Minerals & mental health

Following on from last week’s blog, where I discussed the major links between vitamins and brain function, let’s now conclude this topic by looking at the potential role of minerals, trace elements and other dietary components in mental health.

Like vitamins, strong associations between mineral deficiencies and mental illness have been seen, although it should be said that in some cases, the mechanisms remain unclear. Chromium is one such example, with deficiencies particularly prevalent in patients with depression.

Iodine is absolutely crucial for mental health and development. It is involved in energy metabolism in brain cells, and in development a severe iodine deficiency can result in cerebral dysfunction – a condition known as cretinism.

Iron is involved in the synthesis of certain neurotransmitters (as discussed last week, these are messenger molecules for the nervous system). Iron is vital in development, including that of cognitive function, and deficiency has been linked with ADHD in children. In addition, iron deficiency can cause anaemia, with resulting fatigue, apathy and sometimes, depression.

Lithium is well established in psychiatry, and is used regularly to treat a range of mental health disorders, including bipolar, depression, and suicidal tendencies. In case you are wondering, this is at the heart of the Nirvana song, Lithium.

Selenium is another mineral thought to have a role in mood. Studies have suggested that low intakes are linked with lower moods, and others have shown that selenium can reduce anxiety.

Zinc, similarly to iron, is essential in both physical and mental development. Intervention studies have also shown that zinc can influence the impact of antidepressant therapy, and others have suggested that serum zinc levels are lower in patients with clinical depression.

The brain is rich in lipids (fats) compared with other organs, and the role of fatty acids, particularly omega-3, in brain health has been researched heavily. For example, it has been suggested that DHA (the main omega-3 in the brain) may reduce the development of depression. Moreover, studies have shown that diets deficient in omega-3 fatty acids can result in nervous system disturbance and dysfunction.

I have to apologise for the particularly sciencey nature of the last couple of blogs (particularly having spawned from an initial pondering of the not-to-be-taken-too-seriously ‘Blue Monday’), but I think it’s a really important area to consider. Our mental health really is precious, and by optimising our intake of micronutrients, whether through diets or supplements, we can help to protect ourselves. I suppose this is emphasised by the fact that, even spread across three posts, we have only scratched the surface!

Anyway, have a great week and perhaps I’ll get onto something a little lighter next time!

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