Supporting Mental Wellbeing Through The Diet
Mental wellbeing is an enormous topic with multiple influences contributing to overall mental health. These factors include genetics, sleep, stress, exercise, lifestyle and diet to name a few. The relationship between nutrition and mental wellbeing is a complex one with numerous components to supporting optimal mental wellbeing and in this article we’ll be breaking down some key nutrients which impact mental health.
Magnesium is an abundant nutrient within the diet and is far more important than is often given credit for. Magnesium plays a role in over 600 enzymatic reactions and is particularly important in supporting mental wellbeing due to its role in the central nervous system, synapse formation and nerve transmission. Transmitting signals around the brain is a core component of mental health and evidence suggests there may be a link between impaired mental wellbeing and low levels of magnesium, this is particularly evident in depression. Magnesium can be found in array of foods including green vegetables, nuts, beans, avocados and fish. Supplementation should always be supervised by a health care professional.
Dietary sources of Vitamin D are less abundant and it’s primarily synthesised via the skin in response to UV exposure. Due to limited sunlight during the winter months in the UK, the population are at significant risk of Vitamin D deficiency. Consequently, it is recommended to supplement with 10ug per day. Low levels of Vitamin D are significantly associated with low mood.
There are many different types of B-vitamins and whilst they have similar roles, there are multiple B-vitamins which are particularly key for supporting mental wellbeing. Biotin (Vitamin B7), folate (Vitamin B9) and Vitamin B12 are all heavily associated with mental wellbeing. Deficiencies in folate and Vitamin B12 have been associated with an increased risk of depression. Furthermore, the full range of B-vitamins play a role in DNA methylation and the clearance of homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine can contribute to increased inflammation and some evidence highlights a link between elevated homocysteine and depressive symptoms. B-vitamins also play essential roles in the synthesis of dopamine (the reward hormone) and serotonin (the happy hormone). B-vitamins can be found in a range of animal products and some plant foods including wholegrains, beans and pulses.
Carbohydrates are often demonised in the media, however they play an essential role in the production of serotonin. Carbohydrates enable the amino acid tryptophan to cross the blood brain barrier and synthesise serotonin in the brain. Consequently, low carbohydrate diets have been associated with impaired mood. Additionally, complex carbohydrates are a fundamental source of dietary fibre. Dietary fibre feeds the commensal bacteria in the gut and strong evidence suggests higher levels of commensal bacteria and lower levels of pathogenic bacteria are associated with more positive mental health outcomes. Sources of carbohydrates include: wholegrains, beans, pulses, fruits and vegetables. Consuming a variety of sources has been shown optimal for supporting a beneficial bacterial gut profile.
The conversation around nutrition and mental wellbeing can stretch far beyond these four essential nutrients and therefore please note if you’re concerned about your mental wellbeing please do seek personalised professional advice. Furthermore, supplements may interact with medications and therefore it’s advised to always seek advice from your GP before self-supplementing.
Giordano, N., Goracci, A., & Fagiolini, A. (2017). Depression and vitamin D deficiency: Causality, assessment, and clinical practice implications. Neuropsychiatry, 7(5), 606-614.
Botturi, A., Ciappolino, V., Delvecchio, G., Boscutti, A., Viscardi, B., & Brambilla, P. (2020). The role and the effect of magnesium in mental disorders: a systematic review. Nutrients, 12(6), 1661.
Young, L. M., Pipingas, A., White, D. J., Gauci, S., & Scholey, A. (2019). A systematic review and meta-analysis of B vitamin supplementation on depressive symptoms, anxiety, and stress: Effects on healthy and ‘at-risk’individuals. Nutrients, 11(9), 2232.