Nutrients Help Depression, Anxiety, Mental Health

September 26, 2016 | Linda J. Dobberstein, Chiropractor, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

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Nutrients Help Depression, Anxiety, Mental Health
When it comes to depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar, and other mental health disorders and medical treatment, the traditional treatment focus is on antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications and cognitive behavioral therapy. Patients often cling to a glimmer of response to feel better and do more than just barely make it through the day.

The research community has been diligently working on ways to improve treatment for depression and other psychiatric disorders as the medical approach often fails to provide enough of a therapeutic response. These disorders are more than just an imbalance of neurotransmitters. It is about brain inflammation. Major medical research findings clearly demonstrate the effectiveness and need for quality nutrients to quench the fire in the brain with depression or other mental health issues. Anyone struggling with mood problems needs to make sure their brain is getting the proper nourishment, especially when antidepressants like SSRI’s fail.

[Jump to: Nutritional Options]

Mood Disorders: Quench the Inflammation

Depression, like other psychiatric disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar, and anxiety, reflects a brain that is hot or inflamed. These disorders are neurological illnesses where the brain is struggling to function because of inflammation. High levels of inflammatory cytokines, excess stimulatory glutamate (excitatory neurotransmitter), depleted GABA (inhibitory neurotransmitter), nerve cell dysfunction, microglial cell inflammation, and less than optimal brain repair occurs with depression and neuropsychiatric disorders.

N-Acetyl Cysteine is Highly Recommended

In order to find ways to address brain inflammation that leads to major depression, researchers have turned to a number of nutrients to help quench the fire. There are several nutrients noted, but N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) is one nutrient that is being singled out. NAC is an amino acid redox agent, or powerful antioxidant, that is needed for the body to make glutathione. While it is often used to help Tylenol overdose and break up mucus in the lungs, NAC provides remarkable benefit for the brain. NAC reduces inflammation, tones down glutamate excess, and helps the brain repair.

Several studies have been published on NAC and depression. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis study published in the April 2016 Journal of Clinical Psychiatry combed through several double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trials using NAC for depressive symptoms regardless of the main psychiatric diagnosis. The conclusion of this extensive analysis was that NAC treatment improved depression symptoms with overall improvement in function. This was found in patients with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, smoking, and other disorders.

Another systematic review study published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews in 2015 noted several effects of NAC. They noted that in the past decade with glowing, positive comments, “There has been growing evidence for the use of NAC in treating psychiatric and neurological disorders, considering its role in attenuating pathophysiological processes associated with these disorders, including oxidative stress, apoptosis, mitochondrial dysfunction, neuroinflammation and glutamate and dopamine dysregulation.” They found very affirming evidence for use in a wide range of psychiatric and neurological disorders.

The most favorable results were found in autism, Alzheimer’s disease, cocaine and marijuana addiction, bipolar disorder, depression, trichotillomania (pulling out hair), nail biting, skin picking, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, drug-induced neuropathy, and some seizure disorders. Other disorders like anxiety, ADHD, and mild traumatic brain injury were found to benefit from NAC use, but the authors suggested further research. A dosage of 2,000 - 2,400 mg per day of NAC was commonly used in these studies and was well tolerated and safe. NAC has been found helpful in preventing and reducing anxiety and depression caused by stress.

Other Nutritional Compounds for Mood Support

Researchers and scientists are very interested in finding ways to improve the poor response to antidepressants with nutritional compounds. One recent systematic review and meta-analysis study specifically looked at the use of standardized pharmaceutical-grade nutrients to help the inadequate response to medical treatment and treatment-resistant disorders. The American Journal of Psychiatry June 2016 publication found very positive results with methylfolate (activated folic acid), omega-3 oils, vitamin D, and SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine). Other nutrients found beneficial included zinc, vitamin C, and the amino acid tryptophan.

The herbal adaptogens like cordyceps, Bacopa monnieri, Eleutherococcus, Rhodiola rosea, and Panax Ginseng provide another approach to prevention and support for depression treatment. Cordyceps, a traditional Chinese mushroom extract, in particular, provided excellent rapid results for antidepressant effects. In a recent animal study, it was found that cordyceps as an injection was far superior with a faster and better therapeutic response than imipramine/Tofranil, a tricyclic antidepressant. The authors of the study described it as providing a “rapid and robust antidepressant effect”. The positive effect lasted for days after a single treatment.

Research trends in obsessive-compulsive and bipolar disorders have also looked at nutritional supplementation to complement medical treatment where results are marginal and lacking. The Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics, April 2016 reported on a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in patients with moderate-severe OCD. Patients were given 2,000 mg of NAC per day with or without their SSRI medication, Luvox. Results found NAC to be helpful as an adjunct to treating this disabling disorder. NAC quenches the excess glutamate that drives the over-fixation, over-stimulated behavior.

Bipolar treatment research is also jumping on board with looking at nutritional adjunct support when medications fail to provide enough benefit. Another 2016 major review study looked at several studies and again found excellent benefit with omega-3 oils and NAC.

Curcumin and Probiotics

No discussion on depression and other neuropsychiatric disorders is complete, unless curcumin and probiotics are mentioned. Curcumin is one of the most studied anti-inflammatory nutrients. Numerous studies like the recent article in Brain Research July 2016 found that ongoing, long-term use of curcumin was highly effective at normalizing dopamine, noradrenaline, serotonin, and other brain compounds necessary for a positive mood. Curcumin has even been proven effective in animal studies showing benefit for chronic pain, neuropathy and depression, alleviating the many different types of brain pain. It worked well with other medical treatment for these disorders.

Probiotics are proving to be fundamental to depression and mood disorder treatment and must be added as an adjunct to any treatment program. The two-way communication pathway between the gut flora and the brain must be functioning well as the new research field of psychobiotics tells us. Inadequate beneficial bacteria, the presence of a disrupted digestive system, leads to altered neurotransmitter production. Brain and gut inflammation increases which opens up the door for mood problems.

Neuropsychiatric disorders like depression, OCD, anxiety, and bipolar disorders reflect inflammation, high levels of oxidative stress, and high levels of glutamate. It is obvious that allopathic medications are failing many people. Certainly many individuals do benefit from appropriate medications, but there are so many others who continue to struggle. Considering the troubling side effects of antidepressants and other psychiatric medications, there should be no doubt that NAC, DHA, methylfolate, cordyceps, Rhodiola, vitamin D, and probiotics are favorable and easier to work with.

When major medical publications report on the need and benefit of nutraceutical supplements as an adjunct to failing medical or treatment resistant conditions, it is a recognition and admission that medications don’t fix the problem and that the need is great for other support. The next time that your physician wants to hand you a prescription for an antidepressant, keep these findings in mind. Implement a nutritional strategy to support the brain.

The brain runs on nutrients like those mentioned above along with a diet rich in variety and color of whole foods. If we don’t feed our brains with the amount of wear and tear that today’s life brings, it is likely that it will catch up to us in one way or the other. If you or a loved one is struggling with chronic depression or other mood disorders with trying numerous medications, it is imperative to look at the nutritional health of the brain. The brain does not sustain a deficiency of the latest and greatest antidepressants, but it does acquire inflammation and wear and tear that must be quenched through diet, sleep, exercise, play-time, social support and quality nutrition. Have you fed your brain today?

Nutritional Options

NAC – N-Acetyl Cysteine is a major precursor to the vital antioxidant glutathione. NAC is often recognized for its ability to help with detoxification and lung health, but it provides excellent benefits for quenching inflammation in the brain, protecting neurotransmitters, mitochondria, and nerve cells. Animal proteins like eggs, poultry, and whey provide good food sources.

Cordyceps – Cordyceps is an Eastern herbal medicine used for thousands of years. It helps bring vitality back to the body and quenches inflammation. It is noted for reducing microglial cell (brain) wear and tear and helping with other neurodegenerative disorders.

Rhodiola – This herbal compound is often used together with eleutherococcus and cordyceps. It is often used to help depression, anxiety, mental fatigue, professional burnout, and physical exhaustion. Recent research shows it is particularly helpful with reducing aggressive behavior and buffering excitotoxic stress.

Eleutherococcus – Also known as Siberian ginseng or eleuthero, this adaptogenic herb is often used for burn-out, stress, and exhaustion. Those struggling with sleep deprivation often find that eleuthero helps them get through the day better. It helps support cognitive skills, memory, and behavior.

SAMe – S-Adenosylmethione is a compound vital for nerves, the liver and detoxification, and cellular function. The nutrient TMG (trimethylglycine) and B vitamins help make SAMe. These compounds help the body naturally and inexpensively make SAMe which may support healthy serotonin levels.

Methylfolate – The active, methylated form of folic acid is methylfolate. Folate needs increase with antibiotic use, birth control pills, and numerous other medications. Insufficient folate can cause negativity, irritability, and grumpy depression. Aging, digestive disorders, and methylation defects increase the need for folate. Dark green leafy vegetables are a good dietary source for basic preventative daily needs.

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