Nutrients and brain health: Which ones are great for improving mental health?
02/14/2020 // Evangelyn Rodriguez // Views

An increasing number of studies suggest that supplementation with a combination of micronutrients benefits people with mental health issues. The results of randomized controlled trials show that vitamin and mineral supplements are effective alternative medications for people with psychiatric conditions. According to experts, supplementation allows people to meet their daily nutritional requirements, which helps ensure optimal brain functioning.

However, there are cases when supplementing with doses higher than the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is necessary. These cases involve people who require more than what they can get from food sources. But experts have raised concerns about high doses of micronutrients causing toxicity and other adverse health effects, prompting research on the safety of taking supplements at levels above the RDA.

In a study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, researchers from New Zealand investigated the safety of two commercially available broad-spectrum micronutrient formulas -- administered at doses above the RDA -- for the long-term treatment of individuals with psychiatric symptoms. They also assessed the long-term effectiveness of these supplements as potential treatment for psychiatric conditions.

Micronutrient supplementation improves mental health

Although the efficacy of micronutrient-based interventions when it comes to treating psychiatric problems in the short term is well-documented, data supporting their long-term safety is lacking.


To address this, the researchers selected individuals from ongoing research studies and the community to participate in their study. These individuals were on long-term micronutrient treatment (medication-free) for psychiatric problems like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and/or depression.

Seventeen children and 17 adults underwent blood tests to assess their full blood count, coagulation profile, liver and kidney function, fasting glucose, iron studies, key nutrients and prolactin. They also answered questionnaires that evaluated their psychological/psychiatric functioning. The average length of their treatment was 2.66 years.

The researchers reported that, except for vitamin B12, which was elevated in almost all the participants, 94.6 percent of the blood test results were within the test reference ranges. Apart from one participant, who was diagnosed with hemochromatosis (iron overload), they found no other clinically relevant adverse changes in the pre- and post-treatment blood results.

The participants also reported no clinically significant adverse effects after taking high doses of either supplement. According to post-treatment psychometrics, 85 percent of the participants were in non-clinical ranges for measures of ADHD, depression, anxiety and stress.

Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that commercially available micronutrient supplements are safe to use as long-term treatments for psychiatric problems. However, the researchers recommend screening for potential medical problems before initiating treatment.

Other natural supplements that support mental health

Supplements like magnesium, zinc, vitamin D and folic acid (vitamin B9) are often used for the management of anxiety and depression symptoms. But besides vitamin and mineral supplements, other supplements that contain extracts from medicinal plants also help with a variety of mental health problems. (Related: Battle mental and physical fatigue with these science-backed supplements.)

Here is a list of supplements that can help boost mental health.

  • Folic acid -- improves mood and helps with depression
  • Ginkgo biloba -- slows cognitive decline and alleviates antidepressant-induced sexual problems
  • Iron -- improves mental clarity, lowers depression levels and reduces psychological stress
  • Magnesium -- helps prevent anxiety
  • Melatonin -- improves sleep quality in people with schizophrenia, depression and seasonal affective disorder
  • Omega-3 fatty acids -- help with bipolar depression and major depression
  • Potassium -- helps prevent depression, anxiety, mental fatigue, memory issues and schizophrenia
  • Valerian -- reduces anxiety and helps with sleep problems
  • St. John's wort -- helps with mild or moderate depression symptoms
  • Vitamin B12 -- improves mood and helps manage depression symptoms
  • Vitamin D -- improves mood, as well as anxiety and depression symptoms
  • Zinc -- reduces anxiety symptoms

Good nutrition contributes to good health. To stay healthy physically and mentally, make sure that you get adequate amounts of essential nutrients from your diet. Seek advice from a health care practitioner before using any supplement as treatment.

Sources include:

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