The Effect of Nutritional Deficiencies on Mental Health - Sophie Umansky
Updated: Oct 10, 2020
More and more we have been examining the impact of certain aspects of our lives on our mental health: school, work, interpersonal relationships, etc. But how about the effect that nutrition has on our mental state? In honor of mental health awareness week, let's examine the effects of nutritional deficiencies on our mental health!
Many people understand the connection between nutrition and physical illness, but don’t draw the same connection with mental illness. Severe deficits in key nutrients can not only lead to anemia, among other diseases, they can also have a serious impact on one’s mental health.
As a matter of fact, nutrition can play a big role in the onset, severity and duration of depression, as well as other mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Studies have shown that “nutritional supplement/treatment” is an emerging “therapeutic intervention” that can control and to some extent, prevent these illnesses. Lack of specific nutrients or food groups can impact the body in different ways, potentially resulting in changing brain chemistry.
Here are just a few nutrients or food groups that a deficit of could lead to a negative impact on one’s mental health:
We know carbohydrates to be an important part of our daily diet that provides us with energy, among other things. However, many diets claim that cutting out carbohydrates entirely is the key to losing weight. But what does that really do to your body? Not only are these diets often ineffective, they can also be extremely unhealthy. Carbohydrates have been shown to affect mood and behavior. Carbohydrates also trigger the release of insulin in the body, which stabilizes blood sugar levels and stimulates tryptophan in the brain, which affects neurotransmitter levels. A diet lacking in carbohydrates can lead to depression due to the lack of serotonin and tryptophan which promote feelings of well-being. Maintaining consistent blood sugar levels is also key in moderating mood.
Studies have shown that patients with depression have been observed to have folate deficiencies. Lack of blood folate inhibits the effectiveness of antidepressant medication, prolonging depressive episodes and increasing their severity. Folate has been recognized to have a vital role in the brain’s metabolic pathways, and researchers have noted that “depressive symptoms are the most common neuropsychiatric manifestation of folate deficiency.”
In addition to regulating the delivery of oxygen throughout the body, “iron helps to create and balance mood-regulating chemicals like serotonin and dopamine.” Iron is also necessary for the synthesis of neurotransmitters, which are responsible for sending chemical messages throughout the body. Deficiency in iron not only leads to anemia and the problems associated with it, it can also result in attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, especially in children. Not only has ADHD been linked with iron deficiency, “infantile anemia with its associated iron deficiency is associated with disturbance in the development of cognitive functions” and a lower IQ.
Maintaining your physical health should go hand in hand with taking care of your mental health! Eating nutritiously and incorporating all essential vitamins, minerals and food groups into your diet can go a long way in ensuring a healthy lifestyle.
If you would like to read more, check out the following sources: