Nutrients and Mental Health HealthQM

What Are the 7 Major Nutrients for Mental Health?

Mental health issues can be prevented or significantly reduced by ensuring that the foods we eat contain the following nutrients:

  • Omega-3
  • B Vitamins
  • Amino Acids
  • Essential Minerals
  • Vitamin D
  • Plant-Based Antioxidants
  • Probiotics and Prebiotics

1. Omega3

1.1. What Are Omega3 Fatty Acids Good For?

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the metabolism of lipid in our body and that can only be provided by the diet.

Omega-3 fatty acids are not a single entity, but they are divided into docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), linolenic acid (ALA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) [1].

  • Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)

Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) is the principal constituent of the plasma membrane of neurons found in the brain and cerebral cortex. It is also found in the retina and skin.

  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)

Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) is essential for the synthesis of the vasodilator, anticoagulant, and inflammatory hormone, Prostaglandin (PG).

Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) is also essential critical for the synthesis of the pro-coagulation and thrombosis factor, thromboxane, and the inflammation mediators, leukotrienes.

  • Linolenic Acid (ALA)

Linolenic Acid (ALA) is involved in the regulation of blood lipids and endothelial (Vessels) function. It has also significant anti-inflammatory and anti-thrombotic effects.

1.2. Why Are Omega 3 fatty Acids Good for Mental Health?

Several studies reported that the reduction in intake of Omega 3 fatty Acids results in mood disorders [2].

Major depression and schizophrenia were also associated with reduced consumption of fish and omega 3 fatty acids [2].

The severity of depression was linked with the reduction of omega 3 fatty acids concentrations in the blood.

When comparing with healthy individuals, patients with schizophrenia had significantly lower levels of EPA and DHA.

1.3 Which Food Contains More Omega-3?

Foods that are rich in Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) include fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, sardine, and fish oils, while flaxseed, chia, walnuts, hemp, and vegetable oils are rich in Linolenic Acid (ALA).

2. B Vitamins

2.1. What Are B Vitamins Good For?

Through their co-enzymatic (help other enzymes) activities, B vitamins are essential players in the cell metabolism of sugars, amino acids, and lipids. They are also involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters necessary for the nervous system functions.

2.2. Why Are B Vitamins Good for Mental Health?

Alterations in the activity of neurotransmitters have been associated with changes in mood, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). B vitamins are essential for the synthesis of several neurotransmitters and in the conductance (transmission) of nerve impulses [3] [4].

Through its activity as a coenzyme, vitamin B1 (Thiamine) is involved in the synthesis of the neurotransmitters, GABA, Acetylcholine, and glutamate.

Through its activity as a coenzyme, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters, dopamine, histamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and GABA.

Folate has several roles in the nervous system:

– Increases the level of the neurotransmitter, serotonin, by reducing the breakdown of tryptophan which is an essential amino acid involved in the synthesis of serotonin.

–  Through its activity as a coenzyme, folate contributes to the synthesis of the monoamine neurotransmitters, serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.

– Contributes to the synthesis of compounds necessary for the energy metabolism of the brain.

Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) has also several roles in the nervous system:

– Through its activity as a coenzyme, vitamin B12 (cobalamin) contributes to the synthesis of the monoamine neurotransmitters, serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.

– It is involved in the maintenance of myelin sheets that envelop neurons and which are involved in the transmission of nerve impulses.

– Helps the activity of folate.

2.3. Which Food Contains More B Vitamins?

  • Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) is naturally present in food such as whole grains, legumes, and fish.
  • Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) is mainly found in meat products such as Beef, pork, and fish.
  • Vitamin B9 (Folate) is found in many types of food; however, due to its instability (e.g., high heat cooking), it is being added to several food sources as a fortifier to prevent a vitamin B9 deficiency.
  • Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) is naturally present in foods such as meat, liver, milk, clams, fortified breakfast cereals, and eggs.

3- Amino Acids

3.1. What Are Amino Acids Good For?

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins that are essential for life. Proteins are a vital part of building cells, tissues, and organs. They are also critical for their functions as all physiological processes of the cells require proteins.

3.2. Why Are Amino Acids Good for Mental Health?

Amino acids play a critical role in the function of the nervous system and in mental health. The amino acid glutamate is a neurotransmitter, while other amino acids are necessary for the synthesis of several neurotransmitters.

  • The neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine are made from the amino acid, Tyrosine, that is also made from phenylalanine.
  • The neurotransmitter serotonin is made from tryptophan

3.3. Which Food Contains More Amino Acids?

Foods that are rich in amino acids include meats, eggs, and milk, and other dairy products.

4- Essential Minerals

4.1. What Are Essential Minerals Good For?

Essential minerals are essential for life through their role in the production of energy, bone formation, nucleic acid synthesis (DNA and RNA), hemoglobin synthesis, and metabolism of the cells.

4.2. Why Are Essential Minerals Good for Mental Health?

Zinc is involved in the regulation of gene expression and protein synthesis. As a cofactor for many enzymes, zinc is involved in several metabolic reactions.

 Zinc intake has been associated with a reduced incidence of depression [5]. Zinc deficiency is also involved in learning impairment and olfactory dysfunction [6].

Iron is essential for the production of energy (ATP) in the brain. As a coenzyme, Iron is involved in the synthesis of the neurotransmitters, serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine [4].

Magnesium is involved in several mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, and migraine.

Magnesium has an essential role in neurotransmission and neuromuscular transduction through its protective function against excitotoxicity (excessive transmission by neurotransmitters) [7].

4.3. Which Food Contains More Essential Minerals?

  • Foods that are rich in Zinc include oysters, beef, lobster, pork, cereals, crab, chicken, pumpkin seeds, baked beans, dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese), cashews, chickpeas, and oatmeal.
  • Foods that are rich in Iron include dark-green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, meat, fish, tofu, eggs, brown rice, and dried fruit.
  • Foods that are rich in Magnesium include green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, nuts, seeds (chia and pumpkin seeds), legumes, and whole grains

5. Vitamin D

5.1. What Is Vitamin D Good For?

Vitamin D is involved in the intestinal absorption of magnesium, phosphate, and calcium necessary for calcium homeostasis and bone metabolism.

5.2. Why Is Vitamin D Good for Mental Health?

A study reported the involvement of vitamin D in schizophrenia associated with low levels of maternal vitamin D during pregnancy [8].

Another study reported an association between low levels of vitamin D and depression [9].

5.3. Which Food Contains More Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is naturally found in many foods such as beef liver, cod liver oil, eggs, salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines.

6. Plant-Based Antioxidants

6.1. What Are Plant-Based Antioxidants Good For?

Plant-Based Antioxidants prevent oxidative stress damage to cells that can lead to their death. They perform this action by neutralizing free radicals.

6.2. Why Are Plant-Based Antioxidants Good for Mental Health?

Unbalance in plant-based antioxidants such flavones, polyphenols, flavonoids, phytoestrogens, and catechins, has been shown to promote anxiety and depression.

Plant-based antioxidants prevent anxiety and depression through their role in reducing the inflammation of brain cells and restoring balance to neurotransmitters [10].

6.3. Which Food Contains More Plant-Based Antioxidants?

Foods that are rich in plant-based antioxidants include oilseeds, legumes, tree nuts, plants of the Lamiaceae family, tea and coffee, cereals, fruits, and berries.

7. Probiotics and Prebiotics

7.1. What Are Probiotics and Prebiotics Good For?

Probiotics are the gut’s most known “good bacteria” that are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. These bacteria help other gut bacteria by providing them with nutrients that are commonly known as prebiotics [11].

The most common prebiotics are fructooligosaccharides, galactooligosaccharides, and trans-galactooligosaccharides, but other prebiotics plays important roles in health and aging such as insulin enriched-oligofructose, lactulose, and oligofructose.

7.2. Why Are Probiotics and Prebiotics Good for Mental Health?

The administration of prebiotics such as non-starch polysaccharides was shown to improve the performance of working and recognition memory and cognitive functions [16][17].

 Another prebiotic known as insulin enriched-oligofructose enhances mood and immediate memory [18].

Lactulose was also shown to improve cognitive function and health-related quality of life [19].

7.3. Which Food Contains More Probiotics and Prebiotics?

Probiotics are found in yogurt, lactobacillus milk, some cheeses such as Gouda, cheddar, cottage cheese, and mozzarella, pickles, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, tempeh, kombucha, and miso.

Prebiotics are found in carrots, quinoa, radishes, onions, chicory roots, konjac roots, oats, yams, garlic, barley, wheat bran, berries, apples, asparagus, bananas, leeks, chia seeds, flax seeds, cocoa, coconut, jicama root, and dandelion greens.


Although sometimes we are not aware of the importance of the food we consume, consuming the right nutrients such as omega 3 fatty acids, B vitamins, plant-based antioxidants, probiotics and prebiotics, essential minerals, vitamin D, and amino acids can make a big difference in preventing or reducing mental health issues.

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