Some mental health problems, particularly types of depression, have been linked to vitamin and nutritional deficiencies. However, even if you eat regularly and have a balanced diet you may still be affected. The B-complex vitamins, for example, are essential to mental and emotional well-being. They cannot be stored in our bodies, so we depend entirely on our daily diet to supply them. B vitamins are destroyed by alcohol, refined sugars, nicotine, and caffeine which is why people may be deficient in these.
Here are some examples of B-complex vitamins:
Vitamin B1 (thiamine): The brain uses this vitamin to help convert glucose or blood sugar into fuel, and without it the brain rapidly runs out of energy. This can lead to fatigue, depression, irritability and anxiety. Deficiencies can also cause memory problems, loss of appetite, insomnia, and gastrointestinal disorders. The consumption of refined carbohydrates, such as simple sugars, drains the body's B1 supply.
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): Symptoms of deficiency are fatigue, chronic stress, and depression.
Vitamin B12: Because vitamin B12 is important to red blood cell formation, deficiency leads to an oxygen-transport problem known as pernicious anaemia. This disorder can cause mood swings, paranoia, irritability, confusion, dementia, hallucinations, or mania, eventually followed by appetite loss, dizziness, weakness, shortage of breath, heart palpitations, diarrhoea, and tingling sensations in the extremities. Deficiencies take a long time to develop, since the body stores a three- to five-year supply in the liver. Older people are more prone to B12 deficiencies.
Folate: Low levels of Folate have been associated with depression
As well as vitamin deficiencies mental health problems can be associated with low levels of some minerals.
How do I correct a nutritional imbalance?
If you are worried that you may have a serious nutritional problem you should make an appointment to discuss it with your GP. Otherwise there are some things you can do to help yourself.
- Reduce or eliminate, alcohol, nicotine, refined sugars or caffeine as much as possible.
- Eat a balanced diet including plenty of fresh green vegetables (especially the brassica family – broccoli, cabbage, sprouts etc) and oils (such as those found in oily fish) can be helpful.
- Taking vitamin supplements (B complex tablets) can be helpful, but make sure you get good professional advice first. Don’t take any of the B vitamins on their own – always take a B complex tablet (with B12, B5 and folate)! If you are not sure what to take it’s best to get advice.
Nutritional deficiencies do not disappear overnight, but adopting some of these strategies will help set you on the right course to help your recovery.