10 Nutritional Deficiencies That Link to Depression

If you're feeling down or depressed, it could be what you're eating - or not eating. Vitamin deficiencies affect mood by altering the synthesis of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters that allow communication between nerve cells. If you're sad, lack energy, or are dealing with sleep problems, you could need more of one of these groups of vitamins.

1.     Omega-3 Fatty Acids

These essential minerals reduce inflammation and play a critical role in brain function, especially memory and mood. The body can’t make them, so you need to either eat them or take supplements.

  • Eat more: Oily fish such as trout, salmon, mackerel and sardines. Flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts are also good sources.

2.     Vitamin B Complex

The B vitamins are closely involved in energy metabolism, and deficiencies of B vitamins especially thiamin, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 can impact your mental health and relate to symptoms of depression. It's not necessarily an issue of bad diet either. You can eat a healthy diet and still be deficient in B vitamins if you don't absorb them properly.

Older people and vegetarians are more likely to have low levels of vitamin B12, each for different reasons. Vitamin B12 is most common in meat and dairy products, which vegetarians don't eat - and older people don't absorb B12 as well because they have lower levels of hydrochloric acid in their stomach.

Thiamin and vitamin B6 deficiency aren't very common, but older people and anyone with an eating disorder who eats a poor diet is at risk. The best sources of vitamin B6 are poultry, seafood, bananas, and leafy green vegetables. Alcoholics are also at a greater risk of a deficiency in B vitamins, because they eat a nutritionally poor diet - and because they can't absorb them as well.

  • Eat more: Legumes, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegies, eggs, chicken, red meat.

  • Eat less: Refined grains and processed foods.

3.     Vitamin D 

Vitamin D deficiency is surprisingly common, especially among the older population. Most of our levels drop off during the fall and winter months, since sunlight is the richest source. There are very few food sources of vitamin D (salmon, sardines, tuna, eggs, shiitake mushrooms). In fact, it is impossible for adults to get sufficient vitamin D from diet alone, no matter how good their nutrition. The best way to ensure that you are getting sufficient vitamin D is by taking a supplement. The type of vitamin D you should purchase is vitamin D3 (also called cholecalciferol). 

According to a study published on, the risk of depression is 2 to 3 times greater in people with low vitamin D levels, especially among older people. No one knows exactly how vitamin D raises the risk of depression, but some researchers speculate it's related to higher levels of parathyroid hormone in vitamin D deficient people. Higher parathyroid levels have been linked with depression.

4.     Iron

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. Good sources of iron include red meat, fish, and poultry. If you really want to get more red blood cells, eat liver. 

5.     Magnesium

Chances are good that you are magnesium-deficient. Years ago, most people got plenty of magnesium from eating plant foods, but in recent years, the soil has become depleted of magnesium. This depletion, as well as the tendency to reach for processed foods over fresh natural foods has caused many people to become deficient. Our lifestyles decrease our levels: excess alcohol, salt, coffee, sugar, phosphoric acid (in soda), chronic stress, antibiotics, and diuretics (water pills). Magnesium is sometimes referred to as the stress antidote and is found in seaweed, greens, and beans. 

6.     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.

7.     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. Good sources of zinc include beef, lamb, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, lentils, garbanzo beans, cashews, turkey, quinoa, and shrimp.

8.     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.

9.     Selenium

Like iodine, selenium is important for good thyroid function. It assists the conversion of inactive thyroid hormone T4 to the active thyroid hormone, T3. It also helps one of our important antioxidants (glutathione peroxidase) keep polyunsaturated acids in our cell membranes from getting oxidized (rancid). The best food source of selenium is Brazil nuts, which contains about 544 mcg of selenium per ounce.

10.     Folate

Folate is one of the B vitamins (also known as B9), which is well known to be crucial to emotional and mental well-being. It is linked to the production of some of the "feel good" chemicals in the brain and play a role in the production of neurotransmitters such as: serotonin, dompamine and norepinephrine. Folate deficiencies are especially frequent in patients who don’t respond to conventional antidepressants. Some studies also indicate that folic acid may be a very helpful add-on to other prescription antidepressants. Folate is found in foods such as spinach, broccoli, lettuce, asparagus, bananas, melons, lemons, beans, peas, nuts, and other foods. Such foods can help keep you healthy for many reasons, and a healthy mind goes with a healthy body.

Symptoms of Depression and Vitamin Deficiency: The Bottom Line?

If you're depressed, it's a good idea to have your naturopathic doctor check levels of B vitamins and vitamin D in your blood, especially if you're over the age of fifty, drink lots of alcohol or eat a vegetarian or non-nutritionally balanced diet.

Depression can be a sign of a medical condition. It's also important to check for iron-deficiency anemia, thyroid problems and diabetes if you're depressed. Consult your medical professional and obtain a physical to rule out medical causes of depression that require specific intervention. If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide related to your depression, get help immediately.

Providing the body with the nutrition it needs is a positive step individuals can take toward combating their condition. With adequate nutrition, we are all better prepared to face the challenges of the day.

Are you curious to know if you are getting all the nutrients your body requires? Do you know what your nutritional needs are and what you should be eating for your biochemical individuality? Take the Kickstarter On-Line Nutritional Assessment here and learn more.


References: "Association of Vitamin D Levels With Incident Depression" "Nutrition and Depression: The Role of Folate"
Mayo Clinic. "Vitamin B12 and Depression: Are They Related?"

Are You Suffering from Magnesium Deficiency?

Magnesium is a mineral that your body uses in hundreds of different ways. Years ago, most people got plenty of magnesium from eating plant foods, but in recent years, the soil has become depleted of magnesium. This depletion, as well as the tendency to reach for processed foods over fresh natural foods has caused many people to become deficient in magnesium. 

According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, “Every single cell in the human body demands adequate magnesium to function, or it will perish. Strong bones and teeth, balanced hormones, a healthy nervous and cardiovascular system, well functioning detoxification pathways and much more depend upon cellular magnesium sufficiency.”* 

It should also be noted, your Vitamin D doesn’t work without the proper levels of magnesium. Without magnesium supplementation, we may experience symptoms ranging from muscle cramping, to osteoporosis, to depression, to hypertension. 

Do you get enough magnesium?

Fortunately, it is possible to get sense of where your intake of magnesium may lie simply by asking yourself a few questions about your lifestyle, and watching for certain signs and signals of low magnesium levels.

Do you experience migraines or headaches?

Magnesium is involved in the production of various neurotransmitters, or messenger chemicals, in the brain. Without enough  magnesium, you may experience headaches and even migraines. Pain relievers may take care of the symptoms on the short-term, but they don't keep the headaches from coming back.

Do you have tooth decay?

Magnesium is essential for tooth enamel. Without enough in your diet, your teeth become weak and prone to decay. If frequent tooth brushing and flossing, and regular professional teeth cleanings don't seem to be helping with cavities or tooth decay, a magnesium deficiency may be the issue.

Do you drink carbonated or caffeinated beverages on a regular basis?

Magnesium levels are controlled in the body in large part by the kidneys, which filter and excrete excess magnesium and other minerals. But caffeine causes the kidneys to release extra magnesium regardless of body status.

If you drink caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea and pop regularly, your risk for magnesium deficiency is increased.

In addition, most sodas contain phosphates. These substances actually bind with magnesium inside the digestive tract, rendering it unavailable to the body. So even if you are eating a balanced diet, by drinking pop with your meals you are flushing magnesium out of your system.

Do you regularly eat sweet foods?

Refined sugar from pastries, cakes, desserts, candies and other sweet foods can cause the body to excrete magnesium through the kidneys. The more sweet foods and processed baked goods you have in your diet, the more likely you are deficient in magnesium and other vital nutrients.

Do you experience a lot of stress in your life?

Magnesium is a nutrient that gets easily depleted from your body when you are under stress or if you have anxiety. Because stressful conditions require more magnesium use by the body, all such conditions may lead to deficiency, including both psychological and physical forms of stress. A lack of magnesium tends to magnify the stress reaction, worsening the problem. 

Do you experience heart palpitations?

Palpitations, which are irregular heartbeats you can feel in your chest or neck, are often blamed on stress and anxiety. However, they are sometimes due to a deficiency of magnesium since this mineral is involved in muscle contractions -- and your heart is a muscle.

Do you have muscle cramps?

A number of mineral deficiencies, including deficiencies in potassium and sodium, can lead to muscle cramps. Without magnesium, our muscles would be in a constant state of contraction. Magnesium is a required element of muscle relaxation. 

What can you do to address your deficiency?

If you think you may be deficient in magnesium, adding a magnesium supplement to your routine is a good idea. There are several different forms of magnesium. Magnesium citrate is a good choice for most people because it is easily absorbed. Here are a couple of my favorite magnesium supplements.

Natural Calm, made by Natural Vitality comes in powder form and should be dissolved into hot water. It is very easy to take. You can simply drink it like a tea. My personal experience is that it does indeed have a calming effect. I take it in the evening before I go to sleep. I have also experienced less muscle soreness after workouts since I began taking Natural Calm regularly. 

The Genestra brand Mag Cal Vanilla Liquid is tasty and makes taking a supplement very easy. It is a delicious, natural vanilla flavoured bone support formula that contains calcium, magnesium and vitamin D in a highly absorbable citrate form. My daughter loves this one and we all take it as a family before bedtime. The Genestra Mag Cal Vanilla Liquid supplement is available at my Fullscript online dispensary in my shop.

You can also boost your magnesium intake by adding magnesium-rich foods to your diet including green leafy vegetables. Other foods that are also high in magnesium include: spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, yogurt or kefir, almonds, black beans, avocado, figs, dark chocolate, banana, salmon, coriander, cashews, goat cheese and artichokes.

Another great way to boost magnesium levels is by simply soaking your feet or entire body in a bath containing epsom salt or magnesium flakes.

The skin is the body's largest organ, and as such, it has an amazing ability to absorb, filter toxins and deliver nutrients to the body. Therefore, internal levels of magnesium can be increased naturally by being absorbed through your skin. Just add 1-2 cups of Epsom salt or magnesium flakes to your bath and add 10-15 drops of essential oil of your choice like lavender and/or mint and enjoy!

If you don't have time to do baths, you could easily make a magnesium spray. All you need is magnesium flakes, or Epsom salt, water and a glass spray bottle. You can add your favorite essential oil blend into the spray too if you like. Keep the spray bottle on your bathroom counter and spray it on your skin anytime throughout the day. Just spray it on your arms, legs, chest and stomach. I find it easiest to spray it on right after I get out of the shower. You can apply it as often as you would like to get optimal absorption.

Magnesium deficiency is dramatically under-diagnosed because it doesn't show up on a blood test. Only 1 percent of the magnesium in your body is stored in your blood, and the majority of it is stored in your bones.

Since it's so easy to become deficient in magnesium, it's wise to monitor your intake, and be sure to eat more of these foods. Even if your are not showing signs of deficiency, eating enough magnesium-rich foods is important for overall health.

Another great tool is The Kickstarter On-Line Nutritional Assessment I offer in my consultation services. It is a very effective and useful assessment to pin-point your unique nutritional weaknesses and body system imbalances. You don't even need to leave the comfort of your own home to do it!  It's an online questionnaire. After completing the assessment, you get summarized valuable recommendations from me personalized just for you including food, lifestyle and supplementation. It's the perfect starting place to improve your health and well-being. Connect with me if you would like more information or click the "Buy Now" button to learn more about this service.