In Australia, it is believed that per year, more than two million people will struggle with anxiety and more than one million will suffer depression. If those numbers reflect individuals diagnosed per year, then the total number of people suffering with these mental health conditions is staggering. On average four and a half million people fill prescriptions for mental health medications each year in Australia, and we come second to only Iceland, as having the highest rate of antidepressant use in the world. Those numbers are huge when we consider how mental health affects how we show up in the world, our quality of life, and how the effects of mental health reverberate out to our family and friends.
We are fortunate to live in a time where mental health management is more openly talked about, however what I am noticing more and more in clinic is the readiness of antidepressant and antianxiety medication use and the lack of awareness around how best to support our holistic health. Whilst mental health medications definitely have their place, they are not a silver bullet to perfect health and do need to be monitored routinely. In today’s post I am going to talk about common nutrient deficiencies associated with antidepressants and antianxiety medications and also recommend some adjunct therapies that can help optimise your wellbeing whilst taking these types of medications. As always, if you have any concerns relating to your current medications please consult with your healthcare provider.
The importance of nutrients and mental health
Most mental health medications work by supporting neurotransmitter synthesis and regulation. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that send signals between neurons (nerve cells) throughout the body causing neural communication allowing the body to function. Neurons and neurotransmitters are responsible for everything, from involuntary movements to learning to mood.
Neurotransmitters require certain nutrients to do their job effectively and when there are nutrient deficits, this can affect how the body functions. Using Seratonin, here’s an example of how important certain nutrients are:
- Serotonin is a hormone and neurotransmitter that regulates sleep, mood, appetite, anxiety and sexual desire.
- It’s a pretty important neurotransmitter and is often targeted in common antidepressant medications known as Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors also known as SSRI’s.
- Serotonin is synthesised from the amino acid tryptophan and requires: Iron, Magnesium, B6, B3, folate, Zinc and Vitamin C to be manufactured optimally. If this occurs, Serotonin then requires Magnesium, Zinc and SAMe to synthesise Melatonin, our sleeping hormone.
- Other nutrients such as Omega 3 (EPA and DHA) and Vitamin D also support the Serotonin pathway.
So you can see why deficiencies in any one of these nutrients may cause complications in that intricate pathway and may lead to symptoms of depression, anxiety, constipation, insomnia, cravings, low self-esteem, low libido, the list goes on!
The most common nutrient deficiencies associated with poor mental health include:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
Research has shown that there are some key nutrients that can be taken alongside mental health medication to support and optimise their functions.
Zinc – supplemented with antidepressant medication can further reduce depressive symptoms by supporting the regulation of Serotonin and Cortisol pathways and regulating neuroplasticity (which is a fancy way of saying helping the brain to create new neural pathways).
Magnesium – an important mineral required for many biochemical processes, when taken adjunct antidepressant therapies can modulate neurotransmitter activity, supports the growth and maturation of nerve cells and improves circadian rhythm by assisting Melatonin production.
Vitamin C – a potent antioxidant, helpful in reducing inflammation and oxidative stress. Vitamin C is found in highest concentrations in the brain. Vitamin C supports the mechanism of action of most mental health medications (antidepressants, antianxiety and antipsychotic medication) when taken alongside them and also modulates Dopamine and Cortisol activity.
What else can you do?
Often when medication has been prescribed people feel as if they have lost control of their situation and this is far from the truth. Whether you are taking mental health medication or you’re looking for ways to support your mental wellbeing, there really is so much in your power. Diet and lifestyle and your personal choices have a profound impact on your biochemical processes and how you view the world.
Basic food principles to support your mental health
- Following a whole food, low processed diet that is rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients, dietary fibre, protein and healthy fats has shown a reduced risk in depression and anxiety. Diversity in wholefoods is key to optimising nutrient consumption and should include a variety of coloured fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices
- Quality protein contains essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of neurotransmitters (remember earlier when I mentioned Tryptophan being the starting point for Serotonin synthesis?). Not only does good quality protein (fish, eggs, organic soy, seeds, nuts, legumes) support neurotransmitter synthesis, but it also regulates blood sugar reducing systemic inflammation.
- Probiotic rich food such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, sourdough, homemade kombucha and yoghurt all contain diverse probiotics that help to support the microbiome and gut function, which is imperative to a healthy mood.
- Essential fatty acids from green leafys, flaxseed & pumpkin seed oil, oily fish, seeds, olive oil, organic butter all contain fat soluble nutrients that are essential to brain function.
Move your body daily
Ever heard of a “runner’s high”? This is the intense pleasurable feeling people get when they run and it comes from the neurotransmitters known as endorphins. Endorphins can inhibit the pain signal but can also give of feelings of euphoria. Sounds pretty good right? Now I’m not suggesting we all go out and become runners but I am recommending that you move your body, every day, no excuse. I know for some, time is a factor and for many others, motivation is also part of the problem, but if you can commit to at least 30minutes every single day you will notice a significant improvement in your mental health. And it needn’t cost you a thing, a walk around your neighbourhood after dinner or a 30 minute YouTube yoga class is all you need to get those endorphins circulating.
Spend time in nature and in the sunshine
Did you know that living on a busy main road that is noisy from traffic and shows no evidence of the natural world (ie: trees or anything living) has been adversely correlated with poor mental health outcomes? It’s no surprise then that if we live and work in the built environment this is going to eventually negatively impact our mood and mental wellbeing. Making time each week (ideally daily) to spend time in nature surrounding your senses can reduce anxiety, depression and regulate stress response and improve self esteem. Additionally, sunlight exposure first thing in the morning and later in the day will help regulate circadian rhythm supporting the natural sleep cycle further benefiting mental health and long term health outcomes and healthy sun exposure during the day to optimise Vitamin D synthesis has also been correlated with positive mental health outcomes.
Whilst we’re all unique and our life experiences differ so greatly, we really do have the power to affect our own health in such a beneficial way. Mental health medications are there to break the cycle of negative thought patterns and to pull a person out of despair, but keep in mind that medications are not the only tool you have. These treatments alongside intentional holistic health practices like food, lifestyle and social connection are imperative to long lasting positive health and that nutritional supplementation can improve medication outcomes. Working with a practitioner who understands the synergistic role natural medicine can have with mental health medications is recommended to optimise your mental wellbeing.
When it comes to mental health we thoroughly recommend you seek guidance from a qualified health practitioner if you are seeking sustainable realistic solutions. Call the Herb Bar on 02 4961 4075 for a free mini phone consult to discuss how we can help you.
Yours in health,