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7 Nutritional Deficiencies That Can Wreck Your Mental Health

Safeguard your mental and physical health with a healthy, diverse diet. Low levels of essential nutrients are linked to depression, anxiety and irritability. Here’s how to read the signs of vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

By D Tejaswi
08 Jul 2021

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH, USA) says that mood disorders are caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental and psychological factors. Nutritional imbalance is one of the often-neglected biological factors. “Few people are aware of the connection between nutrition and depression while they easily understand the connection between nutritional deficiencies and physical illness,” quotes Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 2008. Nutrition is quintessential in our ability to regulate psychological and emotional needs. Any deficiencies in key nutrition (vitamins and minerals) can compromise optimal brain functioning and increase irritability, tiredness and depression.


Good news is that one can address the causes of nutritional deficiencies by incorporating minute changes in your diet. For example, “by including amino acids such as tryptophan, tyrosine, phenylalanine, and methionine, one can often help oneself in treating many mood disorders including depression,” quotes the official publication of the Indian Psychiatric Society. Many reports clearly state that by gaining specific nutrients through foods, one can reduce dependency on medication. “Some of the common physical signs of nutrient deficiency include severe hair loss, slow healing wounds, bone pain and irregular heartbeat. Mental issues include memory loss, anxiety, depression, irritability and insomnia,” says Dr Priyanka Rohatgi, chief clinical dietician, Apollo Hospitals, Bengaluru. Dr Rohatgi gives us the lowdown on major nutrients, their role in the body, impact on mood and what can you about it.

Vitamin D: Responsible for regulating the production of adrenaline, noradrenaline, and dopamine, vitamin D plays an important role in hormonal balance. From aiding absorption of calcium to maintaining immunity, it promotes bone growth. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing notes that vitamin D deficiency is associated with the presence of an active mood disorder. Mild Alzheimer’s, altered sleep patterns and mood issues and fatigue are common consequences.

“Get an annual routine check up of vitamin D, and ask your doctor about a supplement. Ensure that your diet is rich in natural sources of vitamin D such as eggs, fatty fish and mushrooms and fortified foods like milk, flour, rice, cheese, and oats.

Iron: Responsible for making red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body, iron deficiency results in poor concentration, decrease in cognition (attention span, intelligence, and sensory perception functions), anxiety, irritability and depression. The constant lack of iron can lead to headaches and breathlessness too,” adds the doctor. Choosing the right combination of food choices is the key.

“For example, if you consume palak paneer and think that it will give enough iron, you are mistaken. The calcium present in paneer limits the absorption of iron in spinach when consumed in combination. Instead, pair iron-rich foods with vitamin C. Some examples of food pairing to increase nutrient absorption include Indian delicacies such as poha with coriander chutney and lime or palak masoor dal,” says Dr Rohatgi.

Selenium: Selenium is a micronutrient found in nuts such as Brazil nuts, hazelnuts etc. Apart from being an immunity booster, it also has a positive effect on anxiety, depression, and tiredness. The Book Selenium Deficiency by Dr Aparna P. Shreenath says that selenium deprivation can cause anxiety and hostile behaviour. The only problem with the micronutrient is that the content in the food depends on the richness of selenium in the soil that the food grew in. Hence, multivitamins are also considered a good source of selenium.

Magnesium: The journal Nutrients says that magnesium levels have a negative correlation with occurrence of depression. Deficiency of this nutrient is known to increase occurrence of many mental syndromes including agitation, anxiety, irritability, confusion, asthenia, sleeplessness, headache, delirium, hallucinations and hyperexcitability.

“Include magnesium rich foods such as pumpkin seeds, almonds, peanuts in your everyday diet,” says Dr Rohatgi.

Folate: With an impact on 5-HIAA acid in the cerebrospinal fluid, folate deficiencies can impact the levels of serotonin (a neurotransmitter), says the Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience. Cognitive decline and some forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, are associated with lower folate levels.
Folate can be supplemented by consuming various vegetables including leafy greens, beets, and broccoli, says the doctor.

Vitamin B12: It is rarely available in plant food but found in animal meat, and a lack of vitamin B12 in the body is known to cause neurological problems dementia, depression and mood disorders. It also causes fatigue and tiredness. The journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says that vitamin B12 deficiency can have symptoms ranging from irritability to psychosis.
“Eggs, yogurt, tuna, trout and lentils are rich in vitamin B12,” says the doctor.

Iodine: Iodine deficiency is the most frequent cause of hypothyroidism. In population-based studies, increased prevalence of depression and anxiety was observed in patients with hypo and hyperthyroidism. Dr Hani Choudary in Food Science & Nutrition says that iodine deficiency can lead to cognitive impairments, which in turn, can lead to mood swings. Iodine is linked with selenium metabolism, also. Iodised salt is a prominent source of iodine.






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