Nutrients that Enhance Mental Health and Wellness

Feeling down, depressed, or anxious? Before deciding to treat the problem with antidepressants or other powerful mood lifters, you may want to give the friendly produce in your refrigerator bin a chance. New studies show that fresh fruits and vegetables contain powerful mood elevators that promote mental and emotional health without the side effects of medication.

The side effects of antidepressants include weight gain or loss, intense restlessness, insomnia, fatigue, sexual dysfunction, panic attacks, and anxiety. Other studies show an increased risk of bleeding disorders, such as gastrointestinal bleeding, bruising, and nosebleeds.

Antidepressants also carry a high potential for drug interactions and have been linked with worsening depression and suicide, especially in teenagers.

A new study from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists finds that the dangers of antidepressant use in pregnant women outweigh the advantages. Women using antidepressants during pregnancy had a higher risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, and preterm delivery. There was also an increased risk of congenital heart defects in the baby.

Those Wonderful Vitamin Bs

Fortunately, you can avoid those dangerous and unpleasant side effects by substituting nature's own mood elevators — B-complex vitamins. Vitamin B deficiencies have been linked to depression and anxiety. Vitamin B also helps metabolize neurotoxins that may be linked to anxiety problems and can help with severe forms of depression.

Here's a rundown of the many types of vitamin B that can help combat anxiety:

  • Thiamine, or B1, reduces feelings of irritability and mental confusion. A deficiency of B-1 can lead to fatigue, irritability, depression, anxiety, and loss of appetite, insomnia, and memory impairment. Thiamin also helps to temporarily correct some complications of metabolic disorders associated with genetic diseases.

  • B12 is important in the formation of red blood cells. Deficiencies of B12 vitamin can cause mood swings, paranoia, irritability, confusion, and hallucinations. The vitamin is most active against depression. Because the human body stores several years' worth of vitamin B12, nutritional deficiency is extremely rare, although inability to absorb vitamin B12 from the intestinal tract can be caused by pernicious anemia. In addition, strict vegetarians or vegans who are not taking in proper amounts of B12 may be prone to deficiency.

  • Alcohol, nicotine, sugar, and caffeine destroy B vitamins, so it's essential to consume an adequate amount of B-complex vitamins every day. Juicing is an easy and delicious way to consume a variety of B vitamins in one glass.

  • Inositol is a compound found in vitamin B that has been proven to alleviate panic attacks.

  • Pantothenic acid helps reduce stress by building the body's resistance to it.

  • Niacin (vitamin B3) has been shown to help reduce anxiety, depression, and insomnia, and has a chemical composition similar to Valium, a benzodiazepine tranquilizer.

  • Vitamin B5 helps the body manufacture anti-stress hormones.

  • Pyridoxine, or vitamin B6, is another vitamin that helps diminish anxiety, especially in women.

  • Folic acid is a B vitamin that is instrumental in keeping your blood healthy. A deficiency in folic acid causes a decrease in healthy red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout your body. The result is lethargy and headaches, which may cause irritability and anxiety.

The daily recommended dosage for vitamin C is 60 milligrams, but you may need to take a much higher dose to reduce stress. In a study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, vitamin C was found to be most effective in regulating adrenal stress hormones at 1,500 milligrams per day in athletes.

The Wonders of Vitamin C

Vitamin C is useful for regulating cortisol secretion in the body. Cortisol is necessary for the fight or flight response to stressful situations, but too much of it can be unhealthy. Cortisol is released by the adrenal glands and sends stress signals throughout the body and mind.

Vitamin E to the Rescue

Psychological stress can result in oxidative stress; that's when free radicals accumulate in the body and result in cell damage. Vitamin E can help combat oxidative stress by working with vitamins B and C to repair and protect the nervous system. Vitamin E also supports a healthy immune system, which helps prevent mood swings.

A deficiency of vitamin E in the body can make stress quickly turn into more serious problems like depression. Oxidative stress can also lead to neuron damage and cancer, but vitamin E protects the body against this type of damage as well.

The Wonders of Vitamin D

Research published in Medical Hypotheses found that a deficiency of vitamin D increased anxiety and altered emotional behavior in mice. Another study found that a deficiency of vitamin D was also associated with depression and poor moods.

Happy Minerals

Minerals help relieve anxiety and mineral deficiencies that are sometimes indirect causes of anxiety.

  • Magnesium: Too little causes confusion, agitation, anxiety, and hallucinations.

  • Iron: Transports life-sustaining nutrients throughout the body along with oxygen while removing carbon dioxide. Iron ensures a healthy immune system and creates energy. A deficiency in iron can cause a variety of health problems including fatigue, irritability, and headaches.

  • Taurine: A little-known amino acid that plays an essential role in metabolism and mental functioning. Studies also link taurine to the regulation of insulin in the body. In addition, taurine stimulates the body's immune system. Taurine has also been suggested as a potential treatment for epilepsy, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, alcoholism, cystic fibrosis, and Alzheimer's. Many vegetarians are deficient in this amino acid and should take a supplement to ensure mental health.

  • Potassium: Necessary for proper functioning of cells, nerves, and muscle cells. Deficiencies in potassium can cause weakness, fatigue, depression, and anxiety.

  • Chromium: Helps stabilize blood sugar levels, which in turn helps prevent mood swings and depression.

  • Manganese: Too little results in low levels of neurotransmitters serotonin and epinephrine, which can result in depression and anxiety.

  • Zinc: A zinc deficiency may cause depression, anxiety, and lethargy.

  • Calcium: Deficiencies in calcium affect the nerve fibers, leading to nervousness and irritability.

  • Selenium: Deficiencies can result in anxiety, confusion, and depression.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Found in flaxseed and fish, they help alleviate stress and depression.

Comfort Carbs

Carbohydrates have the ability to increase tryptophan in the brain. Tryptophan is an amino acid needed to produce serotonin, the “happy” neurotransmitter that can help stave off the effects of stress. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are all high in carbohydrates.

Herbs that Help

Several herbs also help combat the blues, including lemon balm, ginger, ginkgo biloba, licorice root, oat straw, peppermint, Siberian ginseng, kava kava, and St. John's Wort.

The Nutritional Dangers of Chronic Stress

Stress is the number one cause of a host of ailments that plague society today. Along with exercise, adequate sleep, and a healthy social circle, a diet rich in vitamins and minerals is the best way to fight everyday stress.

Stress releases a number of hormones that rob the body of certain nutrients, including potassium, zinc, and B-complex vitamins. If stress continues for a prolonged period of time, it can put you at risk for heart disease, sleep disorders, obesity, diabetes, memory impairment, and anxiety and depression.

Many people reach for salty, sugary, or greasy snacks and caffeine or alcohol when they are stressed. These are called food stressors because they actually intensify stress inside the body, while foods dubbed as food supporters, including water, vegetables, fruit, and omega-3 rich oils from flaxseed and fish, can help the body fight stress.

By consuming foods that are less than nutritious during stressful times, you deplete your stores of B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin A, and magnesium, thereby increasing your stress level and upsetting your nervous system, tensing your muscles, and raising your blood pressure.

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