10 Nutrient Deficiencies that Can Cause Depression

Feeling down at times is a normal part of life, but feeling miserable and hopeless on a consistent basis could mean that you are depressed.

Depression is a mood disorder that causes persistent feelings of sadness, anger and a general loss of interest in life that interferes with a person’s day-to-day activities.

Other signs and symptoms of depression include loss of appetite, significant weight loss or weight gain, changes in sleep pattern, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, and unexplained aches and pains.

Some of the causes and risk factors for depression include social isolation, stress, family history of depression, relationship problems, financial strain, childhood trauma or abuse, alcohol or drug abuse and certain health conditions.

Nutritional deficiencies are also likely contributing to the problem. Researchers have found that people suffering from depression and mood disorders are deficient in not just one but several nutrients.

Always remember that the food you eat feeds the brain as well as the body. As the brain accounts for most of your metabolic demands, it needs constant nourishment.

Here are the top 10 nutrient deficiencies that can cause depression.

1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids have numerous health benefits. They play a key role in the development and functioning of the central nervous system.

While omega-3 DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is critical for brain cell structure, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) helps with neuron function and even reduces inflammation.

In addition to this, omega-3 fatty acids can help lower bad cholesterol levels and contribute to overall heart health.

A 2007 study published in Medical Hypotheses reports that omega-3 fatty acid deficiency in major depressive disorder is due to the interaction between diet and a genetically determined abnormality in phospholipid metabolism.

In a 2014 study published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, researchers reported that proper intake of omega-3 PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids) and dietary interventions including omega-3 PUFA supplements can help prevent and treat depression.

To supply your body with an adequate amount of omega-3 fatty acids, consume more flaxseeds, fatty fish like salmon, walnuts and omega-3 fortified eggs. You can also take an omega-3 fatty acid supplement, after consulting your doctor.

2. Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to depression as well as dementia and autism. This vitamin helps in the production of serotonin, the brain hormone associated with mood elevation and happiness.

An adequate level of serotonin helps prevent and treat mild depression. In addition, vitamin D is important for the immune system and bone health.

A 2010 study published in the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing notes that vitamin D deficiency is common among the elderly, adolescents, obese individuals, and those with chronic illnesses. These people are also reported to be at higher risk for depression.

Also, in a 2014 study published in Medical Hypotheses, researchers found a link between seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and a lack of sunlight.

Researchers pointed out that vitamin D is involved in the synthesis of serotonin and dopamine within the brain, both chemicals that are linked to depression.

By spending time in the sun, you can help your body make vitamin D. Go for regular walks in the early morning for 15 to 20 minutes daily. You can also take a vitamin D supplement, after consulting your doctor.

3. Magnesium

Magnesium is another important nutrient, the deficiency of which can lead to depression. It helps activate enzymes needed for serotonin and dopamine production.

It also influences several systems associated with development of depression. In addition, it keeps your bones healthy, reduces anxiety and lowers blood pressure, to name a few.

A 2006 study published in Medical Hypotheses reports that magnesium deficiency is the cause of most major depression and related mental health problems, including IQ loss.

A 2013 study published in Pharmacological Reports also throws light on the beneficial effect of magnesium in the management of depression.

To prevent magnesium deficiency, eat foods rich in magnesium, such as seaweed, almonds, avocados, bananas, beans, pumpkin seeds, tofu, soy milk, whole grains, bran and green leafy vegetables.

Also, avoid excessive intake of alcohol, salt, coffee, sugar and soda, all of which can lower your magnesium level.

4. Zinc

Zinc is another essential micronutrient that your body needs to help reduce the risk of depression. This nutrient plays a key role in neuronal functions.

It boosts neurotransmitter production and functioning. It is even involved in over 250 separate biochemical pathways that support the functions of different organs.

A 2011 study published in Progress in Neuro-psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry explained the role of zinc in neurodegenerative inflammatory pathways in depression.

Also, a 2013 study published in Biological Psychiatry notes that depression is associated with a lower concentration of zinc in peripheral blood.

Eating zinc-rich foods can help correct this deficiency. Some good sources include red meat, eggs, shellfish, pulses, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole-grain cereals and dairy products. You can also opt for supplements, after consulting your doctor.

5. Selenium

Selenium is also essential to brain functioning and helps improve mood and depressive symptoms. Moreover, selenium plays an important role in proper thyroid functioning. A healthy thyroid is important for mental health.

A 2012 study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine notes that lower dietary selenium intakes are associated with an increased risk of major depressive disorder.

Selenium’s role as an antioxidant and as a constituent of selenoproteins helps in the prevention and management of depression.

Similarly, a 2015 study published in the Journal of Nutrition reports that optimal serum selenium concentrations are associated with lower depressive symptoms and negative mood among young adults.

You can get selenium from dietary sources like Brazil nuts, lean meats, seafood, beans, peas, eggs, turkey, chicken and shellfish.

6. Vitamin B12

B vitamins are important for overall physical as well as mental health. In particular, vitamin B12 helps in the formation of red blood cells and maintenance of a healthy nervous system.

In fact, its deficiency may be the key reason behind depression. In addition, B12 helps lower levels of homocysteine, a by product of protein metabolism. Elevated levels of homocysteine increase the risk for depression.

A 2009 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry illustrates the importance of considering the possibility of B12 deficiency, especially among the elderly suffering from depression.

Another 2013 study published in the Open Neurology Journal highlights the importance of vitamin B12 supplementation in the treatment of major depressive disorder.

Patients treated with vitamin B12 supplementation with antidepressants showed significant improvement in depressive symptoms.

To avoid deficiency of vitamin B12, eat foods like lean meats, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, nutritional yeasts, fortified cereals and soy milk. You can also consider taking a vitamin B supplement daily, after consulting your doctor.

7. Folate

Folate, a water-soluble B vitamin, is needed for the proper biosynthesis of the neurotransmitters serotonin, epinephrine and dopamine. Not getting enough folate in your diet can affect your mental health and even lead to depression.

In addition, a low folate level in the body can slow down the effect of many antidepressant medicines. Folate can even help prevent birth defects, blood disorders and cancer.

In a 2008 study published in Alternative Medicine Review, researchers showed the connection between folate deficiency and depression. The study also put emphasis on folate supplements for significantly better antidepressant response.

An earlier 2005 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology suggests that oral doses of both folic acid (the synthetic form of folate) and vitamin B12 should be tried to improve depression treatment outcomes.

Include folate-rich foods, such as dark and leafy greens, beans, citrus fruits and legumes, in your diet to prevent its deficiency.

8. Vitamin B6

A deficiency of vitamin B6 can also lead to depression and other cognitive disorders. This nutrient is required for creating neurotransmitters and brain chemicals that influence your mood.

It even helps keep the nervous system healthy. Furthermore, vitamin B6 helps the body absorb vitamin B12, the deficiency of which is also linked to depression.

A 2004 study published in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics suggests that a low level of vitamin B6 is associated with symptoms of depression. However, this study does not say anything about whether treatment with vitamin B6 will improve symptoms.

Some excellent dietary sources of vitamin B6 include meat, poultry, fish, legumes, cottage cheese, potatoes, bananas, watermelon, spinach, and sunflower seeds.

9. Iron

Iron deficiency, a common problem in women, can also cause depression. This nutrient is an important component in cognitive, sensor motor, and social-emotional development and functioning.

Moreover, iron deficiency leads to an insufficient number of red blood cells, which can cause symptoms of depression like fatigue, brain fog, loss of appetite and irritability.

A 2013 study published in BMC Psychiatry notes that iron deficiency anemia is significantly associated with increased risks of unipolar depressive disorder as well as bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), delayed development and mental retardation among children and adolescents.

To boost your iron intake, eat foods like red meat, soybeans, beetroots, fish, oatmeal, peanut butter, spinach, beans, pomegranates, and eggs. However, to increase the body’s absorption of iron, make sure to eat vitamin C-rich foods as well.

10. Amino Acids

Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are precursors to neurotransmitters. The brain uses them to manufacture neurotransmitters needed for optimal functioning.

A deficiency in amino acids may cause a variety of mood disorders, including depression and anxiety.

There are nine necessary amino acids and they have different functions. For instance, the amino acid 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) helps increase serotonin levels in the body.

Another amino acid glutamine promotes protein synthesis and improves nitrogen balance. A 1993 study published in the Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition notes that patients receiving glutamine supplements showed an improvement in mood.

As the nine amino acids cannot be manufactured by your body, you need to include goods sources of amino acids like eggs, fish, beans, seeds and nuts in your diet.


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