (affiliate link). Omega-3 fatty acids from krill are one of the best supplements for depression.
Vitamin D for Depression
Vitamin D is produced in the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight (UVB rays) or you can get it from supplements. There have been studies that show a link between depression and low vitamin D levels, but they are not definitive. However, if you get inadequate sunlight, it might not be a bad idea to check with your physician and see if vitamin D supplementation is a good idea for you. This article by Dr. Robert Howland explains in more detail what is currently known about the link between vitamin D and depression.
Vitamin E for Depression
A recent (January 2016) Spanish study of depressed children showed that vitamin E levels were lower in children who were depressed. We can expand on this and hypothesize that it is probably also lower in most adults who are depressed. Vitamin E provides protection because it is an antioxidant. Without it, a process called “lipid peroxidation” occurs, which causes an increase in depression.
Vitamin B6 for Depression
Vitamin B6 helps us make several neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine. It would therefore seem to be an important link in the chain of chemical events that have to happen so that we remain balanced and not depressed! Researchers indicate that more research is needed to determine Vitamin B6‘s exact role in preventing depression.
Magnesium for Depression
Brain magnesium levels have been found to be low in treatment-resistant depression. It has therefore been theorized that increased magnesium levels in the diet will lead to a reduction in depression. You can read all the fun scientific details here. Magnesium may be one of the best supplements for depression.
Zinc for Depression
It has been found that zinc concentration is much lower in depressed people than it is in non-depressed people. It therefore seems logical that increasing the amount of zinc in our diet or supplementing with zinc may cause a decrease in depressive symptoms. However, although this is one seemingly logical explanation for the current results, it has not yet been conclusively proven.
Iron for Depression
Iron is important for producing energy in your brain. It is also instrumental in the production of neurotransmitters (the chemicals that send messages in your brain such as serotonin and dopamine) and myelin. Some signs of iron deficiency anemia are depression, apathy, and getting tired quickly when exercising.
(Off topic: Iron deficiency is found in children wIith ADHD.)
Calcium for Depression
A recent study showed that SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), arguably the most common treatment for depression, can inhibit the absorption of calcium into the bones and increase the risk of falls and fractures.
Amino Acids for Depression
Depression is often characterized by deficiencies in neurotransmitters, which are the chemicals that send messages between the neurons (nerves) in your brain. These neurotransmitters include serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline and γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This interesting article from the Indian Journal of Psychiatry points out that several studies have shown that therapy with the amino acids tryptophan, tyrosine, phenylalanine, and methionine is often helpful in treating many mood disorders including depression.
This is because these amino acids are the precursors (i.e. building blocks) to the neurotransmitters that the depressed brain needs. For example, tryptophan, when consumed alone, will usually convert into serotonin. Similarly, tyrosine and sometimes its precursor phenylalanine can be naturally converted into dopamine and norepinephrine by your body. Methionine combines with adenosine triphosphate (ATP) (which is the basic “energy” molecule at a cellular level in all your cells) to produce S-adenosylmethionine (SAM). This, in turn helps produce neurotransmitters in the brain. Therefore, certain amino acids truly are among the best supplements for depression.
This may seem like an overwhelming amount of information about the best supplements for depression as well as foods that help with depression. You might wonder where to begin. Additionally, there may be other vitamins, minerals or amino acids at work in the depression equation — these are just the main ones I have heard of at this time.
Get a journal… talk to your doctor…
I would recommend that if you decide to go ahead with experimenting with supplements, you first get a journal (or start one on your computer). Speak to your doctor and maybe even see a dietition or nutritionist to ensure that what you are planning is safe for you personally given your own medical history and any medications you are already taking.
First, record your mood each day without supplements for at least a week to get a baseline. Then try adding one or two supplements at a time and record your mood. It will be up to you and your doctor which supplements to add and how many of them you want to add.
Make sure you do what is right for YOU!
Adopting a Mediterranean diet is another thing you can discuss with your doctor. This is something that works for many people and it has the side benefit of being healthy for a large segment of the population. However, please remember that all people are different. For example, I once met a lady who had to eat white bread — refined carbohydrates. She literally could not digest anything else or she would get very, very sick. And this is why I really have to stress that it is essential to consult your physician and to do what is right for you personally because some advice you read on the internet might be good for 90% of the population, but it might still not apply to you! The best supplements for depression for one person might not be the best supplements for depression for the next person. Your body is unique.
It may take a multi-pronged approach to cure your depression!
Also, although supplementation might work for some people, please do not assume it will clear up depression for all people. Some people are severely depressed and need medication, therapy, and/or other treatments. Good nutrition, exercise, and/or supplementation might only be part of the picture. Often treatment of depression is quite complex and requires a multi-prong approach. By this, I mean that a person might need to eat better food, exercise, take medication, take supplements, learn to meditate, AND go to therapy. In other words it may take ALL of those activities, not just one of them. However, again, consult a professional to find out what is right for you personally.
Be gentle with your depressed friends and loved ones even when they frustrate you!
Finally, if you are reading this on behalf of a friend or loved one, please be gentle with them. It is very hard to make any changes while you are actively depressed. Sometimes, it is hard to even get up in the morning when you are depressed. That can be frustrating to watch, but it is just the nature of the illness. You would not expect someone to walk on a broken leg and you cannot expect a depressed person to be enthusiastic, full of energy, and to embrace change, even if they need it. Try to be understanding of the need to take things one very small step at a time.
(Disclaimer: The supplement links in this article are all my affiliate links. I have selected what I believe to be the best products available, and I receive a small commission from Amazon.com if you decide to make a purchase. There is no additional cost to you for this.)
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