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A well-balanced diet and nutrition are essential for a healthy lifestyle. Our body needs all sorts of essential nutrients to function properly, which, when absent, can result in malnutrition - a condition that results from a nutrient deficiency or overconsumption.
A nutritional deficiency occurs when essential nutrients are absent for growth and health and can affect bodily functions. Essentially nutrient deficiencies can result from poor nutritional intake, chronic health conditions, acute health conditions, medications, altered nutrient metabolism, or a combination of these factors.
Nutritional deficiencies can lead to alterations in energy metabolism, immune function, cognitive function, bone formation, and/or muscle function and growth and development .
Read about the Nutritional Deficiencies That Can Cause Depression here.
A Lack Of Proper Diet And Mental Health
According to reports, the most common nutritional deficiencies that Indians (grapple with are inadequate consumption of proteins, vitamin D, iron, vitamin B12 and folate, which can trigger different kinds of health concerns, such as depression, anaemia, bone loss etc.
Optimal mental health requires adequate availability and absorption of vitamins, minerals and amino and fatty acids as essential building blocks for the brain cells and neurotransmitters . When the nutritional biochemistry of your body is imbalanced, your mental health is affected.
Nutritional deficiencies can adversely affect your mental health, causing mild to disruptive symptoms, depending on the person . Today, we will look at the different types of vitamin deficiencies that can cause depression.
Nutritional Deficiencies That May Cause Depression
1. Vitamin D
Experts say that vitamin D deficiency is a major epidemic that is just beginning to be recognised . Vitamin D deficiency is also linked to dementia and autism. The vitamin is particularly important in the absorption of calcium in the body and maintaining bone density. Lack of vitamin D is quite common today, partly due to the use of sunscreen and less sun exposure. Food sources of vitamin D include fish, dairy products fortified with vitamin D and eggs.
Magnesium is an essential mineral for our body. It has great importance in facilitating the heart and nervous system's proper functioning. Magnesium is often referred to as the stress antidote, that is, the most powerful relaxation mineral. Magnesium can be gained by consuming vegetables, beans, green vegetables, nuts, seeds, almonds, avocados and whole grains such as whole-wheat bread and brown rice .
3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Studies show that India has a shocking level of omega-3 deficiency. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for healthy brain cell functioning and reduce inflammation. They help prevent trans fats from entering your neural system . Foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, herring or mackerel, oysters, egg yolks, flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts, and algae is another option for vegetarians and vegans.
4. Amino Acids
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein that help your brain properly function. A deficiency in amino acids may cause you to feel sluggish, foggy, and depressed. Food sources of amino acids include beef, eggs, fish, beans, seeds, and nuts .
Folate is the naturally occurring form of vitamin B9 and is responsible for forming DNA, RNA, and building block of the cells. Studies have shown that people with a low folate level have only a 7 per cent response to treatment with antidepressants . Recent reports show that psychiatrists are now prescribing a folate called Deplin to treat depression and improve the effectiveness of an antidepressant . Food sources of folate include leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, kidney beans, eggs and legumes.
6. Vitamin B Complex
B vitamins help to build red blood cells in our body and nervous system function. This deficiency may lead to fatigue, tingling in the feet or tips of the palm fingers and even depression . According to some studies, more than a quarter of severely depressed older women were deficient in B-12. Foods that contain vitamin B-6 are poultry, seafood, bananas, and leafy green vegetables. Vitamin B-12 is found in animal foods (meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and milk) and shellfish, such as clams, mussels, and crab.
This mineral is essential in regulating the brain and body's response to stress and, not only is zinc responsible for activating your central and peripheral nervous system but it is also required for neurotransmitter, enzymatic and hormonal processes. In addition to depression, zinc deficiency has been linked to anxiety, schizophrenia and eating disorders . Food sources of zinc include meat, poultry, oysters, spinach, pumpkin seeds, raisins and dark chocolate.
Iron deficiency is common in women, especially adolescent girls . Iron is critical to all bodily functions as it carries oxygen throughout the bloodstream, and the symptoms of this deficiency are similar to those of depression, such as mental and physical fatigue, low mood and irritability. In some people, low iron levels may also trigger panic symptoms resulting in a panic attack. You can consume animal sources (of iron) such as meat, poultry, fish and eggs. And can also get iron from vegetarian food sources such as beans and other green vegetables and increase their absorption by combining iron-rich foods with vitamin C (citrus fruits).
In addition to these nutritional deficiencies, other nutritional deficiencies that may cause depression include iodine and selenium . Brazil nuts, seafood, and organ meats are the richest food sources of selenium. Other sources include muscle meats, cereals and other grains, and dairy products. Dairy products (such as milk, yoghurt, and cheese), fish (such as cod and tuna), seaweed, shrimp and iodised salt are good sources of iodine.
How To Figure Out If You Have A Nutritional Deficiency?
Experts state the following as possible symptoms of a potential nutritional deficiency .
- Frequent headaches
- Gastrointestinal symptoms like constipation, diarrhoea, gas, and bloating
- Weak nails
- Dry skin or eczema
- Hair loss etc.
Talk to your doctor about your symptoms; you know your body better, so if something feels off - don't waste time; get a second opinion from an expert.
Certain nutritional deficiencies can contribute to anxiety and depression, as well as exacerbate symptoms in people with specific mental health disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and bipolar disorder .
For most people, a healthy diet will take care of these nutritional imbalances. For some, vitamin supplements are required if the body does not metabolise nutrients properly.
On A Final Note…
So yes, a lack of a balanced and healthy diet can increase your risk of developing depression. Physical and mental health are interconnected, so if you are working towards improving your mental health, make sure you have a well-balanced and healthy relationship with food.
Note: The article does not state that sticking to a strict diet or taking vitamin supplements on your own will completely treat any mood-related symptoms/disorders. Interventions such as talk therapy and medication can help with mental health issues.