Vitamins and Supplements That May Boost Your Mood and Brain Health

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The labels of many available vitamins and supplements can sometimes feature some pretty bold claims about how they can give your health an upgrade. And for some of us, a pill to make you healthier will beat thirty minutes on a treadmill every time.

Unfortunately, the statements made by some manufacturers are not always vetted by reputable outside agencies. This makes it tough to figure out which vitamins are worth the investment and will actually provide you with health benefits.

The first thing you should know is that it’s not all hype. There are commonly available supplements for which there are scientific studies demonstrating that they have proven benefits for certain physical and psychological conditions.

Working with your doctor, you can potentially make a positive impact on your mental wellness and brain health with supplements.

Here’s the latest on what we know about mental health and vitamins.

Fish Oils

Omega-3 oils, also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), are important for the proper development of the central nervous system, including the brain and eyes.

The best known source of omega-3 oil are fish oils. It is also known to be critical for the mental health of both children and adults. Decreased PUFA is associated with increased likelihood of having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia.

Omega-3 supplementation in elderly individuals over the course of 6 months improved depressive symptoms when measured using a standardized questionnaire. Also noted in this group was improved cognition. 

Probiotics

The counter-intuitive term “good bacteria” means that there are some bacteria living in and on our body that are actually of great benefit to us and in some cases crucial to our survival.

In our gut, we have an ecosystem, also known as our flora or gut microbiome. The profile of which bacteria are living in your intestine appears to be a determining factor in your mental health. You can influence the bacterial environment in our gut with probiotics.

Higher amounts of the proper gut bacteria can decrease inflammation and the stress hormone known as cortisol. This can also help diminish depressive symptoms, social anxiety and improve memory.

The next frontier of treatments for psychological conditions may be the manipulation or rearrangement of gut bacteria to target certain conditions. This is known as psychobiotics. For example, the organism Bifidobacterium infantis is proven to help alleviate symptoms of depression and of chronic fatigue syndrome.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D has a become a star among vitamins given the apparent relationship between deficiency and vulnerability to COVID-19. There also appears to be an association between vitamin D insufficiency and depression.

Currently, it is not understood whether or not vitamin D deficiency is the cause or consequence of depression or if there is some other relationship between the two that is not yet fully appreciated.

Vitamin D supplementation appears to improve depressive symptoms in adults and among adolescents, higher levels of vitamin D predicted for a greater sense of well-being. In younger people, vitamin D supplementation decreased irritability, sleep abnormalities, difficulty concentration and fatigue.

There may be evidence that those with clinical depression and proven vitamin D deficiency may benefit from supplementation as augmentation to other treatment approaches after discussion with their doctors.

Vitamin D, in part, comes from sun exposure, so this may be particularly true during winter months and among those who live in geographical areas with limited sunlight or who may have less absorption of sunlight due to skin pigmentation.

B Vitamins

The B Vitamins are a family of eight vitamins that include:

All the B vitamins are known to play crucial roles in our health but vitamin B12 and folate in particular appear to be related in some way to the presence of depressive symptoms.

Deficiencies in the nutritional staples of vitamin B12 and folate have been found more commonly in depressed individuals when compared to those who are not depressed. Low folate may be the driver between the strong relationship between alcoholism and depression.

In regions where diets are naturally high in folate-rich foods, such as China, the region's population has lower lifetime rates of depression.

Low folate levels may actually inhibit a full and complete response to antidepressants. Supplementation with folate and B12 could potentially improve treatment outcomes when it comes to addressing depressive symptoms.

Vitamin K

Older Americans with the highest dietary intake of vitamin K had lower odds of having depressive symptoms in one study.

Another promising animal study showed that supplementation with Vitamin K for 10 weeks followed by behavioral tests led to improved normalization of blood glucose as well as reduce depression and anxiety.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C offers protection for neurons which are cells of the brain and nervous system. It is known to alleviate inflammation in these cells and effects brain development.

Vitamin C deficiency can lead to cognitive impairment and behavioral abnormalities. Conversely, Vitamin C supplementation appears to be both preventative and therapeutic with respect to its effect on anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease and major depression.

A Word From Verywell

It can be overwhelming to think about how many aspects of wellness there are. It seems that in order to have optimal physical and psychological health, one needs to exercise, eat locally, journal, perhaps seek therapy, meditate and more.

Taking a fistful of vitamins on top of these other activities might not seem appealing. However, it is exciting news that some supplements come supported by research-driven data on how helpful they can be to you.

You will want to check with your doctor before including supplements to your regimen to ensure that they do not interact with other conditions that you have or medications that you may be taking.

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